25 Innovators in Technology
They're changing the way we do business (and not always for the better). Don't miss features on Twitter CEO Evan Williams, Google's gambit with the power grid, and an essay about CEO Steve Jobs' leave of absence from Apple.
1. Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin,
Governing Tribunal, Google
Major Impact: Google towers over the internet era. It controls 64 percent of Web searches, and search is most people's gateway to what they want to do on the Net. Google owns 57 percent of the market for placing ads on websites. The company operates three dozen massive data centers around the world-giving it, by some estimates, more computing power than any single entity on earth. As if that weren't enough, Google keeps using its brand, power, and $15.8 billion in cash to stomp like colonialists into other companies' businesses. Its Android cell-phone operating system encroaches on Apple's and BlackBerry's territory. This year, Google is expected to try to grab market share from Microsoft's Internet Explorer with its Chrome browser and invest heavily in alternative-energy businesses. Wherever Google aims its guns, industries go on red alert.
Unusually, Google is run not by one person but three. Schmidt is officially CEO, and Page and Brin are the co-founders. But they confer with one another on almost everything, so we could not separate them.
Achilles' Heel: Google's very reliance on search. Someday, a new invention will make search less important, just as the Web has made Microsoft's PC operating systems less important, sapping Microsoft's power.
Eccentric Project: They're everywhere at Google. One employee wrote code so that people can search in pirate language. Another created a hidden joke: Try typing "Find Chuck Norris" in the search box and click I'm feeling lucky.
2. Jeff Bezos
Major Impact: Internet, advertising
When Time named Jeff Bezos its Person of the Year, in 1999, he had his greatest impact on Barnes & Noble and Kmart. That all changed a few years ago when Amazon launched Amazon Web Services and follow-ons like Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud-"computing power by the sip," as Bezos calls it. Others call it by its red-hot buzz phrase: cloud computing. (Companies or individuals can lease varying amounts of computing power, data storage, and software, and access it over the internet.) Bezos showed that it could be a real business; Google and Microsoft have followed.
Bezos also turned Amazon.com into a devicemaker with the kind of design chops and user adoration usually reserved for Apple-and made publishers rethink their business models. In late 2008, Oprah gave Amazon's Kindle an on-air endorsement, momentarily sending its shares skyward.
Secret Sauce: Daring. Bezos is more willing than most big-company CEOs to try risky ventures.
Eccentric Project: Blue Origin, which is building rockets for space tourism. First scheduled flight: 2010. Speculation is that it will be possible to hear Bezos' laugh from space.
3. Steve Jobs
Major Impact: Mobile communications
Such is his influence that Steve Jobs stays on the list even during his absence from Apple. He is to the tech industry in the 2000s what the Beatles were to popular music in the 1960s. The iPod changed the music business, and the iPhone and App Store continue to shake up the mobile-phone industry. Before the iPhone, the cell-phone business was all about the size and form of the device. Now the emphasis is shifting to software and what the handset can do.
For now, Apple has the momentum to thrive without its CEO, but the question is whether that can continue if Jobs does not return in June from his leave to deal with his serious health issues. Apple doesn't seem on the verge of taking on another industry or coming out with a radical new product, and no one is sure whether it could pull off a new revolution without Jobs' help.
Bragging Rights: Around 100 million devoted Apple customers worldwide, to whom it has sold about 15 million iPhones, 30 million Macs, and 125 million iPods.
Achilles' Heel: His health - problems are more complex than originally thought.
4. Joe Rospars
The Obama campaign's tech guru, Blue State Digital
Major Impact: Politics
For more than a decade, pundits have predicted that the Web would transform politics. Joe Rospars finally did it. Rospars, still in his 20s (who over 30 would know how to do all this?), served as new-media director for the Obama campaign and used Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, text messaging, and electronic fundraising to interact with supporters. Rospars got his start working the Web for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid, then used that knowledge to co-found Blue State Digital. After Obama, campaigns are knocking on the company's door.
Power Base: Legions of wanna-Bamas looking for better ways to use the internet to get elected-before their opponents do.
Number of Facebook friends: 977
5. Steven Chu
U.S. Energy Secretary
Major impact: Oil, electricity
It seems like a no-brainer to redirect the Department of Energy from developing nuclear weapons to fighting global warming, and Steven Chu is the guy to do it. A bona fide scientist, Chu has Obama's go-ahead to make greentech a priority. Chu has run the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004 and won a Nobel Prize for figuring out how to cool and trap atoms for examination. He's long worked on energy and climate-change projects. Last year, he told Reuters, "If I were emperor, I would put the pedal to the floor on energy efficiency and conservation."
