Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Top 25 Influential Business Leaders

The past 25 years have been a period of dazzling growth for the U.S. economy, powered by innovative companies led by brilliant — and sometimes notorious — entrepreneurs and CEOs and one Federal Reserve maestro.

These leaders — with products ranging from coffee to microprocessors — are the 25 most influential business leaders of the past 25 years, as ranked by USA TODAY's Money section editors and reporters.

AFP/Getty Images

1 Bill Gates, Microsoft

Gates co-founded Microsoft and used tough business tactics to dominate PC operating systems. But his most lasting influence may be in philanthropy as he gives away his $56 billion fortune.

By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

2 Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman

Greenspan was the maestro who presided over the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. His words moved global markets and still do, even out of office.

By Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

3 Steve Jobs, Apple

Co-founder of Apple, Jobs was ousted in a boardroom coup in 1985. But he prospered in exile, buying Pixar, the company that redefined animation. He returned to Apple in 1997, and the rest is history: iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone.

By Ben Margot, AP

4 Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google founders

The two Stanford University grad students founded Google in 1998, and in less than a decade, the innovative search company has grown to dominate online searches and advertising.

Bloomberg News.

5 Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

Kelleher, now chairman, expanded low-cost airline Southwest's service nationwide over the past 25 years and created a fun-loving corporate culture that changed the flying experience for millions of people, on top of saving them billions on fares.

By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

6 Andy Grove, Intel

Grove popularized the phrase "only the paranoid survive," but the paranoia paid off: Grove's leadership helped create tech behemoth Intel with a market cap of more than $150 billion.

By Todd Plitt, USA TODAY

7 Jack Welch, General Electric

With Welch as CEO from 1981-2001, GE's market value grew from $14 billion to $410 billion. But his most enduring legacy may be the lieutenants who left to run other companies, such as Boeing's James McNerney.

Getty Images

8 Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway

The Sage of Omaha pushed the price of Berkshire Hathaway, his holding company, up more than 14,000% the past 25 years, and his public statements, particularly his annual reports, are read more closely than any other document in business.

Bloomberg News

9 Charles Schwab, investments

Schwab saw the promise in a no-frills, low-cost brokerage and ran with it, making stock trading affordable to a new generation of investors. Today, he's probably the nation's most visible advocate of do-it-yourself investing.

By Fred Prouser, Reuters

10 Michael Milken, junk bonds

Milken may conjure up images of inside trading (he served two years in prison for violating securities laws), but his legacy is providing financing to entrepreneurs. He raised money from investors in the form of high-yield debt (junk bonds) to finance start-ups such as MCI.

By Marcus R. Donner, AP

11 Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com

Bezos helped ignite the dot-com boom when he founded Amazon.com to sell books online. Amazon weathered the dot-com bust, and is one of the most popular Web retailers

By Mike Segar, Reuters

12 Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.

The last and most polarizing of the larger-than-life megamedia moguls, Murdoch has left his mark on TV, movies, newspapers, books, sports, the Internet and,if Dow Jones accepts his $5 billion acquisition offer, The Wall Street Journal.

By Rogelio Solis, AP

13 Frederick Smith, FedEx

Smith founded Federal Express in 1973, creating the business category of overnight delivery. Now, the Memphis-based company is a $35.2-billion-a-year global operator that includes heavy freight, trucking and supply-chain management, plus the FedEx/Kinko's retail stores.

By Jack Smith, AP

14 Phil Knight, Nike

Knight re-imagined sneakers into pricey, gotta-have-em jock wear. He plopped a pair of Nikes onto young Michael Jordan, and both took off and never stopped running. Bo, Lance and Tiger followed. Just do it. He did it.

By Jessica Kourkounis, AP

15 Ken Lay, Enron

Ken Lay was the public face of the energy company that became the poster child for bad corporate behavior in the 21st century. After Enron's collapse in an accounting scandal, similar frauds surfaced at WorldCom and elsewhere, leading to the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the most sweeping reform of securities laws in 70 years.

By Charles Rex Arbogast. AP

16 Oprah Winfrey, Harpo

Oprah was the first woman to produce and own her own TV show and that led to a media empire that includes TV, Broadway-show production, O magazine, a website and mini-series production.

Bloomberg News

17 Michael Dell, Dell

Why waste your college years on beer if you can create a giant company in your dorm room? At 19, Dell took $1,000 and started a computer maker he named after himself. A decade or so later, it was the world's largest maker of PCs.

By David McNew, Getty Images

18 Meg Whitman, eBay

Meg Whitman left her job as general manager for Hasbro's preschool division to join eBay as CEO in May 1998. Today, she's still leading one of dot-comÕs biggest successes. EBay, a marketplace for buyers and sellers across the world, has become one of the Web's most-imitated phenomena

AFP/Getty Images

19 Howard Schultz, Starbucks

Schultz was first to have the chutzpah – or foresight – to turn a cup of coffee into a $4 luxury. And he's doing it worldwide. Only question is if he can turn Starbucks into a McBrand as McBig as you-know-McWho.

By Shawn G. Henry

20 Edward C. "Ned" Johnson 3d, Fidelity Investments

Johnson may not have invented every innovation in the mutual fund industry, but he brought them to more investors than anyone else. Discount brokerage, sector funds, money-fund check writing, charitable endowment funds and more helped propel Fidelity to its place as the largest fund complex in the USA.


21 Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

Stewart created a business segment based on how-to crafts and lifestyle information. Not even a conviction for lying could destroy Martha's popularity.

By Eileen Blass, USA TODAY

22 John Bogle, The Vanguard Group

Bogle founded The Vanguard Group in 1975 with the radical notion that funds should be owned and managed by shareholders. A tireless advocate of low-cost index investing, Bogle has won a cadre of adoring loyalists called "Bogleheads." At the same time, he drove Vanguard to second among all mutual fund complexes.

By Diane Bondareff, AP

23 Robert Johnson, BET

A trailblazer for minority entrepreneurs, Johnson founded cable's Black Entertainment Television in 1979. He sold it in 2002 to Viacom for $3 billion, making him the first African-American billionaire. Other firsts: first black-owned business to go public on the NYSE and first African-American to wholly own a professional sports team, the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.

By Gregory Bull. AP

24 Barry Diller, Expedia, IAC

Hollywood thought the man who greenlighted hits including Beverly Hills Cop was crazy in 1992 when he became a TV home-shopping mogul. But the business evolved into e-commerce, and Diller created an Internet power that includes Ticketmaster, Citysearch, Match.com, Evite and LendingTree.

By Marty Lederhandler, AP

25 Steve Case, AOL

Case was a marketing guy who rose through the ranks at AOL and was CEO for a decade before the ill-fated merger with Time Warner in 2001. He didn't run AOL Time Warner as chairman and later resigned. But his original AOL Web portal introduced millions of non-techies to the Internet with its simple, goof-proof format. And that's his legacy.