The 50 Most Innovative People Of 2013

The faster things change, the tougher it is to stay on top.

In this year’s rankings, 50 leading innovators shake the foundations of their industries, while 25 members of the power elite demonstrate why they’re not going anywhere soon.

1. Jeff Bezos, Amazon
AGE: 49

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 3

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: In a dark-horse move that set both the old and new media aflutter, Bezos bought The Washington Post in August, confirming that there is no industry that he does not see as ripe for disruption. Amazon has no serious rivals in online retail, the stock price is up more than sevenfold since 2008, and the only question is how far Bezos can expand his reach, prompting The New York Times to call him “the natural heir of Steve Jobs as the entrepreneur with the most effect on the way people live now.” New ventures include putting storage lockers in cities to make it easy for customers to pick up their orders, an online auction house, and an ambitious attempt to produce its own TV shows — a direct challenge to Netflix.

BIG MOVE: Bezos spent much of the summer working at Lab126, Amazon’s Silicon Valley-based hardware-design laboratory, where the company’s Kindle tablet was created. Rumour has it Amazon may be building its own cell phone or a TV set-top box.

OFF THE CLOCK: In March, Bezos spent three weeks at sea with a team of explorers in the Atlantic Ocean and retrieved the Apollo 11 F-1 engines.

2. Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Google

AGES: 40, 40

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 2

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: With Google’s stock price up more than 20 per cent in the last year and its annual profits topping $US10 billion, co-founders Page and Brin have been free to follow a path of perpetual experimentation. To wit: the decision to spend roughly $US1 billion on Waze, a crowd-sourced traffic app; their crazily ambitious Project Loon; and Google Glass, a head-mounted computer that is one of the most talked-about new products in years.

BIG MOVE: In August, Google’s Motorola Mobility division, which Page acquired for $US12.5 billion in 2011, unveiled its new Moto X. The “anti-iPhone,” as some have dubbed it, will be offered in 18 colours and will be manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas, making it the first American-made smartphone.

OFF THE CLOCK: In August, a report surfaced that Brin had separated from his wife, Anne Wojcicki, and had taken up with a Google employee, 27-year-old Amanda Rosenberg.

3. Tim Cook & Jonathan Ive, Apple

AGES: 52, 46

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 1

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: It has been two years since the death of Steve Jobs, and C.E.O. Cook’s sophomore year has been full of challenges. The stock price has fallen 35 per cent in the past year, as investors fret over a company that is years removed from its last big hit, the 2010 iPad. While many were hoping for more at September’s iPhones 5s and 5c unveiling (the stock price dropped in its wake), others believe that Apple still sets the standard for innovation (the fingerprint sensor on the 5s generated oohs and ahhs at the press announcement) and see this as just a warm-up for 2014, when rumour has it that “all the good stuff is coming” out of Ive’s vaunted industrial-design workshop.

BIG MOVE: Last fall, after Cook publicly apologized for the embarrassingly buggy Apple Maps, he parted ways with Jobs’s longtime software deputy, Scott Forstall, and gave the job of software designer to Ive, solidifying Ive’s position as the most important industrial designer in the world.

OFF THE CLOCK: Both Cook and Ive have been involved in high-profile charitable efforts this year, with an auction for a cup of coffee with Tim Cook netting the R.F.K. Center for Justice & Human Rights $US610,000. Ive, meanwhile, has partnered with his close friend the designer Marc Newson to curate and create items for a design auction to benefit Bono’s (Red).

4. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

AGE: 29

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 4

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: A year ago, Facebook looked vulnerable, not just because its long-awaited I.P.O. had fizzled but also because it had been caught flat-footed by the boom in smartphone use. A year later, all is well again at 1 Hacker Way, with a company stock price of about $US45, well north of the I.P.O. price. In its most recent quarter, Facebook reported mobile-ad revenue of $US656 million, up from roughly zero a year earlier. Advertisers are expected to spend $US6 billion on the site in 2013.

BIG MOVE: A nagging worry for Facebook is that teens might flee to newer digital playgrounds. Zuckerberg addressed this last year by agreeing to pay roughly $US1 billion to buy one such playground, Instagram, and by aping another, Snapchat.

OFF THE CLOCK: In April, Zuckerberg embarked on his first foray into politics, launching FWD.us, an immigration-reform group run by his old Harvard roommate Joe Green. FWD generated blowback in Silicon Valley after running TV ads that seemed to support the oil industry — and some backers, including Elon Musk, bailed out. In August, Zuckerberg went worldwide with his transformative ambitions, launching Internet.org, dedicated to bringing affordable Internet access to the developing world.

5. Elon Musk, Tesla Motors, Spacex

AGE: 42

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 9

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: Musk’s electric-car start-up has flirted with calamity so many times it’s been hard to keep track. But after he navigated the company through near bankruptcy in 2008, Tesla is soaring. In August, a quarterly earnings report showing a net income of $US26 million defied analysts’ expectations for the visionary company, whose market value continues to expand. Tesla’s stock price has increased ninefold since its 2010 initial public offering, up almost 400 per cent this year alone, and the new Model S was rated by Consumer Reports as the highest-scoring car the magazine had ever tested. (Not long afterward, the car’s roof proved so strong that it broke government testing equipment.)

