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That Certain Something: The World's Most Influential Entrepreneurs
 

We put the question to six experts: Who are the five most interesting entrepreneurs of the past 30 years?
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Tom Peters
Author of 15 books, including In Search of Excellence


Wendy Kopp
Teach for America

She built an enormous public-service organization from the ground up. She's a hell of a lot more entrepreneurial than 70 percent of people I lived around in Silicon Valley.

Taddy Blecher
CIDA City Campus

Suddenly, out of nowhere, he left the world of consulting and started a free thousand-person university for underprivileged students in South Africa.

The women recipients of microloans from Grameen Bank

The men who borrow from Grameen usually squander the proceeds. But the women have turned the process of borrowing and investing money into a larger effort of community development.

Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai

Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai

Dubai is going through a rough patch, but President Obama would love to have the sheik as an employee. He could get people building the next day.

Larry Janesky
Basement Systems

I love the notion that you can have a fabulous business based on cleaning mold out of basements. Larry has a saying, "You don't have to love what you do; you have to do what other people hate." He executes like a champ.

Carl Schramm
President and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation


Robert Swanson and Herbert Boyer
Genentech

Swanson, a young venture capitalist, and Boyer, a recognized scientific genius at the University of California, San Francisco, joined forces in 1976. Genentech was truly a union of commerce and science that spawned the commercial watershed that we now call the biotech sector.

Herb Kelleher
Southwest Airlines

Kelleher's focus on delivering a superior customer experience was a genuine innovation.

Fred Smith
FedEx

The business plan Smith wrote for FedEx is as good as it gets. His insights into the art of logistics have had an impact on countless companies.

Bob Johnson
BET

Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television in January 1980. Eleven years later, BET became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Gary Burrell and Min Kao
Garmin

Like so many business pioneers before them, Burrell and Kao recognized a market opportunity before anyone else did. Garmin adapted military technology to create an entirely new consumer-electronics product segment: GPS.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Professor of business administration at Harvard Business School


Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey has built a billion-dollar, multi-faceted enterprise around her personal brand -- and done it with integrity. We used to have entrepreneurs who created companies and then later did things for the world with their wealth. But Winfrey has used her platform to inspire other people, from Day One.

Steve Jobs
Apple

He helped to create one whole industry with the idea of a personal computer and a whole other industry with the iPod.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin
Google

They figured out how to mix their culture with professional management. That's the story behind the huge global brand.

Wendy Kopp

Wendy Kopp
Teach for America

You can't talk about entrepreneurship in the past 30 years without talking about the major phenomenon of social entrepreneurs like Kopp.

N.R. Narayana Murthy
Infosys

Murthy is one of a number of software and technology entrepreneurs in India who started companies from scratch and have made them into huge, values-based institutions.

Judy Olian
Dean of UCLA's Anderson School of Management


Bill Gates
Microsoft

He changed the nature of sharing and accessing information, and the nature of collaboration. On top of that, through his philanthropic work, he took that kind of game-changing business thinking to a different sphere.

Howard Schultz
Starbucks

A variety of companies have built empires based on experience-based retailing, but Schultz has had the most pervasive impact.

Fred Smith
FedEx

He leveraged a variety of network models to create a globally interconnected marketplace of goods. How many entrepreneurial companies were created just because of these new global supply chains?

Muhammad Yunus
Grameen Bank

He created a socially based financial network that has the ability to transform society and communities.

Meg Whitman

Pierre Omidyar and Meg Whitman
eBay

eBay is truly the world's bazaar. These two built a marketplace without boundaries of scale or place. And they used the power of a community to create a whole new class of business people.

Paul Graham
Co-founder of the venture capital firm Y Combinator


Steve Jobs
Apple

The original young founder. A lot of start-up culture is Apple culture. More remarkable still, Jobs has stayed interesting for 30 years.

TJ Rodgers
Cypress Semiconductors

Rodgers may be the best writer among Silicon Valley CEOs. The first essay of his that I read was so electrifying that I remember exactly where I was when I read it.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin
Google

Their hypothesis seems to have been: If you hire all the smartest people and put them to work on a problem where their success can be measured, you win.

Paul Buchheit
FriendFeed

Paul Buchheit was responsible for three of the best things Google has done: Gmail, AdSense, and the Google mantra, "Don't be evil." One of his sayings I now pass on to every start-up we fund: that it's better, initially, to make a small number of users really love you than a large number kind of like you.

Sam Altman
Loopt

Sam is, along with Steve Jobs, the founder I refer to most when I'm advising start-ups. There are only a few entrepreneurs with such force of will that they're going to get whatever they want.

Julian Lange
Associate professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College


Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
Apple

He has great vision and attention to design, and he regularly anticipates customers' needs before they even realize them.

Bill Gates
Microsoft

It's hard for me to mention any great entrepreneur without talking about Bill Gates. His vision and persistence over time have made Microsoft what it is. Now, through his foundation, he has found a way to use his entrepreneurial instincts and methods to make the world a better place.

Craig Benson
Cabletron Systems

Benson is a great entrepreneur who co-founded one of the early networking companies. When he became governor of New Hampshire, he applied entrepreneurial principles to government.

Meg Whitman
eBay

One of the first people to really see the power of the community.

Bono

Bono

Bono is illustrative of the broadening role in society for entrepreneurs. Through his organization, ONE, he has helped to persuade governments to forgive $100 billion worth of debt. Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, he has used his expertise, his fame, and his contacts to make some truly impressive gains.

Last updated: Apr 1, 2009




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