Through a complex series of cascading algorithms stuffed into an Excel spreadsheet, a few coin tosses, the heart of a Wookie, and the brain of a historian, I have determined what I consider the 10 most memorable CEOs of the digital era.
You may not agree with the choices, but that won’t stop you from engaging in frank, intelligent discussion with your fellow readers. I also encourage you to send in your own Most Memorable CEOs via email.
1.Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon.com [1995-present]
Jeff Bezos founded the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.com, in 1995. In doing so, he legitimized the concept of retail sales through the Internet. In 2007, his company launched the Amazon Kindle, a wildly popular ebook reader which heralded a new generation of low-cost, mainstream e-paper reading devices.
2.Nolan Bushnell CEO of Atari Corporation [1971-1978]
Bushnell may not have invented video games, but he invented public demand for them. He founded the now legendary video game company Atari in 1971, sold it to Warner Communications in 1976, and ultimately grew Atari into the largest video game company on earth with $800 million in sales before he left in 1978. Under his stewardship, Atari created the video arcade game market, launched a successful series of home Pong consoles, and developed the company’s first home computer. He also hired Steve Jobs to work at Atari in 1974.
3.Ken Olsen CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation
Olsen co-founded Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1957 and led the company through a fruitful period in which DEC developed the influential PDP and VAX line of mainframe computers and the first minicomputer, the PDP-8. DEC’s computers heavily influenced the microcomputer industry that followed (and influenced almost every CEO on this list).
Olsen is also well known for his most controversial quote, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home,” which he said in 1977. After enduring some decades of ridicule over the statement, Olsen later clarified that he was referring to the 1950s era concept of a computer controlling every aspect of a house’s operation, ala the Jetsons. The quote lives on nonetheless.
4.Michael Dell CEO of Dell, Inc. [1982-2004 & 2007-present]
Few individuals symbolize the monstrous PC hardware market like Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer Corporation. In 1992, Michael Dell became the youngest CEO with a company in the Fortune 500 at age 27. In 2001, Dell (the company) toppled Compaq to become the largest PC maker. That success propelled Mr. Dell’s net worth to a staggering $14 billion, making him one of the richest men in America. Dell’s tenure as CEO may not last forever, but his name will live on in the company he created.
5.Bill Gates CEO of Microsoft [1975-2000]
Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft, a company that pioneered the concept of commercial software for microcomputers. Under Gates’ intensely competitive reign, Microsoft went on to dominate the PC software industry—first with its ubiquitous versions of the BASIC programming language, then through MS-DOS on the IBM PC, and most recently through Microsoft Windows, which is currently the world’s most popular PC operating system. His astounding commercial success with Microsoft made him both the wealthiest man on the planet (from 1995-2009) and a household name.
6.Andy Grove CEO of Intel [1987-1998]
Grove joined Intel in its earliest days of the late 1960s, eventually rising to president in 1979, then CEO in 1987. Under his guidance, Intel transformed from a prominent manufacturer of memory chips into the world’s largest maker of microprocessors, which made the personal computer era possible.
7.Thomas J. Watson, Sr. CEO of International Business Machines [1924-1956]
Watson brought IBM into the digital computer era, building the company into the world’s foremost computer manufacturer of the 1940s and 50s. He was also responsible for also responsible for renaming “Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation” International Business Machines (thus, IBM) in 1924. Watson is well known for supposedly saying,”I think there is a world market for may be five computers” in 1943. However, there is no documented evidence that he actually spoke those words, which we find quite amusing today.
8.Mark Zuckerberg CEO of Facebook, Inc. [2004-present]
Zuckerberg created a social networking Web site, Facebook, with 600 million regular users that have transformed the social fabric of an entire generation and beyond. His controversial positions on personal digital privacy have brought awareness of the subject to new heights. He is also the subject of a critically acclaimed (and historically questionable) film, The Social Network. At a mere 26 years old, he is personally worth $6.9 billion.
9.Gordon Moore CEO of Intel [1975-1987]
As CEO of Intel, Moore guided the company through one of its most successful and influential periods. He is more notably the creator of “Moore’s Law,” which states that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every 40 years, his prediction has been correct. Moore’s Law has been extrapolated by futurists who use it as a basis of dramatic predictions about the future of computers and humanity itself, ensuring that Moore’s legacy will live on for some time to come.
10. Steve Jobs CEO of Apple, Inc. [1997-2011], Pixar [1986-2006], NeXT [1985-1996]
Steve Jobs has been responsible for pushing more innovative and influential products into the consumer PC marketplace than any other human being. His achievements include: The Apple II, the Macintosh, the popular GUI-based OS, the first entirely computer generated feature film (and a string of blockbuster follow-ups), the iMac, iTunes, Mac OS X, the iPod, the iTunes Music Store (which made Apple the largest music retailer in the world), the iPhone, the App Store, and the iPad. Steve Jobs may not have personally created all of those products, but he made them happen. Jobs is also known for his eccentric and demanding management style, his zeal for secrecy and showmanship, and his laser-like focus to pursue what he deems important. He will be remembered for a very long time.