Power Base: President Obama
Achilles' Heel: Maybe there's a reason there haven't been a lot of scientists in high government positions.
Childhood Eccentricity: Taught himself to pole-vault using bamboo poles from a local carpet store. Managed to clear eight feet.
6. Shigeru Miyamoto
Senior managing director, Nintendo
Major impact: Videogames
Back in 1981, Shigeru Miyamoto created Donkey Kong, Nintendo's first smash hit. But that was nothing compared with the Wii, Miyamoto's brainstorm that came out in late 2006. By making videogames simple to control with hand gestures, the Wii revitalized the entire industry. Nintendo has sold more than 36 million Wii consoles, and Wii Sports recently became the bestselling game of all time. (It passed
Super Mario Bros., another game Miyamoto helped create.)
Over the coming year, Miyamoto will attempt to use the Wii to push videogaming deeper into people's lives. He's already planning a streaming, interactive TV channel through the Wii in Japan.
If successful there, Nintendo will consider going international with the channel in late 2009.
Achilles' Heel: The fickleness of gamers. The next cool thing could suck away the Wii's users.
Eccentric Project: Miyamoto plays the banjo and considers himself a semipro dog breeder.
7. Jason Kilar
Major Impact: Television
In 2007, Jason Kilar, a preppy former Amazon.com executive, won the job of creating an online TV outlet for a Fox-NBC partnership. It seemed an impossible task, given the anemic results for all previous online-TV efforts. But Kilar coaxed NBC and Fox to post popular content like Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, added some interactive bells and whistles, and made Hulu simple to use. Launched in March 2008, Hulu was, by fall, streaming more than 235 million videos a month, thanks to SNL clips of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. Kilar is proving that professional content paid for by advertising has a place on the Web. The networks owe him a pile of gratitude, if not money.
Power Base: NBC Universal and News Corp.-and Hulu's $100 million in funding.
Achilles' Heel: Web-video monster YouTube-which is dabbling in offering professional content with advertising-is probably coming Hulu's way.
Eccentric Clothing Affectation: Always wears a dark T-shirt under an open-collar button-down dress shirt.
Number of Facebook friends: 159
8. Marissa Mayer
Vice president of search products and user experience, Google
Major impact: All of us
Just about everything with the Google brand that consumers use goes through Marissa Mayer. Google Chrome, Maps, Docs, Gmail, Talk-all of that stuff needed Mayer's approval before it was funded or released to the public. That power gives her enormous sway over the ebb and flow of competition on the internet. Mayer was the first female engineer hired at Google and one of its first 20 employees, so she not only has the confidence of the presiding trio, she's rich as all get-out too.
Achilles' Heel: Google's lack of focus-it seems to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall. Some sticks (Gmail, Google Maps), and much of it doesn't (Talk, Knol). Its social network, Orkut, is still big in, uh, Brazil.
Worth Watching: Rumor has it Mayer is soon leaving Google. (She says she's not.)
9. Ray Ozzie
Chief software architect, Microsoft
Major impact: Software
Bill Gates retired. CEO Steve Ballmer is stuck in the muck of a failed Yahoo bid and a Vista operating system that users and critics hate. If any Microsoft executive is going to lead the company's renewal, it will be Ray Ozzie. The affable white-haired programmer is the driver behind Microsoft's slow move toward selling software as an internet-based subscription service instead of as a onetime purchase. If Ozzie gets software services right, Microsoft could leap into position to dominate computing for another generation.
Bragging Rights: Ozzie built Lotus Notes, one of the biggest-selling business applications ever. Gates calls him one of the best coders on the planet.
Achilles' Heel: Microsoft's legacy software and cultural inertia make it tough to turn this barge.
Eccentric Management Practice: Thinks deeply while in the shower, sometimes making notes on waterproof paper.
10. Jeffrey Katzenberg
CEO, DreamWorks Animation SKG
Major impact: Movies, theaters
How does Hollywood lure consumers away from their big-screen TVs and YouTube and back out to the movies? Jeffrey Katzenberg preaches that theaters need to go home systems one better by showing 3-D films, and he's hell-bent on pushing the entire industry that way.
He's announced that starting in 2009, with the release of
Monsters vs. Aliens, every DreamWorks animated movie will be in 3-D. But that strategy will work only if most theaters can show digital 3-D, and right now, only a fraction have the proper and-at more than $70,000 a pop-expensive equipment. So Katzenberg, who has a long record of successes, including 1994's The Lion King at Disney, helped organize a consortium named Digital Cinema Implementation Partners to help theaters pay for the 3-D upgrades.
