The World's 50 Greatest Leaders

Our annual list of the thinkers, speakers, and doers who are stepping up to meet today’s challenges.
April 19, 2018

Though it seems unlikely, Tim Cook and Indira Jaising have something in common besides membership in Fortune’s 2018 ranking of the World’s Greatest Leaders. Cook (No. 14) is the wealthy CEO of Apple, the most valuable publicly traded company on earth; Jaising (No. 20) is an Indian lawyer who cofounded an NGO called Lawyers Collective, which promotes human rights issues. Yet they share this trait: Both have multiplied their organizations’ effectiveness by harnessing the power of unbundling. Following their example is a new imperative for the best leaders.

Unbundling means disaggregating enterprises of all kinds, from the smallest startups to entire nations. In business it can mean making a company more valuable by splitting it up, as Hewlett-Packard did and other companies (Honeywell, Pentair, DowDuPont) are doing. Or it can mean increasing value by delegating functions once regarded as necessary parts of the whole; Apple’s outsourcing of complex, high-tech manufacturing, and the staggering capital requirements that go with it, is a dramatic example.

Technology makes unbundling possible and often inevitable. For centuries, greater size made companies, nations, and other enterprises more efficient and effective. Increasingly, it doesn’t. Outsourcing and coordinating manufacturing, distribution, research, and nonemployee workers becomes easy and cheap in the digital era. The most extreme example is the Chinese appliance maker Haier, which is not so much a company as a platform that invites entrepreneurs to become one of thousands of microenterprises within its ecosystem. Crazy? Definitely not. Using this radically unbundled model, Haier has become the world’s largest appliance brand.

I asked the architect of Haier’s model, chairman Zhang Ruimin (on our WGL list in 2014 and 2017), why more business leaders don’t follow his example. “They’re afraid of giving up power,” he replied. Nearly all their incentives encourage empire building. “Bigger firms pay more, way more,” says Kevin Hallock, director of Cornell University’s Institute for Compensation Studies. The same is true among nonprofits and labor unions, he finds. Why would any leader want to unbundle?

This year’s list puts an emphasis on leaders who are navigating this challenge deftly. (That has meant sidelining some perennially worthy figures, from Pope Francis to Jeff Bezos; to see past years’ lists, visit At companies, one solution is to evaluate leaders on wealth creation rather than size as conventionally measured. Leaders of mission-driven nonprofits may face fewer disincentives. Indira Jaising’s little NGO punches far above its weight because it can outsource staff and infrastructure; the Internet lets it communicate widely at low cost and enables volunteers to pitch in from around the world.


Click on the names below to jump to their section of the list


1. The Students Marjory Stoneman Douglas and other schools
2. Bill and Melinda Gates Cofounders, Gates Foundation
3. The #MeToo Movement
4. Moon Jae-in President, South Korea
5. Kenneth Frazier CEO, Merck
6. Scott Gottlieb FDA commisioner
7. Margarethe Vestager Commissioner for Competition, European Union
8. Larry Fink CEO, BlackRock
9. General Joseph Dunford Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
10. Liu He Vice Premier, China


11. Mary Barra CEO, General Motors
12. Nick Saban Football coach, University of Alabama
13. Emmanuel Macron President, France
14. Tim Cook CEO, Apple
15. Serena Williams Athlete
16. Isabelle Kocher CEO, Engie
17. Katie Bethell Executive director, PL+US
18. Ryan Coogler Film director
19. Huateng “Pony” Ma CEO, Tencent
20. Indira Jaising Founder, Lawyers Collective


21. Marc Benioff CEO, Salesforce
22. The Gymnasts and Their Allies
23. Kathleen McLaughlin Chief sustainability officer, Walmart
24. Mukesh Ambani Chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries
25. Mick Cornett Former mayor, Oklahoma City
26. Donald Hopkins Physician, the Carter Center
27. Oprah Winfrey CEO, OWN
28. Mitch Landrieu Mayor, New Orleans
29. Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister, New Zealand
30. Ma Jun Environmentalist, China


31. West Virginia Teachers
32. Leymah Gbowee President, Gbowee Peace Foundation
33. Jamie Dimon CEO, JPMorgan Chase
34. Michael Sorrell President, Paul Quinn College
35. Reese Witherspoon Actor/producer
36. Daniel Servitje Montull CEO, Grupo Bimbo
37. Izumi Nakamitsu Undersecretary general for disarmament, United Nations
38. Bashar Masri Founder, Rawabi
39. Leila de Lima Senator, Philippines
40. Angela Nyambura Gichaga CEO, Financing Alliance for Health


41. Timothy Keller Evangelical minister/author, Redeemer City to City
42. Gwynne Shotwell President and chief operating officer, SpaceX
43. Balkrishna Doshi Architect, India
44. Feike Sijbesma CEO, DSM
45. Kelly Chibale Scientist, South Africa
46. Ana Botín Group executive 
chairman, Banco Santander
47. Dina Meza Journalist, PEN Honduras
48. Ridwan Kamil Mayor, Bandung, Indonesia
49. Amy Gutmann President, University of Pennsylvania
50. Ed Bastian CEO, Delta Air Lines

The fiercest resisters of unbundling are national leaders. They have little to gain and much to lose by leading a smaller country. Yet they may have no choice, eventually. Many services that once were the province of governments—telecom, utilities, even satellite launches—have become commoditized, available on the open market. Spain’s Catalonians, for example, think they don’t need Madrid, and they may well be right.

