10 Rock Star Tech Execs To Watch In 2011

Ross Levinsohn

The tech world will be hit with another year of disruption in 2011, producing new winners and losers.

For tech companies to win, it isn’t just about tapping into the hot trends.

It’s about executing.

And those who execute well are the rock stars of the tech world.

We’ve taken a look at some of the executives who are going to play outsized roles in tech in 2011. Some of them are prominent, some less, but they will all play a big role in shaping the future of technology in 2011.

10. Apple VP of Mobile Advertising Andy Miller

2011 will be the year when Apple's iAds come of age -- or when they decisively flop. The man charged with leading this effort is VP of Mobile Advertising Andy Miller.

Mobile advertising is an incredibly fast-growing market, especially on Apple's iOS devices, and a key front in the war between Google and Apple.

After experimenting in 2010, Miller and Apple will have to step on it in 2011 to make iAds a success and redefine mobile advertising.

9. Free Founder Xavier Niel

The dropout, self-made billionaire founder of Free, France's biggest independent telecom operator, is usually described as a maverick, and with good reason.

Even if you don't care about France (and who could blame you?), here's why you should pay attention to him:

  • He's starting another telecoms Revolution. This is the guy who invented triple play in 2002, which is now the standard for broadband in the US and elsewhere, with zillions of consumers affected. Now he's come out with a crazy new TV box, the Freebox Revolution, with Blu-Ray, a gaming console, a full web browser. The Revolution will start shipping in January, and depending on how it does in 2011, it might be the future of your cable box -- or even Google TV or Apple TV.
  • He's the most active angel investor in the world. Earlier this year, Niel co-founded a seed fund called Kima Ventures, with the goal of investing in 100 startups in 2 years, all over the world. Think that's crazy? So does he. The goal is now to invest in 200 startups by the end of 2011. In the US, Niel has already invested in hot startups like Twitter founder Jack Dorsey's Square and Y Combinator graduate Rapportive.
  • His hobby? Owning France's most prestigious newspaper. This year, Niel and a group of other investors bought out Le Monde, France's paper of record. For Christmas, he fired the company's money-losing Managing Director. At a time when traditional news outlets are grasping for new business models, we're sure he's got some ideas up his sleeve that could shake up the media business everywhere.

8. Foursquare Head of Business Development Tristan Walker

In 2011, Foursquare needs to differentiate itself from Facebook's bland platform and eventually build a big business. Whether Foursquare's Tristan Walker manages to land more great deals for the company will be a key indicator of how well the company is doing.

7. Microsoft Mobile Boss Andy Lees

2011 will be make or break year for Microsoft in mobile.

After watching Google and Apple eat its lunch in mobile with the game-changing iPhone and the ubiquitous Android, Microsoft finally came out with Windows Phone 7.

WP7 is a very good product, but now Lees has the hardest part of the work ahead: putting it everywhere. Windows Phone 7 needs to be on every device and on every carrier, and has to attract a healthy developer ecosystem to have third party apps. And it's probably the best bet for Microsoft to become relevant in tablets, which are threatening Microsoft's core business of desktop computers, and where everything Microsoft has done so far has flopped.

6. Android Chief Andy Rubin

Andy Rubin is the man behind the vision behind Android. He's taken his mobile vision from a small startup to a Google acquisition to a billion dollar business. But he still has a ways to go before he can take over the world.

Key challenges for 2011: reducing fragmentation and fixing its lame app store. And a big one is how Android will fare on tablets, a key new front in the war for mobile computing.

5. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo

Dick Costolo is now the man atop Twitter, freshly valued as a $3.7 billion company. It's Costolo's job to generate revenue and justify the valuation.

4. Google VP of Engineering Max Levchin

Can Google ever 'get' social?

Answering that question is Max Levchin's job, and it just may be the biggest question facing the search giant. Facebook is fast eroding Google's dominance of the web and is its biggest strategic risk. The web is clearly heading in a social direction, and Google is in the dust. All its social efforts so far have crashed and burned.

Why? It seems that Google's engineering-driven culture is just incapable of producing good social leaders and products. Levchin has the potential to fix all that, however.

3. Groupon Co-Founders Andrew Mason, Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky

Groupon is the fastest-growing company in history, period. What's more, while it looked like it was neck and neck with its zillions of competitors early in the year, it opened up a decisive lead with the rest of the pack, smartly turning down a $6 billion buyout offer in the process.

In 2011, Groupon just has to execute -- still a tremendous challenge for such a fast-growing company in such a turbulent market. It also faces a number of strategic opportunities.

It's up to Groupon's co-founders -- its 'prodigy' CEO Andrew Mason and its 'operators' Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky -- to execute in 2011 so they can lock in the incredible success they've had in 2010.

2. Yahoo Americas Boss Ross Levinsohn

Yahoo is ailing in a big way, and it's up to Ross Levinsohn whether it can be fixed.

Levinsohn is the EVP Americas at Yahoo, and was previously the head of Fox Interactive Media, News Corp's interactive arm, which includes MySpace. So Levinsohn is a media and content guy, and Yahoo needs to become a media and content powerhouse if it has any hope of turning around its ailing business.

It's up to Levinsohn to turn around big purple, and we'll see in 2011 if he can do it.

1. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

We don't think there's any doubt anymore that Facebook is now the most important company on the internet.

Nobody deserves more credit, of course, than Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. But Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has done an incredible job helping the company grow up without losing its innovative streak.

It's seems hard to believe now that not long ago Facebook was cycling through number-twos and other top executives and experiencing organizational growing pains. Every evolution of the product caused shrieks of controversy and user revolts.

Facebook has quietly been building an amazing, huge advertising business, now at $2 billion but with the sky as the limit. And despite all the growing up, Facebook is still as fast and as innovative as ever. This success is largely due to Sandberg and the great relationship she's built with Zuckerberg.

Not only that, but as perhaps the most high profile and successful female executive in Silicon Valley, she's become a role model for aspiring women in technology.

Who knows what Facebook has in store for 2011, but she's clearly the rock star tech exec to watch.

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