His push has energized companies ranging from makers of 3-D projectors (Real D, Dolby) to developers of 3-D moviemaking cameras and editing systems.
Achilles' Heel: The 3-D television sets that Philips, LG, and others are developing.
Eccentric Investment Decision: Lost millions to superscammer Bernie Madoff.
11. Sam Palmisano
Major impact: Infrastructure
IBM has miraculously surfaced with the right sales pitch at precisely the right moment. Economies around the world are in crisis, so governments are pouring money into modernizing infrastructure like roads and electrical grids to create jobs. Global warming is a serious concern, driving investment in energy efficiency. And here comes IBM with its new strategy, guided by CEO Sam Palmisano. IBM says it's the only tech company big enough and broad enough to remake an entire nation's electrical grid by infusing it with electronics that help save energy, or build a smart road system for cities that can charge cars more for driving during rush hour. So far, Palmisano's pitch is working. In a down time, IBM keeps reporting up earnings.
War Chest: IBM is a $100 billion-a-year company that makes computers, has a giant consulting arm, and runs one of the biggest corporate research labs in the world.
Achilles' Heel: It's tough to grow a $100 billion business-to increase by 7 percent would mean adding a company the size of Yahoo every year.
12. Evan Williams
Major Impact: Social networking
Twitter is nothing but 140-character-or-less broadcasts from users about what they're doing or thinking at any given moment. Yet it's one of the hottest properties on the Web-a way to keep track of friends but also a means by which marketers can reach customers or candidates can reach voters. Evan Williams is trying to guide this baby, but he's mostly hanging on as users find new things to do with the service. Williams is convinced that Twitter can be as big as Facebook-or maybe even bigger. Of course, it would help
if he could figure out a way for the company to make money.
Power Base: About 6 million Twitter users.
Achilles' Heel: Williams suspects that Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo are all working on Twitter-killing clones.
Time-Eating Hobby: Following 900 Twitterers.
13. Richard Bookstaber
Author; financial risk manager
Major Impact: Finance
Just about every science-fiction movie has a similar theme: The machines seem all-powerful, but in the end, they're no match for humanity. This is the message that Richard Bookstaber has hammered into hardheaded Wall Street financiers. After a long career as a wizard at an algorithm-driven hedge fund, Bookstaber wrote 2007's A Demon of Our Own Design, in which he argues that technology fostered a high-speed, high-risk financial system about as stable as nitroglycerin. In the autumn of 2008, he was proved right. Now Bookstaber's tome has become a must-read for those experts charged with rebuilding Wall Street to prevent computers from morphing a financial hiccup into another full-blown crisis. The difficulty, though, is similar to that nagging problem in sci-fi flicks: Everyone continues to build better and badder machines.
Power Base: Respect for calling the meltdown.
Achilles' Heel: What's the encore?
14. John Yemma
Editor, Christian Science Monitor
Major Impact: Newspapers
Someone in this troubled industry had to jump off the cliff first. The internet has hacked away at the revenue of daily papers for years, yet editors and publishers have shied away from ditching the physical product. In October, the Christian Science Monitor made the leap, announcing that in April, the print edition would cease daily publication. The switch makes sense for the century-old CSM, explains John Yemma. Its national newspaper is delivered by mail to just 52,000 subscribers, while it operates a robust website with 1.7 million unique visitors a month. The rest of the industry is anxiously watching. In December, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press said they will end daily home delivery in favor of their websites. In January, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said it may go Web-only.
More will follow. Yemma has a chance to set precedents for news and newsrooms. "We're hoping not to replicate the print paradigm, but we're trying to hold on to accuracy and standards," he says. "Because there is an ability to be immediate, there is a danger we'll default to immediacy, so we have to tilt against that."
Achilles' Heel: There's no precedent for a newspaper's making the transition to Web-only publication.
Number of Facebook Friends: 112. "Is that a little or a lot? I don't know."
15. James Inhofe
U.S. Senator, Oklahoma
Major Impact: Energy
Alternative-energy technology has a grinch, and he resides in the U.S. Senate. James Mountain Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, has said that global warming is "the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state." From his position as the ranking minority member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Inhofe will work as a counterweight to the Obama administration's expected clean-tech initiative.
Power Base: His supporters in the oil and gas industries.
Superhero Ability: Fearless belligerence. Anyone who could suggest that the Weather Channel is a propaganda machine for global-warming alarmists.
Achilles' Heel: Even if he had a point, his outrageous statements would undermine it.
