2012 SUCCESS Achiever of the Year Nominees

UPDATED: January 18, 2013
PUBLISHED: January 18, 2013

Whose accomplishment, innovation or big idea most significantly impacted you, your business or your world in 2012? Here is the list of 5 nominees culled by the editors of SUCCESS and voted on by SUCCESS.com. Who would you choose as the most impactful achiever of 2012? Comment below.


Picture This: Silbermann’s Social Media Success

When his earliest startup venture gained little traction, Ben Silbermann didn’t close his MacBook and give up. He took an honest inventory of what worked with Tote, the shopping app, and what didn’t. Rather than purchase items directly, he noticed, users tended to collect photos of the things they might like to buy. This revelation became the impetus for Pinterest, the newest social media titan, of which Silbermann is co-founder and CEO.

Almost overnight in 2012, the photo-sharing hub rose to the same level of buzz as Facebook and Twitter, with an overwhelming number of females flocking to make it the fastest-growing social site in history during the spring. It then surpassed Yahoo as the web’s third-largest traffic source after finally opening to the general public in the summer, more than two years after a soft launch. It was around this time that Silbermann and his wife, Divya, welcomed their firstborn, Max.

Through Silbermann’s tight stewardship—he still takes turns responding to support questions and oversaw the August launch of a new app that quickly rose to tops in the App Store—there is hope Pinterest can fulfill the promise of social media monetization. Though still well behind the total user base of the industry’s two giants, Pinterest has fostered an online community receptive to overtures from marketers and willing to drop serious coin on higher-end apparel, furniture, electronics, foodstuffs and anything else.

Despite running a growing company valued at $1.5 billion and earning a place on the MIT Technology Review’s 35 innovators under 35 list, Silbermann managed to maintain a comfortable level of anonymity: He has only about 11,000 Twitter followers.


It’s Cook’s Apple Now

Apple CEO Tim Cook left the shadow of mentor Steve Jobs to introduce new products and soften the tech giant’s image in 2012.

Master of the supply chain, Cook has overseen rapid rollouts of a fourth-generation iPad with an über-fast Internet connection and improved display, a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a high-definition screen, an iMac desktop computer that’s stunningly thin, the iPad Mini and iPhone 5. The latter product also had error-ridden mapping software that Cook apologized for.

That mea culpa, which humbly directed users to competing products, is one of many human sides of Apple to emerge under Cook. Responding to criticisms of working conditions at Foxconn, a Chinese company that makes Apple products, Cook joined the Fair Labor Association and allowed an investigation. When the association reported frequent accidents and forced overtime, he worked with Foxconn to improve conditions.

Cook donated $50 million in Apple funds to Stanford hospitals and another $50 million to other causes. He ushered in the first dividend on shares since 1995 and raised salaries for Apple Store workers.

So how’s the bottom line? The day Jobs died, Apple stock closed at $381; a year later: $671, although the value skidded in November. And Cook, 52, feels confident he can stay the course, commenting, “we’re not taking our foot off the gas.” Apple is soon expected to make inroads into China (“the sky is the limit” there, Cook says) and to market an Apple television.

With Apple since 1998, Cook holds a master’s degree in business from Duke and a bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Auburn, where—during a commencement address—he said intuition guides his decision-making. Cook, who is single, is an avid hiker and cyclist.


Krzyzewski Strikes Gold in Olympics

Guiding USA Basketball to another gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Summer Games is not the greatest coaching feat in the career of Mike Krzyzewski—not even in the discussion, really. The man who built the consistent and squeaky-clean Duke University powerhouse from the ground up has led a dark horse to glory countless times, and the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant are anything but underdogs.

Still, the team’s talent advantage doesn’t make Coach K’s accomplishment any less impressive. It wasn’t so much that Team USA won, but how it won the London tournament that made their leader a deserving nominee for Achiever of the Year. Through Krzyzewski’s management, a dozen National Basketball Association millionaires put aside personal glory, career and financial interests for something more meaningful, roles as ambassadors of America’s most global sport and of the country itself.

