19 Apr Top 15 World Leaders 2018
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.
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; their foundation is now a key financial partner in Aspect Ventures, an investment fund focused on combating sexual discrimination in tech.
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.
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.
5. Kenneth Frazier
It’s easy to forget that last May, 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
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.
8. Larry Fink
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
13. Emmanuel Macron
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.
14. Tim Cook
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.
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.