Many CEOs have changed the way their companies operate. But the most important CEOs have transformed not just their businesses, but also people’s lives, including how they live, work, play and love. Perhaps Steve Jobs said it best: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
It’s little surprise that Jobs, Apple’s founder and former CEO, had an almost immeasurable cultural and technological impact on people’s day-to-day lives. Similarly, other top CEOs have taken steps to leave their marks on the world.
Read on to get advice from the business icons who made their fortunes while shaping our lives.
1. Steve Jobs, Apple
Age: 56 when he died in 2011
Net worth: $10.2 billion at the time of his death
How he changed the way we live: Apple created the iPhone, selling its billionth unit in July 2016. The company reported that it sold 50.76 million iPhones in the second quarter of 2017 alone.
Steve Jobs was an American entrepreneur who co-founded Apple Computer Inc. in his family’s garage in 1976. During his second tenure as the company’s CEO, Jobs helped revolutionize the way we use both phones and computers and ushered in the era of the smartphone.
The Apple iPhone is also notable for popularizing touch screens and eliminating push buttons.
2. Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Net worth: $85.1 billion
How he changed the way we live: Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, which surpassed expectations when it announced earnings of $35.7 billion in the first quarter of 2017.
Bezos graduated from Princeton University in 1986, founded Amazon in 1994 and was named Time’s Person of the Year in 1999. Named after the massive South American river, Amazon strives to live up to its moniker through its boundless ambition.
In just a couple decades, Amazon has completely changed the way people shop. The searchable platform makes it easy to find countless items at different prices, giving shoppers millions of buying options without leaving their couches.
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3. Elon Musk, SpaceX
Net worth: $15.5 billion
How he changed the way we live: Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, is best known for creating reusable space stuff. It’s privately funded, but the company is believed to be worth $12 billion. It earns about $133 million, paid by NASA, for every mission it completes.
A South African-born entrepreneur, Musk became a millionaire when he sold his first company at the age of 27. He also founded and runs Tesla Motors and co-founded PayPal. Learn more fast facts about how Musk grew his fortune.
SpaceX is a key player in the emerging private space race. Although it has not quite changed day-to-day life yet, the company designs, manufactures and launches spacecraft with the eventual goal of enabling people to live on other planets.
4. Oprah Winfrey, Harpo Studios
Net worth: $3 billion
How she changed the way we live: Among her many accomplishments, Oprah Winfrey inspired a cultural phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “the Oprah Effect.” When it went off the air in 2011, her eponymous show boasted an estimated 48 million viewers per week.
From humble beginnings, Oprah became one of the wealthiest women in the world through her self-named brand. Television pioneer, magazine founder, actress, producer, philanthropist and Broadway producer are just a few of the roles she’s held over the years.
Although her beloved show is no longer on the air, Winfrey changed the way we live by inspiring people to work toward self-improvement. Additionally, she influenced the purchasing habits of millions of Americans through her show and magazine.
5. Larry Page, Alphabet
Net worth: $45.5 billion
How he changed the way we live: Larry Page is responsible for PageRank, the proprietary search algorithm used by Google. Today Google processes at least 2 trillion searches every year, or 63,000 per second, up from 1 billion searches in 1999.
Page started Google with another Stanford student, Sergey Brin, in 1998. He served as the company’s first CEO and then took on the role of president of products before becoming CEO again in 2011. In 2015, he became CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
Google has impacted our lives by allowing us to search for facts in minutes and spawning the phrase, “Google it.”
6. Howard Schultz, Starbucks
Net worth: $3.1 billion
How he changed the way we live: Howard Schultz helped launch Starbucks, which took in $21.32 billion between 2003 and 2016 and dominates 39.8 percent of the U.S. coffee chain market.
Schultz is a self-made man who grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1987, he bought Starbucks, then an artsy coffee shop in Seattle. He changed our mornings by rapidly expanding the now-ubiquitous chain, which previously sold only coffee beans.
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7. Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo
Age: 85 when he died in 2013
Net worth: $4.2 billion at the time of his death
How he changed the way we live: Hiroshi Yamauchi created the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo DS alone has sold more than 154 million units and nearly 1 billion software units.
Yamauchi was a Japanese businessman who dropped out of college in 1948 to take over his grandfather’s business, then a card game manufacturer called Nintendo Koppai. If you are a gamer, you have Yamauchi to thank for making the industry what it is today by introducing Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and the landmark Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985.
