10 Of America’s Top Business Leaders Today
In mid-2012, I posted the column that continues to be one of the most popular I have written — my personal list of the top 10 individuals I consider the greatest living leaders on earth. Much has changed in the world during the past four years. I am pleased to note that all 10 of the individuals I acknowledged and have admired so much are still living, still leading and, particularly in the cases of Amazon, Apple and Google, have been responsible for providing the world with thousands of new jobs and untold levels of additional wealth.
However, I’d like to take a different kind of look at the leaders I admire most today. While the creation of jobs and wealth is as important as ever, it’s the adherence to leadership’s “soft skills” — the ones I refer to as the 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning(Respect, Belief, Trust, Loyalty, Commitment, Courage and Gratitude) — that I admire the most.
So with these values in mind, I’d like to present my personal top 10 list of the people I consider most influential in their desire to remember their “why,” and who serve and influence their own organizations and the business and social ecosystem at large in life- and world-changing ways.
So with this in mind, and in no particular order, I present to you the American business leaders I consider most influential today.
1. Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit
My personal first choice for ethical and meaningful entrepreneurial leadership is Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit. Intuit is one of the world’s largest and most successful financial software companies. More than 95 percent of Intuit’s revenue comes from activities within the U.S., which makes it a true American hero. Intuit’s core product, of course, is the QuickBooks accounting software that is ubiquitous to entrepreneurs. It is the financial software we have integrated with our company’s Fishbowl inventory management software. As a company that produced $4.7 billion in revenue for 2016 and with a market cap of approximately $20 billion, Intuit continues to operate like a collection of startups. As a leader, Smith has fostered a culture in which the company’s 7,900-plus employees are allowed to take risks and to grow by learning from their failures, as well as from their success.
2. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City.
Elon Musk was born in South Africa, and as an entrepreneur he has made marks in America that are influencing the lives of millions of people worldwide. Musk has stated that his goals for SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City all revolve around his vision to change the world and humanity. Acknowledged as one of the world’s wealthiest individuals with a net worth estimated at more than $11.5 billion, he has contributed millions of dollars to charitable organizations and has launched several philanthropies. These include the Musk Foundation, which has contributed to hurricane and tsunami response, and the Future of Life Institute, which ensures all future uses of artificial intelligence will be beneficial to humanity. And yes, I do own and drive one of the very first Tesla cars.
3. Melinda Gates, cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Forbes ranked Bill Gates as the seventh-most-powerful person in the world in 2014. He is also known as the richest person on the planet with a net worth estimated at $78.5 billion. Yet wealth has not negatively affected him or his wife. In her role as the cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she has been instrumental in the pair’s mission to give away 95 percent of their wealth. From 2004 to 2010 she held a board position at the Washington Post and has fulfilled a number of professional roles, she has increasingly pulled away from other business interests to increase the time and dedication she spends on her philanthropic work for the couple’s foundation.
4. Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet, Inc.
Larry Page is another example of a businessperson who can persevere through any challenge. It would not be possible for Google to have achieved the growth it has accomplished on intellect alone without also being influenced by the values of an ethical leader. Page has been a great example of supportive leadership to his team, and for his “don’t be evil” approach to respecting the customers and market the company serves. Even in the midst of media and market criticism, he has never allowed the opinions of others to sway him from pursuing the values and ideals for his company that he considers the best.
5. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
Steve Jobs is a hard act to follow, but thus far, Tim Cook is doing a tremendous job. Rather than attempt to match the consumer-facing innovations that Jobs had been known for, Cook is forging the future with his own new advances. Unlike Jobs, he can be soft-spoken and unassuming. Once misdiagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, he has become much more cognizant of the challenges his employees and others may face and has become highly involved in charitable causes. One of his famous leadership quotes is the simple but highly insightful remark that “you kind of want to manage a technology company like you’re in the dairy business. If it gets past its freshness date, you have a problem.” He has definitely been instrumental in keeping Apple’s outlook and consumer products vibrant and up to date.
6. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn
As CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner has taken great pride in the culture of the company that has grown to more than 400 million users and has now been acquired by Microsoft in a deal worth $26 billion. Weiner is a leader whose strategy is defined by his values. By opening the LinkedIn platform to long-form publishing in 2014, he has also created the means for many more entrepreneurs to become writers and authors, as a way to add value and to create engagement with the current and prospective customers they serve.
7. Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Referred to as the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett is the CEO of diversified holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. He held the position of Number 2 on the Forbes 400 list for 15 years running until he was finally unseated in 2016 by Jeff Bezos, even though he added $3.5 billion to his net worth during the year. In July 2016 he gave away $2.9 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and his families’ foundations, making him one of the world’s most prolific philanthropists. He is known for being frugal as well, famously continuing to live in the home in Omaha that he purchased for $31,500 in 1958.
8. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors
In early 2016, Mary Barra, the first woman CEO of GM, one of several beleaguered auto manufacturers that suffered heavy losses during the Great Recession in 2009–2010, had made such great strides in the company’s recovery that she was named Chairman of the company as well. Recently forced to eliminate 2,000 jobs due to slowing demand for two GM models, the company turned around and announced it will invest $900 million to gear up for new job creation at three U.S. plants. Most recently, Barra has been named to President-Elect Donald Trump’s Policy Advisory team to advise him on policies for additional job creation, economic growth and productivity.
9. Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Carly Fiorina climbed the ranks as an executive at AT&T and then Lucent Technologies, Inc. before becoming CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 1999. As the first woman to lead a top 20 company, Fiorina oversaw HP’s massive merger with Compaq, which was one of the largest tech mergers in history, according to Forbes. She has now moved on to politics and demonstrated the ability to handle harsh and even unfair criticism with grace as she participated in the early stages of the recent presidential election.
10. Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation
Rupert Murdoch is a self-made and hard-driven Australia-born head of an American publishing dynasty as the founder, chairman and CEO of News Corporation. He continues to work unbelievably hard at an age when most would have retired long ago. What makes Murdoch stand out, even beyond his work ethic, is his ability to find new strength as accusations of bribery, corruption and hacking have occurred in his subsidiary firms. Most recently, as allegations of sexual harassment have been leveled against Fox News head Roger Ailes, Murdoch has reassumed the lead role, working to reestablish trust in the organization (and the publishing business in general). He has shown resilience and staying power that stands as an example to every entrepreneur.
Collectively, I uphold these 10 individuals as top picks on my personal list of living legends who exemplify the most meaningful aspects of leadership strength.