Eccentric Side Project: Maintaining a biblically correct family. Inhofe was quoted in 2006 as saying, "I'm really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we've never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship."
16. Jon Wellinghoff
Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Major impact: Power grid
Traditionally, a new FERC chief generates about as much excitement as a Captain & Tennille reunion tour. But President Obama's appointee-mathematician and longtime energy lawyer Jon Wellinghoff-will oversee a massive overhaul of the U.S. electrical grid. We're talking regulatory changes that affect billions of dollars in contracts and funding for new inventions. Turns out the 100-year-old way of moving electricity around is ridiculously inefficient. A smart grid loaded with chips that can sense supply and usage could negate the need to build more coal-burning electric plants. Companies like Google will be seeking Wellinghoff's approval for projects. Remember, the Federal Communications Commission was once a Washington backwater too.
Superhero Ability: Stealth. Who outside of policy wonks
worries much about FERC?
Achilles' Heel: Dullness. If the public doesn't get excited about smart-grid technology, it may be hard to build momentum for it.
Number of Facebook Friends: "None. My teenage
sons won't let me join."
17. Marc Andreessen
Investor in startups; chairman, Ning
Major impact: Startups
While he'll always be known for his first venture, Netscape Communications, Marc Andreessen has become Silicon Valley's mentor in chief. He gives guidance to Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg, who put Andreessen on the company's board, and he was one of the first investors in Evan Williams' Twitter. Andreessen and business partner Ben Horowitz pump smallish sums ($25,000 to $100,000) into one startup a month, spreading Andreessen's knowledge and influence among a young generation of entrepreneurs. Andreessen is also chairman and co-founder of the hot startup Ning, which gives people a way to create their own online social networks.
Power Base: Money and a track record from selling Netscape to AOL, for $4.2 billion in 1999, and another company, Opsware, to Hewlett-Packard, for $1.6 billion in 2007.
Derailed Side Project: His blog at blog.pmarca.com. Its torrid beginning, in 2007, made it a tech industry must-read, but then Andreessen abruptly quit writing last August.
18. Brad Anderson
CEO, Best Buy
Major impact: Consumer electronics
Under Brad Anderson, Best Buy has come to reign over consumer-electronics retailing-even if that just means being the strongest among the weak in a horrendous economy. He's retiring in June, and president Brian Dunn will become CEO. Anderson, who will stay on as vice chairman until 2010, leaves Dunn a company that can decide the fate of electronic gadgets just by putting them on its shelves.
Representatives from tech giants like Microsoft and startups such as internet phonemaker Ooma trek to Minneapolis to lobby Anderson and his cohorts. Anderson, 59, took charge from founder Richard Schulze in 2002, bought Geek Squad, and helped his company drive chief rival Circuit City to its liquidation this year. But the diving economy has Best Buy making layoffs and cutting capital spending by half.
superhero ability Listening. Best Buy has altered individual store offerings and layouts based on suggestions from the stores' sales-floor staff.
Eccentric Management Tactic: Keeps a mock "retail hospital" in his office, with effigies of companies such as Kmart lying in beds as a warning about what happens when retail strategies become stale.
19. Arianna Huffington
This item was updated as January traffic information became available.
Co-founder, The Huffington Post
Major Impact: News business
Chaotic and noisy, the Huffington Post comes off like an online mashup of British tabloids, American blogs, and a tailgate party. But Arianna Huffington's invention-she calls it an internet newspaper-is playing a huge role in redefining the news outlet. Huffington co-founded the site in 2005 with former AOL executive Kenneth Lerer. These days, about 2,000 professional and amateur writers contribute to it, including famous Huffington friends such as Larry David and Nora Ephron. HuffPo, as it's known, gets as many as 7 million unique visitors a month, and in December, it raised $25 million in a round of funding amid the worst credit crisis in decades. The site's worth, though, has stirred controversy of its own. Insiders allegedly pinned the number at $200 million. Bloggers analyzed HuffPo's numbers and gleefully came up with a different figure: about $2 million.
Power Base: A vast collection of high-profile friends, including the Clintons, Barry Diller, and Alec Baldwin.
Superhero Ability: Her willingness to dish anything and everything she hears from her famous friends.
Achilles' Heel: The site lost traffic after the election (though it spiked back up in January).
Ambitious Stalled Project: Local HuffPos for cities. So far, there's only one, for Chicago.