8. Reed Hastings, Netflix
Net worth: $1.9 billion
How he changed the way we live: In 1997, Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix, which boasted 98.75 million worldwide subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Hastings is an American entrepreneur who helped revolutionize the way people around the world consume media, especially television and movies. Netflix also changed the way networks produce and deliver content and spurred the end of the video store era. In 2017, Forbes reported that more people now subscribe to Netflix than to cable TV.
9. Travis Kalanick, Uber
Net worth: $6.3 billion
How he changed the way we live: Travis Kalanick helped launch the Uber ride-share service. Uber is a privately held company, but Forbes puts its value at about $68 billion.
Kalanick and co-founder Garrett Camp thought of the idea for Uber when they couldn’t get a cab in Paris one night in 2008. Since then, the company has evolved from a small car order service to a technology company offering millions of rides in cities around the globe. By 2016, Uber had 160,000 drivers and 40 million monthly active riders.
Uber is responsible for launching the ride-sharing revolution and pushing aside traditional taxi services by making paying for rides easy, convenient and cheap.
Keep Reading: CEO Travis Kalanick Booted From Uber, But Still Rich
10. Bill Gates, Microsoft
Net worth: $89.8 billion
How he changed the way we live: Bill Gates is responsible for developing the Windows operating systems. The latest of those systems, Windows 10, is active on more than 400 million devices.
Gates has claimed the title of the world’s richest person for 18 of the last 23 years. He is now known for his global philanthropy as much as for changing the way people use computers. With his user-friendly Windows interface, Gates helped even the least tech-savvy consumers empower their lives through personal computers. It was only recently that Android overtook Windows as the world’s most used operating system.
Today, 80 percent of all Fortune 500 companies warehouse data on the Microsoft Cloud.
11. Frederick W. Smith, FedEx
Net worth: $4.8 billion
How he changed the way we live: Frederick Smith created the FedEx package delivery service. The company, which processes 13 million shipments every business day, took in $50.4 billion in revenue in 2016. Its assets include 658 aircraft, 150,000 vehicles and 400,000 employees.
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale and served in the Marines before starting a small shipping company called Federal Express in Arkansas in 1971. Today, the global transportation, business services and logistics company delivers packages to customers all over the world in as little as one day.
12. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Net worth: $66.4 billion
How he changed the way we live: Mark Zuckerberg is the mastermind behind Facebook. The king of social media, Facebook boasts 2 billion monthly active users, and its $245 billion market valuation is bigger than that of Walmart.
Harvard dropout Zuckerberg started Facebook from his dorm room. His project brought social media to the masses, united the world and revolutionized advertising — and made him incredibly rich. Additionally, Zuckerberg made the hoodie the standard uniform of dot-com moguls everywhere.
13. Ted Turner, CNN
Net worth: $2.3 billion
How he changed the way we live: Ted Turner started CNN, the original 24-hour cable news network. In June 2017, CNN broke its own record by posting its highest second-quarter ratings in the network’s history.
American businessman Turner is one of the original media moguls of the modern age. The billionaire has a simple secret to success: “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.”
The founder and former CEO of CNN is responsible for the 24-hour cable news cycle, which revolutionized the way the world consumes information, particularly breaking news. Rather than wait until 6 p.m. for edited news segments, viewers can now access relatively unfiltered news 24 hours a day on CNN and other stations.
14. Meg Whitman, eBay
Net worth: $2.7 billion
How she changed the way we live: Meg Whitman helped build eBay, which boasts 167 million users as of 2017, as well as 25 million sellers and a classifieds feature that’s used by 250 million people.
Although Whitman — who now runs Hewlett Packard Enterprise — didn’t create eBay, she took the company from 30 to 15,000 employees and helped make it into a global phenomenon. The first successful person-to-person selling platform of its kind, eBay gave people a way to sell new and used items to people far and wide.
The company has had to evolve with the changing marketplace, but the eBay of Whitman’s day not only kept up with consumer demands, but also created them in the first place.
15. Walt Disney, The Walt Disney Company
Age: 65 when he died in 1966
Net worth: $5 billion at the time of his death
How he changed the way we live: Walt Disney is the brain behind the Disney brand. In the decade between 2006 and 2016, the Disney Company took in $55.63 billion in global revenue and nearly $17 billion from its parks and resorts.
