Back in 1989, the worlds of business and finance were relatively staid. High frequency trading was not well-known and the idea for a Worldwide Web had just been published in an obscure paper by Tim Berners Lee. Technology had not buffeted and disrupted industries (my chosen industry – media – was still intact).
It is no surprise, then, that TV network CNBC’s list of twenty-five people who have had the most profound impact on business and finance since 1989 includes six technology luminaries (including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who led the computer revolution at Numbers 1 and 2) in the top 10.
The list is interesting because it aims to encapsulate a turbulent era for business to the vision of twenty-five people. Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates (who take the top two spots) to Google’s founders to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and activist investor Carl Icahn all find a mention in this smorgasbord of a list.
However, some entries in the list certainly strike one as bizarre or, perhaps, wrongly-placed. For example, how does daytime talk queen Oprah Winfrey merit a place in the list, which, as I mentioned earlier, is about people who have had the most profound impact on “business and finance.” Her contributions to these fields have been indirect (unless you consider the success of her daytime talk show a direct contributor to the TV network’s success).
This, of course, is not to belittle her achievements. She has had a profound impact in the entertainment businesses and opened several doors for African Americans in the entertainment business. However, her contribution to the business and finance industries is doubtful. Similarly, Martha Stewart, an Oprah competitor, also finds a place on the list. To be sure, they are incredibly successful personal franchises. To be sure, Stewart and Winfrey did not invent a new business strategy or method, They parlayed their success into a successful business, something that several other entertainers have done in the past.
There are other, notable exceptions as well. As Kara Swisher from Recode pointed out Mosaic inventor and noted venture capitalist Marc Andreessen should have been included in the list. Similarly, Tim Berners Lee, who came up with the idea for the Worldwide Web in a paper, should also have been included. Linus Torvalds, the Finnish creator of Linux, a popular open source platform that is used to power server infrastructure (and, which became the first serious threat to Microsoft’s dominant position in operating systems) has also been left out in the cold.
Perhaps, it is a bad idea to make lists that attribute progress to specific personalities. But, then, I am sure Forbes would disagree.