20. Rex Tillerson
CEO, Exxon Mobil
Major Impact Energy: Tillerson sits atop a company that brings in more than $100 billion in revenue each quarter. He has the power to exert enormous influence in energy technology, yet he's using his resources to make sure as little changes as possible. His intention, he has said in interviews, is for Exxon Mobil to be doing in 30 years pretty much what it does now. Tillerson is cagey, investing small sums in R&D for inventions like a long-life battery and playing it up in commercials. It's enough to mute critics, but not enough to actually affect the demand for oil.
Bragging Rights: More money than God.
Appropriately Effective Trait: Slickness. He's too savvy to get pinned down as an anti-environment ogre.
21. Jerry Shen
Major impact: Personal computing
For 25 years, personal computing was driven by a constant march toward faster, more-whiz-bang machines. In late 2007, Jerry Shen, the CEO of Taiwanese electronics-maker Asus, turned that philosophy on its head. He and chairman Jonney Shih introduced the Eee PC, a shrunken laptop that cost $300. It runs on Intel's downscale Atom chip and has a fraction of the power of a high-end laptop. The trade press gushed and labeled the Eee PC the first of a new breed called netbooks. Since then, Asus has sold more than 5 million Eee PCs. Acer, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard followed with their own versions last year.
Power Base: Asus has long made computer parts, mobile phones, and laptops for other brands.
Achilles' Heel: If the Eee PC gets too popular and competes with Sony, Apple, and other companies Asus manufactures for, will they still want to do business with Asus?
22. Lawrence Lessig
Professor, Stanford Law School
Major Impact: Internet law
Lawrence Lessig is to the Web what the professor was to Gilligan's Island. Lessig has brought intellect and reason to some of the Web's thorniest problems, chief among them copyright law. While Lessig hasn't solved the standoff between content owners and "pirates" who make free copies, he has offered a third path with his Creative Commons copyright license. He's influenced the debate about who should get radio spectrum for wireless internet and has the ear of his old friend President Barack Obama. (They taught together at the University of Chicago Law School.) In the past year, Lessig has focused on ways to use the Net to keep an eye on Congress and reduce corruption. This summer, he moves to Harvard.
Useful Talent: Drama. Watching a Lessig presentation is like viewing performance art.
Pop-Culture Moment: Lessig was portrayed in a 2005 West Wing episode by actor Christopher Lloyd.
23. David Bohrman
Washington bureau chief, CNN
Major Impact: TV news
On election night, CNN suddenly appeared to be broadcasting from the set of a Star Trek episode. Anderson Cooper interviewed a "hologram" of rapper Will.I.Am, who was seemingly beamed onto the set like Spock in the transporter room. Correspondent John King used his fingers to move around graphics and election results on something called the Magic Wall. The flashy broadcast was credited to David Bohrman, a longtime network-TV news veteran who had taken a detour to become CEO of Pseudo Entertainment, an interactive-TV company. CNN hired Bohrman and put him in charge of election-night coverage. His toys made CNN the pioneer in using technology to tell news stories, even though the holograms received mixed reviews. Some critics said they were distracting tricks-as if that were new to TV newscasts.
Bragging Rights: CNN had more viewers on election night than any other cable channel.
Questionable Timing: Bohrman joined Pseudo in early 2000, right when the tech bubble burst.
Number of Facebook Friends: Zero. "Here's my confession: I have a lurking-only account."
24. Reid Hoffman
Major Impact: Social networking
MySpace and Facebook get most of the credit for making social networking into a phenomenon, but the force behind the trend is really the hyperconnected entrepreneur Reid Hoffman. He pioneered the form with SocialNet, in 1997. It didn't last, but Hoffman moved on to start LinkedIn, which claims 31 million members and is geared toward professionals. He's also invested in many of the hit websites that include a social aspect, including Digg, Flickr, Ning, and Facebook.
Eccentric Past: A master's in philosophy from Oxford in England.
Achilles' Heel: Time. Look at his résumé on LinkedIn: He can't possibly keep doing all that and remain sane.
Promising Side Project: Zynga, a new social-gaming site that Silicon Valley insiders believe will be huge.
25. Robert Zemeckis
Major Impact: Movies
Robert Zemeckis keeps changing the role of special effects in mainstream movies. In Forrest Gump, he used computers to drop the title character into historical footage. In The Polar Express, he pioneered motion capture, which uses sensors to record an actor's moves and translates them into animation. In 2007, his Beowulf combined motion capture and digital 3-D. Next up: His remake of Dickens' A Christmas Carol will be one of the first live-action movies shot in digital 3-D.
Power Base: Hollywood will fund any film he wants to make.
Achilles' Heel: Sometimes the effects are better than his movies.
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