The 24 Most Impressive People Of 2014

For some, 2014 was a good year; for others, it was a great year. It was the year of the big-screen iPhone, the fight against Ebola, powerful political protests, and revolutionary breakthroughs in health and technology.

We named the 24 most impressive people of the year starting with the overall winner, India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi.

From finance and tech to politics and entertainment, these are the people who amazed us the most this year.

MOST IMPRESSIVE: Narendra Modi is poised to reignite India's economy.

Prime Minister Modi is turning over a new leaf for India. The country's stock index is at record highs.

Since he entered office in May, Modi has reworked the government's budget, made bank accounts more accessible to everyone, made advances in reforming labour laws, transformed the government into a more transparent and open place, and formed positive relationships with China, Japan, and the US.

He's a political figure who's putting people's faith back in India, and he's utterly beloved by the people of India. He won the May 2014 election by a landslide, and since then he's kept people's faith in him through his initiatives both home and abroad.

Modi is undoubtedly India's newest and biggest rockstar.

Bill Ackman is soaring during a rough patch on Wall Street.

It was a tough year for most hedge-fund managers, but Ackman still ended up on top, most notably making $US2.2 billion when Actavis bought pharmaceutical company Allergan in November.

Additionally, the net returns for Pershing Square, Ackman's hedge fund, are over 30% for the year. Ackman is famous for a big short of Herbalife, a multilevel marketing company that sells weight-loss shakes. But he's had most success with his stakes in Allergan and
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Mary Barra took the helm of GM and helped it get through a major crisis relatively unscathed.

In January, Barra became the first female CEO in General Motors' history -- and in the auto industry in general. And despite starting her tenure in the midst of a 30-million-car recall for defective ignition switches in Chevy Cobalts -- GM's largest recall in history -- Barra kept her poise throughout the ordeal.

She plans to use the incident as a launchpad to transform the company's rigid culture. She's leading by example, taking responsibility for GM's actions, and holding employees accountable for their work.

She earned Warren Buffett's stamp of approval.

Tim Cook steered Apple toward its best year ever.

With the announcement of the Apple Watch and the release of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Pay, Cook has led Apple to its best year ever. Cook also came out this year, making him easily the most influential openly gay CEO in tech.

Since Cook became CEO, Apple stock has more than doubled in price, and there's the possibility it could become a trillion-dollar company in the near future. 2014 was also the company's first true year in the Tim Cook era, as all its previous products were concepts originally envisioned by Steve Jobs.

Laverne Cox was the first openly transgender person ever nominated for an Emmy.

This year, Cox, who plays Sophia Burset on Netflix's hit 'Orange Is the New Black,' became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy and appear on the cover of Time. Though she didn't take home the award, her nomination still represents a major milestone for transgender rights.

Cox has used her platform to become a huge advocate for transgender rights. In addition to her time on OITNB, she's made speeches around the country and is producing two documentaries on the topic. 'I always knew when I got a public platform, it was part of my job to educate people,' Cox said in an interview with Glamour.

Mo'Ne Davis proved that female athletes can keep up with the big boys.

She's just 13 years old, but Davis is already a dominant force in sports. She's the first female to pitch a shutout in the world of Little League, and in October she was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at game four of the World Series. In front of 43,000 people, Davis pitched a strike from a distance 14 feet farther than a Little League mound.

Her dominance on the pitcher's mound is made more impressive by the fact that she's female; she was only the seventh girl from the US to ever play in the Little League World Series, with a fastball that has reached 71 miles an hour. Her age and incredible talent landed her on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and she's quickly becoming a role model for young female athletes around the world.

Elizabeth Holmes is revolutionizing how we test blood samples.

When Holmes noticed that not only are traditional blood tests costly and time-consuming but also take a whole lot of blood to complete, she set out to streamline the process. Today, Holmes' company, Theranos, has developed a way to run hundreds of tests on a drop of blood, simplifying the process for patients and cutting costs for healthcare professionals. Her success has made her the world's youngest self-made female billionaire.

Holmes believes that by revolutionizing the way these tests are done -- with just a prick, rather than drawing vials and vials of blood -- it will encourage more people to get tested for life-threatening diseases, such as HIV.

Travis Kalanick is operating a rapidly expanding, $40 billion on-demand car-service empire.