BIG MOVE: Musk’s other company, SpaceX, has conquered North America. It continues to fulfil a $US1.6 billion contract with NASA — its Dragon spacecraft docked at the International Space Station for its second official mission earlier this year. SpaceX also won a contract to support the most ambitious space program in Canada’s history.

OFF THE CLOCK: In August, Musk released details for a potential side project: a Jetsons-like form of transportation he calls the “Hyperloop,” which he claims could transport people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 30 minutes, describing it as a combination of “a Concorde, a railgun, and an air-hockey table.”

6. Lee Kun-hee & Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Electronics

AGES: 71, 45

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: New

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: Amid the bruising legal battle over the violation of patents held by Apple for the iPhone, Samsung — ruled by the father-and-son duo of Lee Kun-hee and Lee Jae-yong — has transformed itself into Cupertino’s most credible challenger. As of this summer the Korean electronics giant was reportedly selling more of its smartphones than Apple was iPhones, while achieving Apple-like profits. Samsung’s clever, and successful, ad campaign “The Next Big Thing Is Already Here,” timed to the release of the iPhone 5, raised the question, “Is Apple still cool?”

BIG MOVE: Late last year, the elder Lee, whose father founded Samsung in 1938, announced that he was promoting his son and likely heir, Lee Jae-yong, or Jay Y. Lee as he is known in the U.S., to vice-chairman.

OFF THE CLOCK: This summer Jay Y. Lee attended the Allen & Co. Sun Valley conference, solidifying Samsung’s place as an influential player in the U.S.

7. Keith Alexander, National Security Agency

AGE: 61

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: New

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: The leaks this summer by former computer-security analyst Edward Snowden suggest that the N.S.A. chief has given his organisation access to much of the data running through Silicon Valley’s biggest companies, including Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Alexander has also reportedly expanded the U.S. military’s ability to launch its own cyber-attacks — for instance, the 2010 Stuxnet virus created by the U.S. and Israel to temporarily take down an Iranian nuclear reactor.

BIG MOVE: Since the Snowden leak, Alexander has been outspoken in defence of the N.S.A.’s secret data-gathering programs, claiming at a conference that it has thwarted 54 terrorist plots, including a plan to bomb the New York City subway system.

OFF THE CLOCK: The four-star general unwinds by playing a smartphone game called Bejeweled Blitz.

8. Jack Dorsey, Square, Twitter

AGE: 36

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 5

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: The digital-product savant has finally given up his operational role at Twitter, which he invented and co-founded in 2006 (and which recently filed for an I.P.O.), to focus on Square, which makes a tiny credit-card reader that turns a smartphone or tablet into a sophisticated cash register. The company already hosts more than three million merchants — including 7,000 Starbucks cafés — and has been expanding into online payments.

BIG MOVE: This fall, Square will move into new offices in San Francisco, occupying more than 150,000 square feet, which will allow it to triple its employees. The new space is conveniently located a block from Twitter.

OFF THE CLOCK: Dorsey celebrated Independence Day by renting a red Ford Mustang and driving cross-country with his girlfriend, Kate Greer.

9. Marc Andreessen & Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz

AGES: 42, 47

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 6

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: Andreessen’s star power and Horowitz’s reputation as a hands-on operator, along with their venture-capital firm’s “Founders First” credo and marketing prowess, have made them a magnet for entrepreneurs. Though it’s too early to say how good their returns will be, the duo has managed to get a piece of pretty much every important deal of the past few years — including investments in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Skype.

BIG MOVE: Andreessen was one of five winners of the first Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (for creating the Internet). He had to skip his audience with the Queen, but sent in his place two young engineers, who enjoyed high tea with Her Majesty and the other award winners.

OFF THE CLOCK: Andreessen has been reading history books in preparation for a rematch of his widely watched 2013 Milken debate, on innovation in tech, with rival shaman V.C. Peter Thiel. Horowitz is known for his fondness for rap. He was recently spotted having dinner with Nas and Mark Zuckerberg.

10. Reid Hoffman & Jeff Weiner, Linkedin/Greylock

AGES: 46, 43

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 10

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST:LinkedIn isn’t as sexy as Facebook or Twitter, but with 225 million members posting their résumés to the site, and with pretty much every large American company paying to access those résumés, the so-called Facebook for grown-ups has shown healthy profits and quintupled its stock price since its 2011 I.P.O. It’s a triumph for Weiner, and has allowed Hoffman to focus on investing and mentoring. He and his partner David Sze have made Greylock one of the most respected V.C. firms in the Valley.

BIG MOVE: To entice members to the site while not job-hunting, Weiner launched Influencers — which includes columns by 250 big-name contributors, among them Bill Gates and President Obama.