The unbundling trend is especially powerful because it’s driven from the bottom up as well as from the top down. Many people are eager to be free of institutions. “The desire to be self-sustaining, to be the boss, is a psychological reality,” says Parag Khanna, a strategy consultant who sees devolution as a powerful force in politics and the economy. The entrepreneurialism lurking in many souls can express itself more easily than ever.

Unbundling poses a quandary for leaders: Doing what’s best for the people they lead may result in leading fewer of them. But that fear reflects a too-narrow view of leadership, which arises not from authority but from inspiration. On paper, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier (No. 5) leads 69,000 employees. But when he took what he called “a stand against intolerance and extremism” after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., last summer, resigning from President Trump’s manufacturing council to protest Trump’s equivocating comments on the violence, he became a leader to millions.

The age of unbundling is disorienting. But leadership is what you make of it, as these 50 great leaders teach us. —Geoff Colvin

Head writers: Erika Fry, Jonathan Chew, and Matt Heimer

Writers: Kristen Bellstrom, Geoff Colvin, Rachel King, Kirsten Korosec, Beth Kowitt, Adam Lashinsky, Clifton Leaf, Anne VanderMey, Phil Wahba, Jen Wieczner, Valentina Zarya, and Claire Zillman

Guest Contributors: Brian Finlay, The Stimson Center; Phyllis Heydt, Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Health; Raj Panjabi, Last Mile Health; Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Yale School of Management

Emma González and other students at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Mazur—Getty Images for March For Our Lives

1. The Students

Marjory Stoneman Douglas and other schools

If 2018 becomes the year that the United States finally begins to tackle its disease of gun violence—an epidemic that steals nearly 100 American lives every day—it will be due not to the good sense of elected officials, but rather to the courage, tenacity, and sheer eloquence of students like Emma González, who bore witness to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings with an unforgettable speech, and long moment of silence, at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C..

It will be due to 11th-graders like Cameron Kasky, who along with Stoneman Douglas classmates Jaclyn Corin and Alex Wind launched the #NeverAgain crusade and helped plan the historic rally in Washington, which was mirrored by gatherings around the world. It will be due to 11-year-olds like Naomi Wadler, who reminded millions of people on that same day of something that should never have needed a reminder: that young African-Americans who die in such overwhelming numbers from gun violence aren’t “simply statistics” but instead vibrant lives “full of potential.” It will be due to 21-year-olds like Columbia student Nza-Ari Khepra, who cofounded two efforts to bring attention to gun violence—Project Orange Tree and the Wear Orange Campaign—which she hopes will inspire other young people to engage in a conversation about this scourge.

To read more about these and many other young activists, click here.

Melinda and Bill Gates (at left) meet with participants in a malaria vaccine trial in Tanzania.
Frederic Courbet—Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

2. Bill and Melinda Gates

Cofounders, Gates Foundation

The scourge of malaria has a way of rising from the mat just when science seems to have knocked it out. Fortunately, the disease has a tenacious foe in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As the global rate of infection has crept upward again in recent years, the Gateses have committed resources to the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC), a public-private partnership devoted to developing better insecticides. The couple have also taken an increasingly impassioned stand for gender equity; independent of the foundation, Melinda is now a key financial partner in Aspect Ventures, an investment fund focused on combating sexual discrimination in tech.

Tarana Burke (center) with activists at a Take Back the Workplace Rally in Los Angeles.
Chelsea Guglielmino—FilmMagic

3. The #MeToo Movement

Activist Tarana Burke (center) began using the phrase “Me Too” in 2006 to describe the pervasiveness of sexual abuse. Today, there’s no single face or leader of the #MeToo movement—in large part because more people than ever know that harassment in the workplace is universal. The women who have come forward to tell their stories have ousted powerful executives such as Harvey Weinstein, Steve Wynn, and Michael Ferro (see Fortune‘s feature on Ferro’s departure from Tronc). The ensuing reckoning is forcing leaders in every industry, not just ­media and entertainment, to change their way of thinking.

