11 Leaders to Watch in 2011
Sheryl Sandberg COO, FacebookJustin Timberlake actor, singer, investor in MySpaceMichelle Rhee founder/CEO, StudentsFirstMary Landrieu U.S. senator (D-La.), chair of Committee on Small Business and EntrepreneurshipDavid Cho director of business development, Grantland and co-founder, The AwlDavid Chang chef/owner, Momofuku restaurant groupRory McIlroy professional golfer Indra Nooyi CEO and chairman, PepsiCoStewart Butterfield founder, Tiny Speck and GlitchElla Gorgla founder, I-ELLA.comSeth Priebatsch founder, SCVNGR
While Mark Zuckerberg created the cultural phenomenon that is Facebook, Sandberg is largely responsible for making it a multi-billion dollar enterprise. The much-admired manager’s name is now floated as a possible candidate to succeed Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. She’s former chief of staff at the Treasury Department under Bill Clinton and star economics student of mentor Larry Summers. Would she leave Facebook before it goes public? Surely she’s one to keep an eye on.
The Grammy-award winning singer, A-list actor, and sketch comedy savant is now exploring a new role: turnaround specialist. As a new part-owner of social network MySpace, Timberlake is helping reinvent the also-ran that former owner News Corp. essentially gave up on. Rather than compete head on with Facebook, Timberlake is looking to reshape MySpace as more of a music-focused hub, where fans can interact with bands, and musicians can promote news and demos. More details are forthcoming: Timberlake's hosting a press conference on Aug. 17.
The controversial education activist may no longer helm the DC public school system but she’s continuing to shape the debate over school reform at her new nonprofit, StudentsFirst. The grassroots group promotes the same principles Rhee championed during her tenure as chancellor in DC: school choice, teacher evaluation, minimal bureaucracy, and parental involvement. Her immediate goal: to recruit one million members and raise $1 billion by the end of 2011. With Rhee riding the momentum of a heated nationwide debate—and a star role in the recent documentary, Waiting for Superman—she just might make it.
As chair of the Senate’s influential Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the Louisiana Democrat plays a major role in promoting, investigating, and resolving the myriad issues challenging today’s small-business owners. A longtime believer in the critical role of small business to a healthy economy, Landrieu is trying to extend the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research grant program for eight more years. The shaky economy and grim job market will only intensify the spotlight on Landrieu. Up next: determining just how effective the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act has been in creating—or saving—yes, jobs.
Earlier this month the unassuming new-media pioneer announced he was leaving The Awl, the breezy-but-smart blog site he co-founded with two Gawker veterans, to move over to Grantland, the much-hyped site recently launched by ESPN’s Bill Simmons. At the Awl, Cho helped build a digital news and commentary outlet that has been a triumph on a few levels: It has good content, it is profitable, and most importantly, it’s profitable because it has good content. At Grantland, Cho joins Simmons’ big name and ESPN’s backing, but like any new business it will need to prove itself as a moneymaking venture. That’s Cho’s job.
The rebel chef known for his gutsy take on Korean cuisine and anti-establishment attitude has become—perhaps in spite of himself—a bona fide hospitality icon. His Momofuku restaurant group now boasts four successful New York eateries, a bakery, a catering business, and a magazine. In partnership with publishing house McSweeney's, Chang's launched Lucky Peach, a quarterly glossy (and iPad app) that retails for $10 a pop. The June debut issue sold out within days.
The Irish wunderkind won legions of new fans last month with his decisive victory at the U.S. Open. With two PGA Tour wins and two European wins now under his belt, McIlroy may be the new Tiger Woods. That’s great for golf, which could use a star with crossover appeal for the coveted youth demographic. McIlroy’s ascendance is also a boon to luxury brands, always on the hunt for an accessible, sporty mascot. He already has deals with Jumeirah Hotels, Oakley, and Titleist. Look out for more in coming months.
As head of a company that earns billions churning out some of the world’s most beloved junk foods, Nooyi has embraced an unusual cause: health. Since assuming the top job at the world’s second-largest food company, she’s made it her mission to make the Pepsi brand and all its products compatible with a healthy lifestyle. That’s meant diversifying as well as tweaking existing products (think low-cal Gatorade, wholesome Quaker Oats, drinkable soups). Her biggest project these days is in the lab, where Pepsi scientists are working to develop lower-sodium salt crystals and a palate-pleasing, nontoxic sugar substitute.
In 2008, when the Flickr co-founder parted ways with site parent Yahoo, he headed home to Canada to ostensibly take some time off. One year later, Butterfield, along with four Flickr veterans, launched Tiny Speck, a Vancouver gaming company. The first product, a giant, online multiplayer game called Glitch has been the buzz of tech circles for more than a year. And those who scored an invite to test the game are delivering rave reviews. Some say it could become the next World of Warcraft when it’s released to the public this summer. Could Butterfield take on Zynga’s Mark Pincus?
Gorgla’s eponymous fashion marketplace has struck a chord among the stylish-yet-socially-conscious set. Described as “Gilt meets Ebay" with a charitable bent, the invitation-only site let users showcase the inventory in their closets and buy, sell, lend, or swap items with others. Ten percent of the value of each transaction goes to the user's choice of one of three charities the site selected. Gorgla also successfully enlisted star Veronica Webb and Lauren Conrad to help push the brand.
With his mobile location-based game platform SCVNGR, Priebatsch is tapping into the "gamification" zeitgeist and the idea that everything in life can be played like a game. Though SCVNGR is still an infant compared to rivals FourSquare and Gowalla, its incentives-based "check-in" system emphasizes loyalty, which Priebatsch thinks will give it a major advantage as it gains traction. It has attracted nearly $20 million in venture funding and more than one million registered users to date. Priebatsch, who at 22 has already delivered a SXSW keynote and hosted a TED talk, could just be the next the next household name in tech.—Devon Pendleton