The man who became Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year

November 19, 2010, 10:37 PM UTC

by Patricia Sellers

I have to admit that even among Fortune staffers, most of us predicted that Apple CEO Steve Jobs or Ford’s turnaround chief, Alan Mulally, would be selected as the magazine’s Businessperson of the Year.

What a surprise that No. 1 on the list is Reed Hastings, the founder, chairman and CEO of Netflix.

Hastings is a great choice, actually. The 50-person ranking is about 2010’s top movers and shakers. No question, Hastings and the company he started in 1997 have moved. Netflix shares are up more than 200% since January, vs. the S&P 500’s 7% gain. And as the just-released Fortune cover story on Hastings says, Netflix stock has run laps around Apple’s.

No question too, Hastings is shaking things up. Netflix has upended the movie distribution business. It threatens the cable giants. And Hastings has had the guts to compete against himself–to cannibalize his own business and reinvent Netflix.

Over the years, I’ve come to know Hastings a bit. Trust me, he’s also a really good guy. Way back when, before he got interested in business, he served in the Peace Corps, teaching math in Swaziland. When he came back to the U.S., he earned his master’s degree in computer science at Stanford. Then he decided to become an entrepreneur–starting a software company that made him a bundle of money but was, in his view, culturally dysfunctional. That experience gave Hastings the  lessons in leadership plus the kind of humility you need to be great CEO today.

A year ago, Hastings wrote a Guest Post for Postcards about one of his early lessons in leadership lesson at another messed-up startup. You can click here to pick up a few pointers and to get a sense of the man who is now Fortune‘s 2010 Businessperson of the Year.