Maurizio Gambarini—Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP

4. Moon Jae-in

President, South Korea

Moon took office last May under inauspicious circumstances—his predecessor was impeached for corruption. Yet Moon speedily enacted reforms aimed at creating a fairer economy, such as boosting the minimum wage, expanding health coverage, and addressing the influence of the country’s chaebol conglomerates. Moon has been pivotal in arranging talks between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, a possible prelude to inter-Korean reconciliation.

Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

5. Kenneth Frazier

CEO, Merck

It’s easy to forget that last August, after President Trump’s tepid response to a white nationalist rally that turned violent, outcry from the business community was not immediate. Frazier took a risk by becoming the first of Trump’s advisers to speak out and step down, enabling others to follow suit. His success at Merck only bolsters his credibility: Since he took over in 2011, the pharma giant has made strides in treating several cancers, while its stock beat the S&P 500.


6. Scott Gottlieb

FDA commissioner

It’s hard to imagine a federal agency that touches more of our lives—and in more personal ways—than the Food and Drug Administration. It reaches in through our medicine cabinets, regulating everything from our morning pills to makeup—and through our kitchen cupboards, ensuring the safety of most of what we ingest each day, even bottled water. Its purview extends from pet food to microwave ovens to vaccines, pacemakers, and bedpans. And in the year since he has been FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb has appeared to have had a direct hand in all of it. Gottlieb, a physician and former VC who served as a deputy commissioner in the administration of President George W. Bush, has earned broad kudos from a constituency that is often beset by bitter argument. He has pushed for creative ways to slow the skyrocketing rise of medicine prices (in part by making it easier for generics to compete), helped speed the development of digital health technologies through clearer regulatory guidance, embraced more efficient clinical trial designs, and aggressively tried to reduce cigarette smoking and contain America’s raging opioid epidemic through sharp policy moves. An avid (perhaps even obsessive) tweeter, Gottlieb has gotten credit for being transparent about FDA steps—and, more important, for using his bully pulpit without being a bully.


7. Margarethe Vestager

Commissioner for Competition, European Union

Vestager didn’t need the benefit of hindsight. Long before the outrage at Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, and before “fake news” was even a thing, the Danish-born EU commissioner was thoughtfully and assiduously regulating Big Tech. Amazon, Google, and their ilk may be disruptive, they may even be changing the world, but Vestager—an iPhone user who is active on Twitter—has treated the companies as subject to the same rules as any other. She slapped Apple with a $14.5 billion tax bill in 2016 after declaring its tax benefits in Ireland illegal—Tim Cook lost his cool and called it “total political crap”—and fined Alphabet $2.7 billion for antitrust violations in 2017. Politicians and regulators worldwide—from India to Brazil to, yes, the U.S.—are now following her lead.

Photograph by Marco Grob

8. Larry Fink

CEO, BlackRock

As leader of the world’s biggest asset manager, overseeing $6.28 trillion, Fink knows how to put his money where his mouth is. In his annual missive to CEOs in January, the BlackRock cofounder called for each company to not just perform financially “but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” Fink’s mandate mirrors the philosophy that has lately driven BlackRock’s strategy—which is that shareholders will lose in the long run if companies ignore broader social concerns today. A longtime advocate for tax reform, Fink also warned companies to figure out what they’re going to do with their tax windfalls “to create long-term value”—before activist investors force their hand. But the most potent example of how BlackRock is practicing its principles came after February’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Not only did BlackRock seek answers on violence prevention measures by gun retailers and manufacturers it owns—several of which subsequently changed their policies—but in April it unveiled new funds that allow investors to divest from those stocks entirely. As Fink told CEOs, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford (in eyeglasses) with troops at Fort Greely in Alaska.
Po1 Dominique A. Pineiro—Planet Pix via ZUMA Wire

9. Gen. Joseph Dunford

Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

President Trump’s national security staff has endured unusually high turnover—which makes Dunford’s continuity at the Joint Chiefs of Staff all the more important. The career Marine previously served as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan; that experience makes him a valuable resource for a President eager to project strength without entangling U.S. forces too deeply in commitments abroad. Dunford has also helped shape sharp-turn directives from the White House into pragmatic policy—including, recently, converting a mandate to get the military more involved in providing security on the Mexican border into a strategic deployment of National Guard troops.

Qilai Shen—Bloomberg via Getty Images

10. Liu He

Vice Premier, China

President Xi Jinping faces two extremely high-stakes economic challenges: guiding the country’s evolution from an industrial economy to a consumer one and avoiding a trade war with the U.S. He’ll rely heavily on Liu, a confidant who boasts connections in the international financial community that Xi lacks. Diplomats and traders already see Liu’s influence in the deftly conciliatory language China has adopted in recent tariff disputes with the White House.

