As we emerge from economic recession, we seek beacons of inspiration and leadership—innovative thinkers who challenge our ideas about what is possible in business, the world and in ourselves. SUCCESS has identified several extraordinary individuals who have accomplished such greatness. These titans of business, technology, media and philanthropy are not only leaders in their respective fields, but also in showing us that, no matter how much we have attained, there is more we all can accomplish. SUCCESS is pleased to present these nominees for the 2010 SUCCESS Achiever of the Year.
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates
The two richest and most generous guys in the country are urging the nation’s billionaires: Give away half your fortune. Or more. The campaign of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, his wife and fellow philanthropist Melinda, and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway could push super-rich Americans to become astonishingly more generous. At least 40 have agreed so far, which translates into $125 billion-plus from the likes of Michael Bloomberg, Ted Turner, David Rockefeller, T. Boone Pickens, Barron Hilton, George Lucas and Peter G. Peterson. The latter, a Blackstone Group co-founder, explained why he made the Giving Pledge moral commitment (which isn’t a legal contract), saying in part: “I get much more pleasure giving money to what I consider worthwhile causes than making the money in the first place.” Exactly how does one ask someone to give up $500 million or more—and not just ask, but at times succeed? Can you imagine? (The Doonesbury comic strip took a crack at that by depicting Buffett asking the thoroughly unconvinced fictional exec Jim Andrews whether he wants to make a difference in the lives of thousands or “leave it all for your three delightful ex-wives to fight over.”) Maybe peer pressure helps. Gates and Buffett rank No. 1 and No. 2 on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list. “We’ve really just started, but already we’ve had a terrific response,” Buffett said in an August news release. He plans to give foundations, principally the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, more than 99 percent of his wealth in the form of stock certificates. “In a comparative sense, though, many individuals give more to others every day,” Buffett wrote in his pledge. These people forgo “movies, dinners out, or other personal pleasures,” he wrote. “In contrast, my family and I will give up nothing we need or want by fulfilling this 99 percent pledge.” The vast majority of the Gates’ assets are pegged for their own foundation to, among other things, stop Third World deaths from dreadful diseases that can be avoided with an inexpensive vaccine. “Our animating principle is that all lives have equal value,” the couple wrote in their pledge. “We believe every child deserves the chance to grow up, to dream and do big things.” Some call it the biggest fundraising drive in history. If successful, some say it could change the face of philanthropy.
He famously created the Apple personal computer in his parents’ garage (with friend Steve Wozniak) and raised the $1,300 needed to start the company in part by selling his VW microbus. But as 2010 exploded with great news, those humble beginnings must have seemed distant memories for current-day billionaire Steve Jobs, who TheAppleMuseum.com describes in his bio as “a high-strung workaholic” who “motivates others with his enthusiasm, has a ‘reality distortion field’; [is] passionate about technology, a micromanager, arrogant and intolerant; can exude a Zen-like calm.” Consider these 2010 feats: The iPad tablet computer instantly became the iGottaHaveIt gadget with its April debut, reaching 1 million sales in 28 days—“that’s less than half of the 74 days it took to achieve this milestone with [the original] iPhone,” said Jobs, Apple’s CEO, in an April news release. A Bernstein Research study stated the iPad was making history as the fastest-selling non-telephone electronic product ever; through late September, almost 7.5 million units had sold. As for the longstanding iPhone, the latest version launched in June saw 1.7 million handsets fly out of stores… in just 72 hours. And, oh yeah, his company? Apple soared past rival Microsoft in May to become the world’s most valuable tech firm. It even briefly became the world’s second-biggest company (by market value) in September, Bloomberg News reported. “We are blown away,” Jobs said as the company reported net quarterly profits surpassing $4 billion, an Apple record. And yet the college dropout’s annual salary as of September 2009 was just a buck. Yes, $1. That fact, CNNMoney.com says, perched him way at the top of the list of “CEO overachievers”—people who led their companies to outperform the S&P 500, yet earned the lowest pay.