As recent competitions have proven, the United States isn’t entitled to international gold despite the use of professional players. We hadn’t won the Fédération Internationale de Basketball World Championships since 1994, and finished with a disappointing bronze in the 2004 Athens games, but the commitment Krzyzewski instilled allowed the “Redeem Team” to bring home gold from Beijing in 2008, and carry over the hunger for class and success four years later.

If he passes the torch to another coach at this point, as Krzyzewski has acknowledged some desire to do, he will step away from Team USA with a 62-1 record. The all-time leader in men’s college hoops wins, he has written books and hosted conferences on leadership strategy, and is active with the Children’s Miracle Network and V Foundation for cancer research.


Marissa Mayer, the Classic Overachiever

Marissa Mayer faces a mighty challenge as CEO of Yahoo, whose value was $140 billion in January 2000 and is about $18 billion now. Moving to Yahoo from Google in July, she acted quickly to shore up morale—reeling after staggering layoffs and four CEOs the past four years. (Yahoo's board has pledged a free rein and patience to Mayer, who told The Wall Street Journal "it will take multiple years to get to where I want the company to be," which is a consumer Internet company focused on "delightful" user experiences.)

A Stanford computer science graduate, Mayer joined Google in 1999 and was vice president of Local, Maps and Location Services when she left. Her career philosophy is "to work with the smartest people I can find" and to be outside her comfort zone. During her Google tenure, daily searches zoomed from a few hundred thousand to 1 billion-plus, and she launched more than 100 features, including image, book and product searches and Google News.

Within weeks of arriving at Yahoo, Mayer instituted three employee perks: free smartphones, free food in the cafeteria and Friday town halls with her. She has reserved capital for acquisitions of small companies that align with goals at Yahoo, which she says "will have to be a predominantly mobile company." So far, so good: Yahoo's third-quarter 2012 profits beat expectations, with shares up 4.2 percent to $16.45 in October.

Mayer gave birth to her first child, a boy, Sept. 30 and returned to work in mid-October. At 37, she is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company and was No. 3 on Fortune's 40 Under 40 list of corporate-and-comers in 2012.


  Elon Musk, Spaceman and Electric Car Salesman

Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, 1522 hours, 250 miles off Baja California… splashdown—a successful completion of the first commercial cargo mission to Earth's orbit, a milestone for galactic transport company SpaceX and Elon Musk, its CEO and founder.

Musk, the South African-born entrepreneur (now a U.S. citizen) who co-founded PayPal as well as electric-car manufacturer Tesla Motors and solar-power leader SolarCity, has now spent a decade guiding his space project, which he launched with $100 million of his own money following the sale of PayPal to eBay. After a successful May demonstration that the unmanned Dragon vehicle could dock with the International Space Station to deliver food, supplies and experimental material, and then return used goods to Earth intact, the company finalized a contract with NASA that will pay as much as $3.1 billion for a dozen missions to the ISS.

By privatizing manned and unmanned flights to space, NASA can reduce its cost to taxpayers while at the same time fostering competition and innovation in the new industry, making further technological advancement and exploration possible. Musk and SpaceX remain on the cutting edge, in a new, friendlier kind of space race that includes Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and a bevy of other companies.

What's next? Musk and his team of 1,800 SpaceX employees are working to prepare the Dragon to carry astronauts into orbit; they're also constructing some of the world's most advanced rockets. Space launches currently make up most of the missions for a company that has turned a profit for the last five years. Musk aims for cost-saving reusability in rocket construction, with a Mars mission in the works for 2018, the foundation for an eventual manned flight to the Red Planet.


Recent winners of SUCCESS' annual Achiever of the Year award include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2011, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in 2010 and Zappos' Tony Hsieh in 2009.

Josh Ellis is the former editor in chief for SUCCESS magazine. Before joining SUCCESS in 2012, he was an accomplished digital and print sportswriter, working for the Dallas Cowboys Star magazine, the team’s gameday program, and DallasCowboys.com. Originally from Longview, Texas, he began writing for his hometown newspaper at 16.