GM CEO Mary Barra at a Detroit auto show this January.
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

11. Mary Barra

CEO, General Motors

No woman on earth runs a bigger company, in revenue terms, than Barra. And in an era in which automotive startups capture all the headlines, 109-year-old GM has quietly, reliably been producing crowd-pleasing, mass-market, all-electric cars. GM beat Tesla’s Model 3 to market with the Chevrolet Bolt EV—and has been selling it steadily since then. Barra has revamped GM’s corporate culture following a scandal involving fatal ignition defects, and is racing into the future with major acquisitions in autonomous driving. Coming up next year? A Chevy Bolt without a steering wheel.

Illustration by HelloVon

12. Nick Saban

Football coach, University of Alabama

Late on a Monday night in early January, the University of Alabama’s quarterback, 19-year-old true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, threw a game-winning, 41-yard laser beam of a touchdown pass to give the Crimson Tide a 26–23 victory in the College Football Playoff. The win gave Alabama head coach Nick Saban his fifth national title in nine years at Alabama. Add an earlier one he won at LSU in 2003, and his six rings match Alabama legend Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most football championships by a college coach in the so-called poll era, dating back to 1936. Now that he’s succeeded to a historic degree, Saban is grappling with the sports version of what business guru Clayton Christensen famously dubbed the “Innovator’s Dilemma”—the fact that success today makes it hard to keep the edge you need to win in the future. But if the last few years are any indication, the grappling is going pretty well.

Ed Alcock—Eyevine/Redux

13. Emmanuel Macron

President, France

France’s 2017 ­elections left Macron’s newly minted La République en Marche Party with a steamroller-strong parliamentary majority. With his victory, Macron, 40, supplanted Germany’s Angela Merkel as Europe’s strongest bulwark against xenophobic populism. Now, his legacy will hinge on whether he can reform France’s sclerotic economy. So far he has trimmed wealth taxes and made it easier for employers to hire and fire workers—earning praise and protest in return.

Photograph by Spencer Lowell

14. Tim Cook

CEO, Apple

Think of Cook’s job as a $900 billion balancing act. After nearly seven years as CEO, he has proved to be far more than a transitional figurehead after Steve Jobs. Cook has maintained Apple as a cash-­generating machine without sacrificing innovation. He engages ­gingerly with China’s rights-challenged government, even as he leads ­Apple’s pro-privacy ­crusade. Should Apple ever be worth $1 trillion, his place in the leadership pantheon will be forever secure.

Courtesy of Nike

15. Serena Williams


Williams spent much of 2017 off the court while pregnant with her first child. But taking a break from tennis didn’t stop her from leading. After complications with her pregnancy, she focused a spotlight on women’s health issues—including the fact that maternal mortality rates for African-Americans are three times as high as those for white women.

Romauld Meigneux—SIPA via AP

16. Isabelle Kocher

CEO, Engie

In just two years, Kocher has pulled Engie, the energy giant formerly known as GDF Suez, into the future. The legacy oil and gas ­company now focuses on renewables and decarbonization; it has sold $15 billion worth of “dirty” assets and reinvested in cleaner ones. Kocher, the only woman CEO among France’s CAC 40 companies, recently boosted Engie’s dividend and reported its return to profitability after a two-year absence.

Photograph by Brad Wenner

17. Katie Bethell

Executive director, PL+US

So far in 2018, a phalanx of huge employers—including Walmart, Starbucks, and CVS—has expanded paid family-leave benefits, strengthening the financial safety net for some 2.8 million blue-collar workers. Most companies cited tax cuts and a strong economy as their motivators, but activists saw another force at work: the grass-roots organizing of 38-year-old Bethell and PL+US, the nonprofit she founded in 2016.


18. Ryan Coogler

Film director

This is the year that catapulted Coogler from Sundance sweetheart to box-office boss, thanks to the triumphant success of Black Panther. The superhero pic is the 33rd film in U.S. history to surpass $1 billion in sales—and the first with a predominantly black cast to do so. (It’s also the highest-grossing film ever directed by an African-American.) Coogler helped persuade studio execs to embrace a movie whose Afrocentric story and aesthetic departed from formulas, proving that there’s not just an appetite for diverse storytelling—there’s a hunger for it. (Read Fortune‘s Q&A with Coogler.)

Paul Yeung—Bloomberg via Getty Images

19. Huateng “Pony” Ma

CEO, Tencent

Superlatives attach themselves to Pony Ma and Tencent, the Chinese technology juggernaut the 46-year-old entrepreneur cofounded and leads as CEO. Ma is China’s richest man, with a net worth north of $40 billion. His company’s valuation hovers near the half-a-­trillion-dollar mark. And Tencent’s WeChat messaging service recently crossed the 1-billion-account threshold, cementing its role as the electronic thread that stitches together the fabric of digital China. So central is WeChat to how Chinese people communicate that many believe it has become a more important ingredient to a smartphone than its operating system—enabling Tencent to occupy a powerful commercial and technological position without having to physically make phones.