Described by Forbes as the world’s most powerful celebrity and the world’s No. 3 most powerful woman (beating Hillary Clinton), Oprah Winfrey brought out the big guns as guests on her show’s 25th and final network-TV season. The billionaire next door premiered her farewell season in September with one of the show’s biggest-ever surprises—Winfrey announced she’ll fly the entire audience to Australia. “You have all been on this wild ride with me every step of the way, and for that I have deep, heartfelt gratitude to you all,” she told the studio and TV audience. Winfrey is taking a big gamble by quitting what has been called the most successful daytime program in TV history to—what?!—start over. A kingmaker who turned Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil into household names and transformed authors’ books into instant best-sellers, the once-poor girl from Mississippi was described by philanthropist Eli Broad as one of the world’s seven most powerful philanthropists. On New Year’s Day 2011, she’s scheduled to launch her own cable channel, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. Her psychological hang-up in not launching the network earlier, she told Fortune, was coming to grips with the idea that she’s a businesswoman: “If I’m a businesswoman and a brand, where is my authentic self? If it’s all ‘busni-fied,’ where’s the authenticity?” As guest John Travolta said on Oprah’s farewell-season premiere, she has a rare ability to inject knowledge, help, hope, love and art into the culture. “Oprah, there’s only one of you, and there will never be another one. You are our queen,” he told Winfrey. “We thank you for allowing us to be part of your life. And we’re lucky to be a part of your life.”
Chris Anderson is the driving force behind TED conferences (short for Technology, Entertainment and Design)—those exhilarating, idea-sparking, hope-inducing gatherings “where artists and inventors plot to save the world,” as The New York Times put it, and which feature “ideas worth spreading,” as the conference motto goes. It’s been likened to the dinner party you always wanted but never had. It gathers in one place bright minds in technology, entertainment and design to provide rapid-fire stimulation and encourage the audience and speakers to make unexpected connections. Speakers have included the likes of Virgin’s Richard Branson, singer Paul Simon, architect Frank Gehry, ocean explorer Robert Ballard, Afghanistan-rebuilder Ashraf Ghani and Google founder Larry Page. If you’ve never been to one, don’t worry: Just go to its website and watch videos of speakers’ talks, now translated into at least 79 languages. Or organize one yourself. What’s new: Once confined to two annual conferences in California, TED now—thanks to Anderson—is in what has been called an open-source phase. Volunteers around the country and world already have independently organized hundreds of “TEDx” events in dozens of countries and languages. FastCompany named Anderson one of the most creative persons in business in 2010 as a result of the phenom and described TED as a “viral-video phenomenon turned cultural juggernaut.” “Any business adviser might have told us 10 years ago, ‘Oh, beware! You’re going to dilute your brand,’ ” Anderson told FastCompany. “TEDx has massively enhanced the brand by showing just how widespread this desire is to be stimulated and inspired.”
Facebook in 2010 went from a possible kids’ fad to a global communication force, as one onlooker called it, since its record half-billion subscribers can’t be wrong. It also was the year that fresh-faced co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg—the geek son of a dentist and a psychologist, the guy who chose “Star Wars” as his bar mitzvah theme, the youngest billionaire in history—turned into a titan many people fear. That’s perhaps because every time the social network changes its privacy statements or policies, people grow irate. Or maybe it’s because of the unflattering portrayal of him in the film The Social Network. Zuckerberg, 26, seems to take it in stride. “It’s a movie; it’s fun,” Zuckerberg said on Oprah, where just before the film’s release he announced a $100 million challenge grant for schools in Newark, N.J. (the timing was coincidental, he said). “A lot of it is fiction, but even the filmmakers will say that.” The average American Web user is said to spend 14 minutes a day on Facebook, and all users together rack up more than 700 billion minutes a month. The boy genius who insists his life is “not so dramatic” has nonetheless dramatically altered many Americans’ relationships with friends and acquaintances.
Read who was named 2010 SUCCESS Achiever of the Year and find more nominees from past awards on SUCCESS.com.