The 12 Most Inspiring Leaders Of 2013

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This year, leaders around the globe made headlines with their important and wide-ranging contributions. A political prisoner-turned South African president, a billionaire entrepreneur, a pastry chef, and more than a few business executives shaped their companies, industries, and even their countries — and changed the world in the process.

Here are the 12 most inspiring people of 2013:

Nelson mandela

Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid leader

Mandela recently passed away at the age of 95 leaving behind a world of mourners. The anti-apartheid South African leader spent 27 years in prison for his beliefs before becoming the country’s first black president and winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

President Barack Obama called Mandela one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good” people to have ever lived.

Elon musk tuxedo thing model s 2011

Elon Musk, tech entrepreneur

Often included in any list that mentions the most innovative, inspirational leaders, Musk was named “Business person of the year” by Fortune because of his “audacity and tenacity.” At the age of 17, Musk immigrated to America from South Africa and made his billions after co-founding PayPal.

Later, he invested in startups Tesla and space flight company Space X, which are both now major players in their industries. This year, Tesla posted profits for the first time, and Space X managed to disrupt aeronautics when it launched its first major commercial satellite into orbit.

Musk also made headlines this year when he proposed designs for his Hyperloop, which is a transportation mode allowing people to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes.

Jeff bezos


Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

Bezos has been all over the news in 2013 with Amazon taking in $17.1 billion in net sales in the third quarter and increasing active users by 19%. The businessman also bought The Washington Post for $US250 million in cash earlier this year.

Bezos revealed that Amazon is currently testing drones to deliver packages within 30 minutes in a recent interview with journalist Charlie Rose. He’s often dubbed the next Steve Jobs.

Sheryl sandberg

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

It’s hard to discuss 2013 without mentioning Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” which encourages women to seek executive positions and ask for more in their careers.

The Facebook exec is an inspiration to educated women who understand all too well the struggles of gender bias in the workplace today.

Pope francis child

REUTERS/ Stefano Rellandini
Pope Francis, announced as TIME’s Person of the Year, hugs a child as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square this summer.

Pope Francis

TIME magazine named Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church, its Person of the Year in 2013 “for pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs, and for balancing judgment with mercy.”

He is the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years and also the first Latin American.

Dave Gilboa Neil Blumenthal Warby Parker CEOs

Neil Blumenthal & Dave Gilboa, co-founders of Warby Parker

Co-founders Blumenthal and Gilboa were Wharton School classmates who wanted to provide hip, affordable, fashion-forward eyewear to the public. It seems this was exactly what the public needed. Since launching Warby Parker in 2010, business has been booming. This year, they opened Warby Parker’s flagship store and are now considered a competitor of Luxottica, a $US20 billion company that owns most of the eyewear industry.

The company also donates one pair of glasses to developing countries for every pair sold.

Tony hsieh zappos ceo

Getty Images/Ethan Miller

Tony Hsieh, CEO of

He’s already wildly successful as the CEO of online shoe and accessories company Zappos, but more than that, Hsieh strongly believes in transforming Las Vegas into the smartest, most “community-minded” city in the world. So much so that he invested $US350 million of his own money into the Downtown Project.

By the end of this year, Hsieh has announced that 1,500 of Zappos employees will relocate to Las Vegas’ City Hall building downtown. His project includes an impressive, major new transit service, which incorporates shared electric cars and bicycles, shuttles, and chauffeured vehicles all for a monthly fee.

Angela ahrendts

REUTERS/Paul Hackett

Angela Ahrendts, retail chief of Apple and former CEO of Burberry

Being one of the small handful of women CEOs didn’t stop Ahrendts from also being the U.K.’s highest-paid chief executive in 2012. After taking the reins as CEO of Burberry in 2006, the brilliant businesswoman rebranded the company as a high-fashion house worth an estimated $US10.4 billion.

She was listed on the Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2013. In October, it was announced that Ahrendts would step down as CEO of Burberry and join Apple as its retail chief.

Netflix reed hastings

Getty Images Latam

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix

This year has been an incredible year for Netflix and a lot of that success is attributed to Hastings’ leadership. Netflix’s stock surged by 260% this year, and the company’s original content picked up 14 Emmy nominations, including a nod for its political thriller “House of Cards.”

Dominique Ansel

Facebook/ Dominique Ansel

Dominique Ansel, pastry chef and owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery

Ansel’s cronut — a doughnut-croissant hybrid — turned the pastry world upside down with its exclusivity and notoriously long lines. Dubbed “the cronut wizard,” Ansel created a craze in New York City within days of unleashing his cronut during the summer. He has since partnered with the restaurant chain Shake Shack and published his book “Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes.”

Malala Yousafzai gives a speech after receiving the

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Malala Yousafzai, education activist

At the age of 11, Yousafzai was writing under a pseudonym for the BBC, detailing what it’s like to live under Taliban rule. In 2009, the New York Times filmed a documentary about her life. Today, as a 16-year-old, Yousafzai is an influential communicator and education activist. In Oct. 2012, she was shot in the back of the head by Taliban gunmen, but survived the assassination attempt.

Yousafzai was the recipient of the UN 2013 Human Rights Prize and is the youngest person to have ever been a Nobel Prize nominee.

Marissa mayer

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!

She’s the tech genius who became one of the youngest CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. Since joining Yahoo, Mayer has rebranded the company with a new home page and logo and orchestrated 17 acquisitions. This includes the $US1.1 billion purchase of blogging service Tumblr.

Since Mayer joined a little over one year ago, Yahoo’s stock price has doubled.


Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.