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Top 25: Influential business leaders

Internet, computer fields dominate entries

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is ranked the No. 1 person who has changed the business world.





Who do you think changed the business world the most?
Warren Buffett
Sam Walton
Alan Greenspan
Bill Gates
None of the above

Top 25 in business

1. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft
2. Sam Walton, former CEO of Wal-Mart
3. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric
4. Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
5. Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler
6. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple
7. Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines
8. Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer
9. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve
10. Carl Icahn, 1980s corporate raider
11. Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel
12. Michael Milken, former junk-bond wizard
13. John Reed, former CEO of Citigroup
14. Ted Turner, founder of CNN
15. Jim Clark, former CEO of Netscape
16. Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay
17. Jeff Bezos, founder of
18. Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney
19. Peter Lynch, manager of Fidelity's Magellan Fund
20. Phil Knight, CEO of Nike
21. Katharine Graham, late CEO of Washington Post Co.
22. W. Edwards Deming, influential business consultant
23. Ken Lay, former CEO of Enron
24. Shawn Fanning, founder of Napster
25. Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM

(CNN) -- Over the past 25 years, technology was the industry of choice for many of the top business people, and no one more than Microsoft's Bill Gates exemplifies the explosion of that realm, according to a panel of experts CNN gathered to rank the top 25 business leaders of the past quarter-century.

Gates, Microsoft chairman and world's richest man, is the No. 1 business leader of the past quarter-century for his mix of entrepreneurial energy, dogged leadership and philanthropic interest.

Gates began programming computers at age 13, and dropped out of Harvard in his junior year to devote more time to Microsoft, a business he had founded with Paul Allen in 1975.

He has been a driving force behind the computer software industry ever since. He's one of the richest people in the world, and has no compunction about driving a hard bargain.

In 1998, Gates fought the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 states in one of the largest and most contentious antitrust trials in American history. The DOJ alleged that Microsoft abused monopoly power in its handling of operating system and Web browser sales.

After four years of intense legal wrangling, a settlement was reached in November 2002. Gates called it "a tough but fair compromise."

Gates uses the same determined leadership style that keeps Microsoft on the cutting edge, to build charitable organizations. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated more than $27 billion (as of March 2004) to global health and education initiatives.

Jeff Bezos also found success in the infancy of the Internet.

Bezos, CEO and chairman of, ranked No. 17 on the list compiled by Fortune Magazine writers. He founded in 1994 when many had never even heard of the Internet, and fewer saw its business potential.

"If all Bezos had done was start a store on the Internet, he probably would have been forgotten about when the dot-com crash came," says Daniel Roth with Fortune magazine.

"Bezos' particular genius was realizing that logistics and warehousing and incredibly powerful software that would help him with shipping was what was going to set Amazon apart from the competition," he says.

Other entrepreneurs who capitalized on the Internet include Jim Clark (No. 15), former CEO of Netscape; Shawn Fanning (No. 24), founder of Napster; and Meg Whitman (No. 16), CEO of eBay and the world's first woman Internet billionaire.

Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, which manufactures the Pentium chip, is No. 11 on the list. Lou Gerstner (No. 25), former CEO of IBM, changed the company on the verge of a break-up into a money-maker with its reputation and stock at record highs.

Steve Jobs (No. 6), co-founder and CEO of Apple Computer, and Michael Dell (No. 8), founder of Dell Computers, helped introduce the computer to the mainstream consumer, effectively changing the way the world communicates and does business.

Transforming the American company

But innovative and strong business leadership was not found solely in cyberspace or in hard drives.

Leaders like Jack Welch (No. 3), former CEO of General Electric; Lee Iacocca (No. 5), former CEO of Chrysler; and Herb Kelleher (No. 7), chairman of Southwest Airlines, all used strong, decisive business strategies to build and strengthen their companies.

The late Sam Walton (No. 2), founder and CEO of Wal-Mart, changed the business of retailing, using new systems for inventory control and becoming one of the first CEOs to offer profit sharing to his employees. He went from owning one department store in Newport, Arkansas, to presiding over the largest retailer in the world.

Two news leaders made headlines in the world of commerce: Ted Turner (No. 14), founder of CNN and a philanthropist, and Katharine Graham (No. 21), the late CEO of the Washington Post Co. While both of their companies can point to accomplished journalism, it is their business know-how that landed each of them on this list.

Damage to American capitalism

While most business leaders made our list because of their accomplishments, former junk bond wizard Michael Milken (No.12) and former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay (No. 23) made the list, in part, because of the changes to the business landscape that resulted in the wake of scandals associated with them.

In the 1980s Milken's personal wealth was legendary. He transformed corporate finance by using high-yield junk bonds (bonds issued by a company that is considered to be a higher credit risk).

"What he invents is a whole new method of financing, you know, without which, none of the corporate raids, the takeovers of the '80s could have happened," says Fortune magazine writer Jerry Useem.

In 1990, he pleaded guilty to federal securities fraud charges and ultimately paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. He served less than two years in prison and was banned for life from working in the securities business.

Now, using some of his remaining fortune, the prostate cancer survivor is known mostly as a philanthropist and the largest private donor to prostate cancer research.

Another leader who taught us lessons in accountability is Lay, the former Enron CEO.

Lay's energy trading company collapsed in December 2001 and filed for bankruptcy protection after investigators found it had used partnerships to conceal more than $1 billion in debt and inflated profits. More than 4,000 workers were out on the street and many more lost or had reduced retirement savings. This corporate scandal led to congressional hearings that started a drumbeat for reform of accounting and finance rules.

Great innovators

Leaders like Warren Buffett (No. 4), CEO of Berkshire Hathaway; chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan (No. 9) and business consultant W. Edwards Deming (No. 22) changed the ways we do business.

Buffett has become the most successful investor in the world by sinking his money into undervalued companies with low overhead costs, high growth potential, strong market shares and low price-to-earnings ratios.

"There's no one else that has the track record that Warren Buffett does," Useem says. "In a way, he's the opposite of the get-rich-quick schemer. And, ironically, that's made him the second richest man in the world."

Warren Buffett is ranked as the second richest man in the world. His innovations earned him the No. 4 spot on CNN's list.

Although Greenspan doesn't run a company, he is a large influence on the corporate world and changes in the industry. He has a large part in directing U.S. national monetary policy.

Deming, using his theories of management and quality control, helped turn Japan into a manufacturing powerhouse.

Phil Knight (No. 20), CEO of Nike, has led the company to become the largest athletic shoe and clothing company in the world, using shrewd marketing and celebrity endorsements.

Disney CEO Michael Eisner (No. 18) took a company practically on its deathbed, and turned it into a media powerhouse. Last February, Eisner weathered a hostile takeover attempt, but a month later was stripped of his chairmanship following a 45 percent no-confidence vote by shareholders.

Others on our list such as Peter Lynch (No. 19), manager of Fidelity's Magellan Fund; John Reed (No. 13), former CEO of Citigroup; and corporate raider Carl Icahn (No. 10) made inroads into how we look at business.

By following his mantra of picking stocks based on main street trends not Wall Street, Lynch guided the Magellan Fund to unprecedented growth. Reed, meanwhile, was instrumental in the rise of the ATM and credit card.

Icahn is a master at seeing the value of companies others had overlooked. Last year, he made $250 million on ImClone shares he bought the day Martha Stewart sold hers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Stay tuned throughout the year as CNN continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary by examining other top 25 lists through 2005.

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