A soft-spoken engineer, Ma is less well known in the West than the outspoken former-English-teacher leader of Alibaba, Jack Ma, who is no relation. Yet Pony Ma’s influence has begun to be felt as much globally as it already is in China. Tencent has been on an investment tear, pumping billions of dollars into the likes of Snapchat owner Snap, Tesla, and countless startups. Closer to home, WeChat Pay—money zapped via WeChat—vies with Alibaba for payment dominance in a smartphone-crazed country.

Pradeep Gaur—Mint via Getty Images

20. Indira Jaising

Founder, Lawyers Collective

When the poorest in India need a voice, they find one in Jaising, a lawyer who has dedicated her life to battling injustice. Jaising has fought on behalf of victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, helped Syrian Christian women in India win property rights equal to their male counterparts’, and helped draft India’s first domestic violence law. Her work has recently led her to Myanmar, where she was appointed by the UN to lead an investigation into the persecution of Rohingya Muslims.


21. Marc Benioff

CEO, Salesforce

Some leaders are sui generis. Benioff, the quirky, opinionated, visionary, and demanding founder and CEO of Salesforce, is one of them. The corporate world hasn’t quite seen the likes of him before. He pushes product with zany zeal: Parties, rock bands, animatronic mascots, and candy emblazoned with his company’s logo all are part of his repertoire. So are his causes: gender parity in compensation, progressive politics, mindful work environments, corporate philanthropy, and a sense of companywide family, or “Ohana.” None of this would matter if Benioff didn’t also have a knack for repeatedly leading his company to its next act. He saw early on that business software buyers would use online programs rather than storing them in their own data centers. He experimented with social tools aimed at consumers and quickly realized businesses would use them too. And most recently Benioff recognized—and has invested aggressively in—artificial intelligence as the next critical business tool.

Aly Raisman confronts former USA Gymnastics doctor and convicted abuser Larry Nassar at his sentencing hearing in January.
Brendan McDermid—Reuters

22. The Gymnasts and Their Allies

When the sentencing trial of Larry Nassar began, few people knew the former USA Gymnastics doctor’s name, much less the details of his crimes. Then, the young women he sexually assaulted—more than 150 of them—told their stories. Their seven days of harrowing testimony shook the world of sports and beyond. Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. The president of Michigan State University, Nassar’s former employer, resigned, as did the board of USA Gymnastics and the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. As Olympian Aly Raisman said, “We are here, we have our voices, and we are not going anywhere.”

Riccardo Savi—Getty Images for Concordia Summit

23. Kathleen McLaughlin

Chief sustainability officer, Walmart

McLaughlin is responsible for ensuring that Walmart, the world’s largest company, meets its ambitious environmental goals. Those include deriving half its energy needs from renewable sources by 2025; reducing the chemical footprint of products like household cleaners; and getting suppliers to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions. The benefits extend beyond Walmart’s walls: The retail giant’s clout has prompted many rivals to follow suit.

Amit Dave—Reuters

24. Mukesh Ambani

Chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries

In less than two years, India’s richest man has brought mobile data to the masses—and completely upended the country’s telecom market. Since Ambani, chief of the $47 billion conglomerate Reliance Industries, launched Jio—the first mobile network in the world to be entirely IP-based—in September 2016, the company has signed up a staggering 168 million subscribers. The secret? Offering dirt-cheap data and free calls (and plowing billions of dollars into the infrastructure that transmits them). The effect, dubbed “Jio-fication,” has driven India’s higher-price carriers to drop costs (if not run them out of business), and it fueled a 1,100% rise in India’s monthly data consumption.

Malin Fezehai—Redux

25. Mick Cornett

Former mayor, Oklahoma City

If you’re a fiscally conservative mayor in a fiscally conservative city, how do you persuade voters to pay more for public works? Cornett proposed tying new spending to small sales taxes—and requiring that the taxes expire once the projects were paid for. During his 14-year tenure, his so-called MAPS plans helped Oklahoma City pay for school revitalization, public transit, and downtown improvements. Cornett left office in April on a high note and is seeking the GOP nod for governor.

Courtesy of the Carter Center

26. Donald Hopkins

Physician, the Carter Center

Many people, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter among them, consider Hopkins a hero. It’s easy to see why: As a young public-health worker, the soft-spoken Bahamian-American doctor was instrumental in the global effort to eradicate smallpox. He stopped its prolific spread in Sierra Leone in less than two years—a then-unthinkable feat of eliminating a contagious disease from the planet. Then, in 1980, he resolved to rid the world of Guinea worm disease (GWD), an awful but entirely preventable condition that annually afflicted 3.5 million people in Asia and Africa. GWD is usually not fatal, but it is painful and debilitating, the sort of scourge that strikes entire villages and, for months at a time, can bring school, commerce, and farming to a halt.