OFF THE CLOCK: Every year Hoffman co-organizes the Ben Franklin-inspired Weekend to Be Named Later, a “gathering of ambitious friends to brainstorm ways to change the world.” Weiner gained LinkedIn’s employees’ devotion when all were given iPad minis earlier this year.

11. Dick Costolo, Twitter

AGE: 50

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 13

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: All eyes in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street are on Twitter after the announcement last month — in a tweet, of course — that it was filing for an I.P.O., reportedly valuing the company at $US10 billion or more. And Costolo seemed to have finally answered pundits’ concerns about monetization: television. The short-form messaging service, which has more than 200 million active monthly users, will take in revenue of $US583 million this year, according to an analyst’s estimate, thanks largely to ads that are sold in conjunction with live TV broadcasts.

BIG MOVE: Last October, Twitter paid a reported $US30 million for Vine, a popular Instagram-for-video app. The deal, brokered by co-founder Jack Dorsey, has opened up a new front in Twitter’s battle with Facebook.

OFF THE CLOCK: At the Super Bowl this year, arguably Twitter’s most important — and lucrative — event, Bill Simmons of ESPN’s Grantland pranked Costolo, telling him that the Twitter service was “down.” Simmons reported Costolo’s “whole body convulsed” before he realised it was a joke.

12. Reed Hastings & Ted Sarandos, Netflix

AGES: 52, 49

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 40

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: Having made the round-trip from new-media darling to near death, Netflix is back on top. In the wake of the Qwikster debacle, Hastings and Sarandos rebranded the service as a next-generation HBO and have been rewarded with a soaring stock price and a growing domestic subscriber base of nearly 30 million — putting it neck and neck with HBO. The company’s fans now include Emmy voters, who rewarded it with 14 nominations for House of Cards, Arrested Development, and Hemlock Grove.

BIG MOVE: While most of the attention is focused on the new shows, in August, Hastings and Sarandos announced a high-prestige deal with the Weinstein Company. Combined with a deal with Disney for exclusive streaming rights to new titles beginning in 2016, this solidifies Netflix’s position as a critical distribution outlet for Hollywood.

OFF THE CLOCK: When he wants quiet time, Hastings retreats to a glass cube built on the roof of the Netflix headquarters. Sarandos heads to a $US10 million Malibu beach house that he and his wife, Nicole Avant, bought from David Spade in July.

13. Ben Silbermann, Pinterest

AGE: 31

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 8

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: Fresh off a venture-capital round that put his company’s value at $US2.5 billion, Silbermann’s scrapbook-cum-social-network has reportedly passed 70 million users — more than triple the figure from 2012. The only thing missing is revenue, which Silbermann is charmingly candid about, but last year he hired Tim Kendall, Facebook’s former head of monetization.

BIG MOVE: The company has become one of the most important sources of traffic for online-shopping sites. This spring, Nordstrom started slapping the Pinterest logo onto in-store displays for products that had been especially hot on the site.

OFF THE CLOCK: Low-profile Silbermann was recently spotted at dinner with some of the most notable tech C.E.O.’s: Jack Dorsey, Box’s Aaron Levie, and Dick Costolo.

14. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook

AGE: 44

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 41

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: The Facebook C.O.O. took a place on the national stage in March with the publication of Lean In, an empowering manifesto that encourages women to pursue more ambitious career goals. Sandberg’s book received a largely positive reception and has remained at the top of the nonfiction bestseller lists, but critics charged that her advice is applicable to only a small sliver of wealthy professional women.

BIG MOVE: Sixteen months after Facebook’s badly managed public offering, Sandberg has helped repair relationships with investors, touting the recent gains in mobile advertising.

OFF THE CLOCK: Sandberg insists that she has no plans to enter politics, but her vocal advocacy of her former boss Larry Summers’s failed bid to be chairman of the Federal Reserve raised eyebrows.

15. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo

AGE: 38

LAST YEAR’S RANKING: 7

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: Tasked with turning around a declining icon of the dot-com era, the Google veteran spent the past year making a flurry of acquisitions, including Tumblr for $US1.1 billion. Meanwhile, Mayer has been trying to revamp Yahoo’s corporate culture, using a mix of carrots (free smartphones for every employee!) and sticks (no more working from home). So far, the effort has been a mixed bag: Yahoo’s stock price has soared by 79 per cent and online traffic even topped Google’s this summer, but advertising revenue continues to be flat, and rumours of a falling-out with investor Dan Loeb, who recruited Mayer, in the wake of his cashing out of Yahoo and leaving the board have not helped matters.

BIG MOVE: In a bid to improve Yahoo’s video offerings and to better compete with YouTube, Mayer is reportedly courting Katie Couric for a Web talk show.

OFF THE CLOCK: Mayer, known for hosting fabulous parties, celebrated her 38th birthday earlier this year on San Francisco’s Treasure Island, with a beach-boardwalk theme, sandcastles, and surfboards.

-Illustrations by Tim Sheaffer

See the rest of this year’s list >

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