Known for his extreme competitiveness, especially when it comes to business, Kalanick is growing Uber city by city, whether the city wants it or not. (He has gone as far as launching Uber before getting city officials' permission.) His hire of former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe led to the company's skyrocketing international growth -- Uber is now available on every continent except Antarctica.

Kalanick is effecting change on a human level, creating countless corporate and driver jobs with plans to create a million more next year.

Kim Kardashian proved herself as a businesswoman and tech mogul.

Not only did she attempt to #breaktheinternet by baring her butt on the cover of Paper magazine, this Kardashian sister also made a bona fide name for herself in tech. Her popular 'Kim Kardashian: Hollywood' game reportedly brings in $US700,000 a day, earning Kardashian a solid $US200 million this year.

She spoke at Re/code's Code Mobile conference in October, where she shared her secrets for gaining a following on social media (she runs her own Twitter and Instagram accounts) and revealed a desire to buy BlackBerry. Kardashian became famous for a reality-TV show; she's proved herself to be business-savvy too.

Angela Merkel is the most powerful woman in the world.

In her third term as chancellor of Germany, Merkel continues to impress. She's been chancellor for longer than anyone in modern history and remains overwhelmingly popular. Germans want her to run for a fourth term.

She's got power both at home and abroad. She's one of the most formidable people to stand up to Putin and she's famously defended German interests during the euro zone debt crisis. She's managed to maintain record low unemployment levels and keep the economy afloat.

Nothing important in Europe gets done without her say-so, whether that's a good thing or not, and she's often called the most powerful woman in the world.

Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan was a leader in the fight against Ebola.

Called a 'national hero' by Sierra Leone's health minister, Dr. Khan headed up Kenema Government Hospital's Lassa fever program. Lassa fever is caused by a lethal, Level 4 pathogen much like Ebola, which made Dr. Khan, as a Lassa virus expert, ideal for leading the fight against Ebola.

Even though Dr. Khan admitted fearing for his life, he spent countless hours treating patients, sometimes by himself, and contributed to a crucial study on the origin of this particular Ebola outbreak, which opened new doors for understanding and developing treatments for the disease. Dr. Khan ultimately contracted and, shortly thereafter, died of Ebola -- one of hundreds of healthcare workers who have died fighting the disease. Dr. Khan and his fellow Ebola fighters were named Time magazine's 2014 'Person of the Year.'

Jeff Koons cemented his status as the most commercially successful artist alive today.

Koons broke a tremendous record this year when his 'Balloon Dog (Orange)' sold for $US58 million, making it the most expensive piece ever sold by a living artist.

He broke another record this summer when the Whitney Museum in New York City opened 'Jeff Koons: A Retrospective,' the largest exhibit ever held in an American art museum. The exhibit, which filled all four floors of the Whitney, featured 150 pieces spanning the artist's entire career, from his classic mirror-finish pieces such as 'Elephant' and 'Balloon Dog (Yellow),' to 'Play-Doh,' a new sculpture he's spent 20 years working on. Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, the show became one of the most visited in the Whitney's history.

Palmer Luckey is changing the world with his virtual reality device that will revolutionise the way we consume media.

Palmer Luckey, right.

This year Palmer Luckey, a 21-year-old college dropout, sold his virtual-reality startup Oculus VR to Facebook for $US2 billion. The Oculus Rift headset is poised to revolutionise online 'hangouts'; change the way we consume video games, music, movies, TV, and sports; and address larger societal issues (there's talk of the device being used as a treatment for soldiers with PTSD).

Oculus eventually sees virtual reality taking over internet and mobile platforms, transforming how people relax, learn, and interact.

Jack Ma became the richest man in China.

This year, Ma's e-commerce company Alibaba went public, garnering the largest IPO in history at $US25 billion.

Despite humble beginnings as an English teacher, Ma is now the richest man in China thanks to the IPO. After becoming captivated by the internet during a visit to the US in 1995, Ma saw several business opportunities in it, and eventually founded his e-commerce site in 1999.

Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics.

Before Mirzakhani, the Fields Medal, the 'Nobel Prize of mathematics,' had never been awarded to a woman. Though she works in the field of pure mathematics -- meaning her discoveries are largely theoretical -- her research regarding the understanding of curved surfaces, such as spheres and doughnuts, led the way for discoveries in several other fields of science and maths. Within theoretical physics and quantum-field theory, it could change how scientists understand the creation of the earth, thus affecting the future of engineering and materials science as well.