Hopkins, who is 76 and still at it—human transmission of GWD has been stopped in all but two countries, Chad and Ethiopia—says his biggest foe has been “failure of imagination.” Early on, people didn’t think the disease could be eradicated; others argued going after a non-killer like GWD was a waste of time and money. Thanks to Hopkins, whose data-driven playbook involves educating communities and motivating (and sometimes shaming) political leaders, GWD will likely be the second disease ever, after smallpox, to disappear from the planet.


27. Oprah Winfrey


Media mogul. Philanthropist. Actress. Is there anything Oprah can’t do? It turns out many fans hope to see the former talk show host add “U.S. President” to her résumé, after her powerful speech—heavily inspired by the #MeToo movement—at the Golden Globes in January. Winfrey, 64, has since denied interest in running, but she continues to spotlight social causes as a frequent correspondent on CBS’s 60 Minutes. She has also doubled down on healthy-living advocacy as a shareholder and board member at Weight Watchers; though she sold 25% of her shares in March—reportedly at eight to nine times what she paid for them—she has said she plans to stick around.

William Widmer—Redux

28. Mitch Landrieu

Mayor, New Orleans

The bloodshed surrounding efforts to remove a Confederate statue in Virginia last year obscured a more hopeful achievement in New Orleans, where Landrieu led a successful effort to take down four such monuments—persevering through a two-year legal battle even after city business leaders got cold feet. Another legacy for Landrieu, whose term ends in May: NOLA for Life, a mentorship program that advocates say has helped bring about a sharp reduction in gang-related homicides.

Phil Walter—Getty Images

29. Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister, New Zealand

When Ardern, 37, became New Zealand’s Prime Minister in October, she ushered in a new perspective in more ways than one. The world’s youngest female head of government says her country, gripped by immigration and housing crises, will be the first to rely on social, cultural, and environmental well-being metrics, in addition to GDP, as measures of progress. Ardern, who is expecting a baby in June, is also normalizing the idea of a pregnant woman leading a nation. “I’m pregnant,” she says, “not incapacitated.”

Gilles Sabrie—Bloomberg via Getty Images

30. Ma Jun

Environmentalist, China

This winter, Beijing’s blue skies made headlines. The notoriously smoggy Chinese capital is making headway against air pollution; progress has been measured in other Chinese cities too. Much credit goes to advocates like Ma, a journalist-turned-activist who called attention to ecological threats and forced political leaders to take them seriously. His nonprofit Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs continues to wield influence, with reports that call out corporate polluters.

West Virginia public school teachers hold a “55 United” sign—a reference to the number of districts taking part in their strike —inside the state capitol building in Charleston, W. Va.
Scott Heins—Bloomberg via Getty Images

31. West Virginia Teachers

For years, it has been universally acknowledged that American public school teachers are woefully underpaid—and considered a given that it has to be that way. Late last year, thousands of West Virginia teachers rose up and said, “Enough,” mobilizing on Facebook and defying their union to strike for fairer pay and higher standards. (They did it thoughtfully; while not teaching, they made sure students who qualified for free at-school meals got fed.) After nine days, West Virginia’s legislature granted them their first raise in four years. The teachers touched off a movement now playing out nationwide, inspiring educators in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona to follow their lead.

Pablo Martin—EPA/REX?Shutterstock

32. Leymah Gbowee

President, Gbowee Peace Foundation

I remember attending a dinner at which Leymah honored a dozen young Liberian women—many from rural areas where few educational opportunities exist—whom her foundation had supported with college scholarships. With her indelible impact on individual girls and young women, Leymah reminds us that global change starts by investing deeply in and working directly with communities. The global fight for equity and justice is stronger with her leadership. —Raj Panjabi, CEO, Last Mile Health

Photograph by Ben Baker

33. Jamie Dimon

CEO, JPMorgan Chase

After years of beating the tax-reform drum, Dimon celebrated the inclusion of several of his proposals in the new tax bill by passing along some of the savings. Less than a month after President Trump signed the overhaul into law, JPMorgan Chase announced it would spend $20 billion over five years to increase wages and lower health insurance deductibles for employees, while also hiring as many as 4,000 more to staff 400 new Chase branches.

Courtesy of Michael Sorrell

34. Michael Sorrell

President, Paul Quinn College

In 2007, when Sorrell started as president of Paul Quinn, a historically black college in Dallas, the institution was on the brink of being shut down. Founded in 1872 at the height of Reconstruction, the school was losing students, and the campus, which housed 15 abandoned buildings, was “closer to a garbage dump than a grocery store,” Sorrell says.

Sorrell quickly set about challenging perceptions, both external and internal, by giving Paul Quinn a bigger vision of itself. Under his leadership, the football field was turned into a farm. He solicited the school’s first-ever seven-figure gift from a donor and used it to raze that campus blight, and he emphasized the recruitment of students from out of state to expand what’s now a 500-plus-member student body.

