Six Sensational Business Leaders

Every generation produces great business leaders – people who inspire and change the course of commercial history. Here, I take a look at six of the very best of the current crop and why they are so successful.

Brian Chesky – Co-Founder & CEO of Airbnb

Aged only 34, Brian Chesky has an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion. The source of that wealth is Airbnb, which started as a method of making money to pay the rent by renting out airbeds to conference delegates in Los Angeles. 11 years later, not only does the company operate in 34,000 cities in 190 countries around the world, but it’s been used by over 60 million guests and is worth $25 billion. Airbnb is an official sponsor of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Chesky has been named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship by President Obama. Airbnb has been credited with revolutionising the way people use technology to book holiday accommodation.

Arianna Huffington – President & Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post Media Group

Born in Athens, Greece, Arianna is a widely-read author and founder of the online news website The Huffington Post which was started in 2005. With a Master’s in Economics from the University of Cambridge, her writing career began in 1974 with the publication of The Female Woman. In 2011, The Huffington Post was sold to AOL for more than $300 million – Arianna was made president and editor-in-chief. Forbes listed her as number 52 in the list of the World’s Most Powerful Women in 2014 in recognition of the pioneering of digital journalism.

Sundar Pichai – CEO of Google

Credited with the development of their browser, Chrome, in 2012, which now has a market share of over 25 per cent, Sundar Pichai was made CEO of Google in 2015, from his position as Product Chief. His technical abilities are well documented – it was his team that developed Google Drive, Gmail and Google Maps, as well as leading on Android – an operating system designed to rival Apple’s and which now runs on over one billion devices. Born in Tamil Nadu, India, Piichai holds an MS in Material Sciences and Engineering from Stanford University, and an MBC from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Lisa Falzone – Co-Founder and CEO of Revel Systems

Ranked at number 19 in Fortune’s 2015 40 under 40, Lisa Falzone is the Co-Founder and CEO of Revel Systems, a company which has developed a simple iPad-based point-of-sale system for shops and restaurants and which is already changing with way we pay for goods and services.  A Stanford University graduate, Lisa founded the company in 2010 with the aim of disrupting the established point of sale industry, utilising technology to enable restaurateurs to streamline their menus, add-ons and deliveries. The company now has over 300 employees around the world and is estimated to be worth around $400 million.

Elon Musk – CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors

Famously quoted as saying he’d like to die on Mars (“just not on impact”), Elon Musk’s love of innovation and technology helped him become a multimillionaire when he was in his late 20s, as a result of being a co-founder of PayPal. He invested the money into his start-up company, Zip2, which he subsequently sold to Compaq Computers. He then went on to found (a science fiction video game), SpaceX (a space exploration technology company) and Tesla Motors (an automotive and energy storage company, best known for its electric cars). It is estimated that Musk, who describes himself as an engineer, inventor and explorer, is worth around $12.3 billion dollars.

Ursula Burns – Chairman and CEO of Xerox

The only African American woman on the board of an S&P 500 company, Ursula Banks first joined Xerox in 1980, as an intern, having been raised in the public housing projects of Lower East Side Manhattan. With a BSc and an MSc in Mechanical Engineering she focused on product development and planning within the company, working in various departments until she was made CEO in 2009. Ursula’s commitment to technology is revealed in her leadership counsel for various educational and community projects including FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), MIT and the US Olympic Committee. She was also appointed as vice chair of the President’s Export Council by President Obama in 2010. 

What unites all of these sensational business leaders is their deep appreciation of the value which technology can bring both to businesses and to the end user. Each in their own way has grasped an idea which has transformed lives in its implementation, not just for the benefit of the individual who had the idea but for the greater good of society. 

Fiona McKay