Larry O’Toole, 60
Gentle Giant Moving
Larry O'Toole understands that when customers are difficult, it's often because they are going through something really hard. So the employees of his moving company learn not only how to pack trucks but also how to unpack the contents of the human heart. "You don't know what kind of stress someone is dealing with," says O'Toole, an Irish immigrant who is imposing of stature and soft of speech. "Diagnosed with a terrible illness. Death in the family. Divorce. You have to be able to read your customer. You see what they need, and you give it to them." O'Toole's concern for service has helped him build a $27 million business with 300 employees in eight states. Read the full story.
Bobby Flam, 65
Flam, the owner of Jumbo's Restaurant, has been bucking the decline of his northwest Miami neighborhood through 44 years of race riots, hurricanes, and the exodus of most other white business owners, who were once his daytime clientele. "I stayed because I wanted to be an example that business could succeed here," says Flam, who has been a neighborhood force since he quit college in 1967 to take over Jumbo's from his ailing father. He quickly closed a room off the kitchen where black customers had come for takeout and opened the dining room to all, becoming one of the first South Florida restaurants to integrate. "I treated all my customers and employees with respect. I hoped other businesses would do the same." Read the full story.
Robbie Vitrano, 47
Robbie Vitrano has trouble defining what he does for a living, but look almost anywhere in his hometown of New Orleans, and you will find his footprint. It’s there at the Icehouse, a 12,000-square-foot, $1.5 million commercial real estate development in the once-flooded Seventh Ward. The building is owned by and serves as the headquarters for Trumpet, Vitrano's branding agency. Across town is Vitrano's macrobiotic fast-food joint, Naked Pizza, which has six franchise locations and plans to open about 75 to 100 more. His flashy website, 24Nola.com, designed to prove New Orleans was still very much alive, 24 hours a day. Read the full story.
Chris Anderson, 53
New York City
For four days each spring, about 1,500 of the world’s deepest thinkers gather in Long Beach, California, for the annual TED Conference, at which they discuss the ideas and technologies that will change the world. But since the first TED Conference, in 1984, the only people privy to this unusually diverse exchange of ideas were those who were lucky enough to be invited to the event. Chris Anderson changed that. Since 2001, his mission has been to infuse TED with what he calls radical openness. In 2006 TED began broadcasting the talks online for free. "We suddenly have this global laboratory in the skill of spreading ideas," he says. Read the full story.
Jessica Mah, 20
Mountain View, California
Before graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, at 19, Jessica Mah and a friend, Andy Su, began working on inDinero, a website that helps small businesses to keep track of finances. Mah had already started several small businesses. In June, inDinero entered Graham's Y Combinator mentoring program, and Mah took her product live just one month later. By September, she had closed a $1.2 million angel investment round. Today, inDinero has seven employees and 6,000 customers. "Jessica is a machine," Graham says. "She's going to win at whatever game she plays." Read the full story.
Tina Wells, 30
Buzz Marketing Group
Voorhees, New Jersey
Many big companies sell to the teen demographic, but most are blissfully unaware of what exactly resonates with their target market. Tina Wells, founder and CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, delivers the truth straight from a small army of 9,000 kids, teens, and young adults, whom she anoints as buzzSpotters. That’s good for Wells’s clients (which include Procter & Gamble, American Eagle, Sony Music, and the like) but perhaps even better for these young people, who now know that they can change the way a company addresses them. Read the full story.
Franklin Chang Diaz, 60
Ad Astra Rocket Company
Even before he traveled into space as a NASA astronaut a record-tying seven times, Franklin Chang Diaz, had already made a perilous and impressive journey. His research into propulsion systems for rocket engines eventually formed the basis of his company, Ad Astra Rocket Company. Chang Diaz hopes it will lead to yet his greatest journey yet—a manned space flight to Mars. At the heart of Ad Astra is his variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket, or VASIMR. The company is working on a joint mission with NASA to deploy a VASIMR engine to the International Space Station by 2014. Read the full story.