He also took aim at problems that ail all of higher education—the cost, and the disconnect with what comes after. Paul Quinn is now a federally recognized work college; students get jobs with area companies, helping them to pay tuition and prepare for life postgraduation. Sorrell, who calls this the “new urban college model,” now plans to open Paul Quinn campuses nationwide.


35. Reese Witherspoon


Witherspoon, 42, has established herself as a bona fide mogul with a string of production successes on the silver screen (Wild, Gone Girl). She’s also an integral player in the current golden age of TV with the acclaimed HBO miniseries Big Little Lies, now filming its second season. That’s not the only way in which she has upended what has traditionally been a boys’ club: Witherspoon, along with costar Nicole Kidman, will earn approximately $1 million per episode for season two, and HBO bosses recently acknowledged that Witherspoon’s voice and role in the Time’s Up movement motivated them to address gender pay gaps across the network. Witherspoon has also established herself as a social media maven, reaching millions of followers with a millennial-friendly book club and a Southern-inspired clothing line, Draper James. She recently inked a deal with Apple to produce and star in an as-yet-untitled series about backstage drama at a morning talk show.

Susana Gonzalez—Bloomberg via Getty Images

36. Daniel Servitje Montull

CEO, Grupo Bimbo

Grupo Bimbo, the world’s biggest baker, makes Sara Lee cakes, Thomas’s English muffins, and many McDonald’s buns. It’s one of the biggest employers in Mexico and several other emerging markets. Servitje, a Stanford MBA grad, has prioritized keeping Bimbo’s products within a low-income family’s budget. He has also made it greener; in April, Bimbo struck a deal to buy wind-power credits to offset all the energy used in its U.S. operations.


37. Izumi Nakamitsu

Undersecretary general for disarmament, United Nations

Nakamitsu is responsible for managing global threats posed by weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons, and nuclear proliferation. She has a reputation for clearheaded pragmatism, proven in previous UN roles involving refugees and crisis response. Her diplomatic skills have been tested by the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but her quiet activism has helped prevent runaway conflict across the region. —Brian Finlay, CEO, the Stimson Center

Amit Shabi—Laif/Redux

38. Bashar Masri

Founder, Rawabi

Little is clear about the future of a Palestinian state, but Masri, a West Bank–born entrepreneur, built a vision for it in Rawabi—the territories’ first-ever planned city, built for and by Palestinians. The newly completed hillside city now has 4,000 residents, a tech hub, and amenities like a luxury mall and a 15,000-person amphitheater. And in a place where private sector investment is limited, it has become the West Bank’s largest private job creator—and a symbol of possibility.

Philippine Senator Leila De Lima gestures to supporters from inside a police bus after her arraignment.
Rolex dela Pena—EPA/REX/Shutterstock

39. Leila de Lima

Senator, Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte’s hard-line policies against drug dealers are polarizing globally, but in the Philippines they’ve faced little dissent. De Lima, who headed a committee investigating hundreds of extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s leadership, has been a noble exception. Last February she was arrested and jailed for as-yet-untried crimes, but imprisonment hasn’t stopped the firebrand from continuing to speak out publicly.

Courtesy of Angela Gichaga

40. Angela Nyambura Gichaga

CEO, Financing Alliance for Health

Gichaga is tackling a daunting question: How should African countries finance health care for the poorest and most remote populations? By training, Gichaga is a physician, economist, and consultant. At the Financing Alliance for Health, she’s also a bridge-builder, persuading donors to expand financing for community health while working with African ministries to make the most of those resources. —Phyllis Heydt, Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Health

Courtesy of Godwell Andrew Chan

41. Timothy Keller

Evangelical minister/author, Redeemer City to City

A self-described “orthodox” Christian, Keller spent 28 years building a megachurch in what many believers see as hostile territory: Manhattan. At Redeemer Presbyterian and in several books, Keller shaped a vision of Evangelicalism that de-emphasizes politics and stresses care for the poor, personal sacrifice, and inclusiveness across ethnicity and class. His next act: training pastors to serve urban flocks around the world through the Redeemer City to City initiative.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and COO, inside SpaceX’s mission control station in Hawthorne, Calif.
Courtesy of SpaceX

42. Gwynne Shotwell

President and chief operating officer, SpaceX

Shotwell was employee No. 11 in 2002 when she joined SpaceX, a company founded to lower the cost of space travel and enable the colonization of other planets. Today, SpaceX has grown to more than 6,000 employees and contracts valued at $12 billion. Shotwell runs day-to-day operations and customer relationships, but her official title might as well be rainmaker. She takes CEO Elon Musk’s seemingly outlandish ideas (and idealistic timelines) and makes them happen: Achievements include the successful launch in February of SpaceX’s powerful, reusable Falcon Heavy rocket. Next up: a project to deliver high-bandwidth Internet via satellites; and the BFR, a next-generation rocket designed to whisk crew and cargo to Mars and reach any city on Earth in under an hour.


