Who is the greatest leader in technology? I have been a student of business leadership since my graduation days. I have enjoyed figuring out what made leaders tick, perform, and understand why their companies have delivered excellent results.
When Jeff Bezos recently announced that he was stepping down after 27 years as the CEO of Amazon, the Internet was abuzz with comparisons with other technology leaders. Many claim that he is the greatest CEO in tech history.
His achievements are stellar- he created an e-commerce multi-category killer worth $1.7 Trillion, employing 1.3m people directly, cloud computing division, and so on. The question to ask is, how should we judge the greatness of a leader.
Should the judgement be based on financial returns, personal character, contribution to the society and world at large, or a mix of all of these?
Visionary Leader: Would you instead pick the visionary genius, Steve Jobs, as the greatest technology leader? After all he is the one who turned around Apple from its grave, gave us the iPhone, iPad, iMac, and transformed consumer technology as we know it? As his biographer Walter Isaacson and others have pointed out, however, Steve Jobs was far from perfect.
Or would you instead pick Bill gates, who built Microsoft into the world's biggest software company in the 1990s, which opened up technology access for billions of people? This was driven by the Microsoft office and Windows combination suite of software. And to top it off, he is now spending his billions on fighting disease, poverty, and climate change. At the same time, we know from Satya Nadella’s account in his book, “Hit Refresh”, that the hard charging ultra competitive culture in Microsoft can be attributable to Gates’s early leadership style.
The exciting thing is that Gates has a stellar successor in Satya Nadella, who has added $1.4 Trillion in market value since he took over. On the other hand, Tim Cook has added $1.9 Trillion to the market value of Apple. (numbers from FT). Should these gentlemen not get some credit for their work? They have a good part of their careers ahead of them, and it is perhaps too soon to judge them.
The mercurial and iconoclastic Elon Musk has to figure in the top ten in this list. Yes, he does often make comments that drive his followers to question his stability. No one can question the impact his Tesla cars will have in reducing emissions (about 20-30% of global emissions are created by automobiles). He opened up the patents for electric vehicles so that other companies could use them. He made electric cars cool, and now every global automaker has an electric vehicle on its roadmap. Other “side” projects:
- SpaceX: Colonizing Mars if we can't save Earth,
- Neuralink: Connecting the human mind to computers to augment intelligence, help people with disabilities,
- Solar City: Harnessing the energy of the sun and bringing the cost of renewable energy down.
As per CB insights/Financial Times, he is disrupting multiple industries at a time when entrepreneurs dream of succeeding in one! He is the quintessential big-thinking entrepreneur who has a radical vision of the future and will make money by pushing humankind to break through frontiers that they never imagined before.
Who else should be on this list for consideration? Should we evaluate Mukesh Ambani/Jack Ma/ Ratan Tata /Richard Branson / Sheryl Sandberg- why or why not? Who among these would you regard as the greatest? I leave it to you to decide.