She has no desire to become a champion for women in mathematics, however. Rather, Mirzakhani wants to focus on her research and continue to expand her discoveries.

PewDiePie changed the definition of 'celebrity.'

Felix 'PewDiePie' Kjellberg, a Swedish video game commentator who has about 32 million subscribers and over 6 billion views on his YouTube channel, is YouTube's biggest star by a large margin.

YouTube users are changing the way we define celebrity, blazing a trail in entertainment distribution. Kjellberg is the leader of that movement. The 24-year-old earns $US4 million a year in ad sales and plans to start his own network when his contract with Maker Studios ends.

Thomas Piketty wrote an obscure book on economics that became so popular it actually sold out on Amazon.

Piketty's 700-page 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' became an overnight success this year. The premise of the book is that capitalism in the Western world is causing an expansion in income inequality and placing more money in fewer hands. 'Capital' sold so well that Amazon temporarily ran out of copies in April.

Piketty's pessimistic outlook has attracted equal amounts of praise and criticism, but 'Capital' was named the 2014 Business Book of the Year by both McKinsey & Co. and the Financial Times.

Daniel Schwartz turned around a failing Burger King.

At just 32, Schwartz took over a failing Burger King with big plans to turn things around -- and he has stuck to his ambitions. Since becoming CEO midway through 2013, he's been able to cut costs, raising profits 17%. Burger King shares are also up, jumping 78% since his tenure started.

This year, Schwartz orchestrated a $US12 million deal to merge with Canadian coffee chain Tim Horton's, a move he hopes will minimize taxes and maximise Burger King's profits.

Emma Sulkowicz championed a movement around sexual assault on college campuses.

Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, made headlines for carrying her mattress with her wherever she goes -- and she's not going to stop until her alleged rapist is no longer allowed on campus. Sulkowicz started the project to protest of Columbia's policies regarding how sexual assaults on campus are handled.

When she pressed charges against the man who allegedly raped her, she says Columbia administrators didn't initially believe her story and ultimately found the student not guilty, allowing him to stay at the school. Sulkowicz believes that the university doesn't know how to properly handle sexual-assault survivors and hopes to bring awareness to an issue she says is constantly swept under the rug. Her story sparked a national conversation about the way sexual assault on college campuses is dealt with.

Sulkowicz's alleged rapist recently spoke out and denied the allegations, but that hasn't lessened the support for Sulkowicz's mattress movement.

Taylor Swift is taking over the world, starting with the music industry.

Swift's latest album, '1989,' became the best-selling album of the year and made her the first woman to have three albums sell more than a million copies in a single week. She pulled her music from Spotify -- a move that proved how much power she really has over the music industry, as the Spotify team addressed it on the company blog and noted that it hoped she would change her mind and stay.

Swift is powerful in more than just the music industry; big-name brands like Victoria's Secret are using her to boost sales. Putting Swift front and center in the annual Victoria's Secret fashion show for the second year in a row is great for the brand, as Swift is wildly popular with the company's target market.

Nat Turner and Zack Weinberg are streamlining how doctors and researchers treat cancer.

The cofounders of Flatiron Health, Turner, and Weinberg received $US130 million in funding from Google Ventures this year to continue their work collecting and analysing cancer-related clinical data. What they're doing is streamlining a very data-heavy, complicated field and making it more accessible.

Turner and Weinberg believe that by organising and standardising data from clinical trials for cancer treatment and making it available to physicians, researchers, and patients, it could help doctors come up with more effective treatment options by seeing what's worked so far and what hasn't.

Joshua Wong is the face of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

At 18, Wong is not just the leader of student protest group Scholarism, but he has become the face of the pro-democracy demonstrations that started this fall in Hong Kong. Wong's brief arrest in September garnered him international attention and increased the scale of the protests as the entire world started paying attention.

In December, Wong led a 108-hour hunger strike to pressure the government into negotiating, stopping only for health reasons. Despite his age, this isn't Wong's first rodeo, either. Scholarism protested the implementation of 'patriotic education classes' in 2012, and won.

It was a year full of unforgettable moments. Now check out ...

NOW WATCH: Ideas videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.