43. Balkrishna Doshi

Architect, India

This year’s Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor, went to India’s Doshi, who has spent the bulk of his 70-year career championing accessible housing, earning the moniker “the architect for the poor.” His designs include the Aranya low-cost housing project in Indore, a labyrinth of homes and courtyards that provide around 80,000 residents with a balance of open spaces and communal living, and the mixed-income Life Insurance Corporation Housing in Ahmedabad, where several generations of a family can occupy levels of the same building. Underlying all his work is the ideal that all economic classes deserve good housing.

Qilai Shen—Bloomberg via Getty Images

44. Feike Sijbesma


It was founded in 1902 as Dutch State Mines, but Sijbesma says DSM now stands for “Do Something Meaningful.” Over the past decade, he has overhauled DSM to focus on businesses that better the lives of people or the planet. That includes producing micronutrients that help the World Food Programme feed 80 million people a year. As cochair of groups such as the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, Sijbesma has proved particularly effective at rallying fellow executives.

Courtesy of Michael Hammond—Communications & Marketing Dept. of UCT

45. Kelly Chibale

Scientist, South Africa

In much of Africa, the infrastructure to support scientific research is sorely lacking. But Chibale is working to change that. The Zambian chemist has built H3D, Africa’s first integrated drug discovery center, at the University of Cape Town. His team now includes more than 90 researchers; they work out of state-of-the-art facilities thanks to partnerships with the Gates Foundation, Novartis, and South Africa’s government. H3D already has a potential drug for ­malaria in human trials.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce—Getty Images

46. Ana Botìn

Group executive chairman, Banco Santander

Botín had big shoes to fill, not to mention whisperings of nepotism to dispel, when she took over Banco Santander, the eurozone’s second-largest bank, after the sudden death of her father in 2014. The shoes fit fine: Since then, she has steered the bank to higher profits and capital ratios. And her takeover last year of Popular—a failing Spanish bank whose assets gave Santander a home-­market edge—for a price of just one euro may be her company’s best deal ever.

Courtesy of Creative Mornings Tegucigalpa

47. Dina Meza

Journalist, PEN Honduras

Honduras has a homicide rate that’s six times the global average. Yet danger hasn’t deterred Meza, founder and editor of online news site Pasos de Animal Grande, from covering its crime and corruption. The site shone a light on the assassination of activist Berta Cáceres and provided authoritative coverage of 2017’s volatile elections. Meza also started PEN Honduras, an organization that supports journalists at risk in a country where murders of reporters are tragically frequent.

Ed Wray—Getty Images

48. Ridwan Kamil

Mayor, Bandung, Indonesia

When Kamil became mayor of Bandung in 2013, the city of 2.5 million was struggling with pollution, traffic congestion, and stifling red tape. Kamil, a former architect, turned to technology: Over 400 software applications have been created to improve efficiency and sidestep bureaucracy—one program helps smaller enterprises register themselves online instead of in person. Kamil also built up Bandung’s Command Center, where data from closed-circuit TV helps the city respond more quickly to problems like traffic jams and potholes. He’s now running for governor of West Java, a key post in Indonesian politics.

Amy Gutmann celebrates a big win by Penn's men's basketball team.
Corey Perrine—Getty Images

49. Amy Gutmann

President, University of Pennsylvania

A first-generation college-goer herself, Gutmann has steadily increased their ranks on Penn’s campus. When she took office in 2004, 1 in 20 students were first-generation and low-income, today it’s 1 in 8, and she’s also a vocal backer of international students and immigrants on campus. Her fundraising has been blockbuster too, enabling Penn to offer the largest all-grant financial aid program in the country. Her reforms have helped secure her a contract extension through 2022, which would make her the longest-serving president in the university’s history.

Scott Areman—Courtesy of Delta

50. Ed Bastian

CEO, Delta Air Lines

Several companies changed their policies in reaction to the shootings at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February; only Delta Air Lines saw almost immediate economic retaliation. Days after Delta rescinded a discount it had offered to National Rifle Association members, Georgia legislators scrapped a jet-fuel tax exemption that could have provided Delta, which is headquartered in Atlanta, with a $40 million annual tax break. Lawmakers accused the airline of attacking conservatives and even the Second Amendment itself.

In a letter to employees explaining the decision, CEO Ed Bastian argued that the airline wasn’t taking sides in the gun-control debate. It ended the discount, he made clear, to eliminate any implied endorsement of the NRA, a group whose public statements in the wake of the shootings had gone far outside the bounds of civil debate. “Our decision was not made for economic gain, and our values are not for sale,” Bastian wrote. “We are in the process of a review to end group discounts for any group of a politically divisive nature.” It wasn’t the kind of ringing statement that rallies a generation of activists—but it was a template for well-­reasoned business leadership in a fragmented world.

See the 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 lists.