Disney pioneered film animation and reinvented the American vacation. He was the driving force behind Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Bambi and Pinocchio, as well as the original Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, Calif.
A Look Back: The Legacy of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse
From theme parks and cruise lines to cash-churning franchises like “Frozen,” Disney has no shortage of revenue streams. It’s also No. 67 on Forbes’ list of the largest companies in the world by market cap.
16. Larry Ellison, Oracle
Net worth: $61.2 billion
How he changed the way we live: Larry Ellison is responsible for Oracle business software, which provides services and products to 305,000 companies.
American billionaire Ellison founded Oracle in 1977 and was its CEO until 2014. He now serves as chairman and chief technology officer and is richer than ever, thanks to an unexpectedly strong showing by Oracle in recent months.
His company changed the way people do business by creating huge, searchable databases that allow multiple computer systems to store and access information. Moreover, 97 percent of the world’s Fortune 500 companies use Oracle’s cloud applications, platform services and engineered systems.
17. Marc Benioff, Salesforce
Net worth: $4.3 billion
How he changed the way we live: Marc Benioff created Salesforce business software, which did $8.9 billion in sales in the year ending in May 2017.
If Larry Ellison changed the way businesses communicate with customers, Benioff pushed the envelope further with his cloud-based customer relationship management software. Benioff actually worked for Ellison at Oracle before leaving to co-found Salesforce in 1999. The two companies work so well together that in 2013, they created a technology partnership.
18. Jack Dorsey, Twitter
Net worth: $2 billion
How he changed the way we live: Jack Dorsey co-founded Twitter, which as of June 2017 had 328 million monthly active users.
Since computer programmer Dorsey founded Twitter in 2006, the company has changed the way people communicate in real time, expanding water cooler talk into transnational conversations.
Twitter also brought the word “hashtag” into the global lexicon and transformed customer service, marketing, breaking news, celebrity gossip and politics.
19. Dean Kamen, DEKA Research
Net worth: $500 million
How he changed the way we live: Kamen has had a significant impact on medical technology.
One of the most prolific and successful inventors of his era, Kamen holds more than 440 U.S. patents, including several for medical advancements that make people’s lives better every day. Despite his life-changing advancements in chemotherapy, dialysis and robotics, he will likely always be best known for inventing the Segway personal scooter.
20. Sam Walton, Walmart
Age: 74 when he died in 1992
Net worth: $100 billion at the time of his death
How he changed the way we live: Sam Walton founded the Walmart stores. The chain has a market cap of $221.1 billion and is still No. 1 in sales both in the U.S. and across the world.
Walton opened a small store in Arkansas with the idea to draw customers by offering the lowest prices on goods. He followed 10 signature rules for building a business, which included profit-sharing, controlling expenses for the store and the consumer and defying conventional wisdom.
The strategy worked for Walton, who created one of the most successful business models of all time and revamped the in-store retail experience for consumers around the globe. Today, the Waltons are the richest family in America, with a combined net worth of $130 billion.
21. Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post
Net worth: $50 million
How she changed the way we live: Arianna Huffington created the Huffington Post, which redefined blogging.
Launched in 2005, the Huffington Post won a Pulitzer Prize and made Huffington one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential women. The one-time California gubernatorial candidate — she lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger — is a major proponent of the value of sleep, particularly in America’s hectic corporate culture.
Just 71 sites in the United States and 269 in the entire world get more web traffic than the Huffington Post. Huffington sold her eponymous publication for more than $300 million in 2011.
22. Tony Hsieh, Zappos
Net worth: $780 million+
How he changed the way we live: Online footwear juggernaut Zappos not only changed the way we buy footwear, but it also put a new spin on corporate structure.
Before Tony Hsieh sold Zappos to Amazon for $1.2 billion in 2009, he worked hard to break every rule of corporate America. He fired all the managers so employees could supervise themselves and offered workers one month’s salary to quit if they didn’t love their jobs. He also spent $350 million of his own money on revitalizing Downtown Las Vegas, where Zappos is headquartered.
About the Author
Megan Craig is an experienced personal finance and real estate writer. She lives and writes in Chicago, and her articles, including work on animal welfare, have appeared in several print and online publications, including the Chicago Tribune, CBS MoneyWatch, Equifax Finance Blog and Yahoo! Real Estate.