One entrepreneur helped start a trading platform that’s taking on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. Another executive oversees North American ride-sharing operations for Uber, the world’s most valuable unicorn. A third runs a $3.2 billion Internet empire. Another helped turn a novel food-delivery startup into a company with an estimated $1 billion in annual sales in just four years.
That all four of these men and women have accomplished as much before their 40th birthdays is yet more noteworthy.
Noteworthy, yes—and, we think, even worth celebrating on the cover. But honestly, no longer surprising.
Indeed, for our eighth annual 40 Under 40 list, we found dozens of strikingly innovative entrepreneurs, company leaders, philanthropists, and creative geniuses—still in their twenties and thirties—who are transforming the way we do business, invest, shop, eat, and live. If anything, the major challenge for assistant managing editor Leigh Gallagher and the team of reporters who led the search wasn’t finding these young stars, but rather winnowing down the list to just 40 names (and, as you’ll see, we fudged that a bit with some double entries).
Still, while it’s not surprising that the nation’s millennial and Generation Y populations are bursting with entrepreneurial ideas and startup zeal, there is something about the phenomenon that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Poll after poll in recent months would suggest that younger Americans have soured on the free-market economy. In April, a Harvard University survey of 18- to 29-year-olds found that the majority (51%) of those asked did not support “capitalism.” (A third said they support “socialism.”) Three months earlier, in January, a YouGov survey found that those under 30 actually had a more favorable view of socialism than they did of capitalism. And then, of course, there are all those diehard millennial supporters of Bernie Sanders, who have rejected what has long been one of the holy tenets of laissez-faire markets—free trade.
The disconnect, in truth, may have nothing to do with the market economy at all, but rather with words. “Capitalism,” after all, doesn’t have the ring of “entrepreneurship.” “Big business”—which has a truly dismal image in the public eye these days, according to Gallup—feels dowdy and lifeless compared with “startup.” And “climbing the corporate ladder” simply can’t compete in the under-40 fantasy camp with “disrupting an industry.”
It’s not just business’s biological clock that has been reset in recent years, but its vocabulary. What’s the truest ideal of a businessperson today? Just ask Joey Levin, the 37-year-old CEO of Internet and media giant IAC, and No. 11 on this year’s list: It’s someone who is “solving problems that have never been solved before with solutions never thought possible.”
Who wouldn’t want to do that?
A version of this article appears in the October 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Generation Biz.”