If you ask a group of tech leaders who they believe is the most influential tech leader of our era, you’ll probably get a wide range of answers. From industry “celebrities” like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to the quieter leaders who stay out of the spotlight, there’s no shortage of innovators who have changed the tech industry—and the world—as we know it.
As successful tech leaders themselves, the members of Forbes Technology Council often seek to emulate the industry’s movers and shakers. We asked 16 of them to share their choice of the most influential tech industry leader of our era, and why.
1. Elon Musk
I have met Elon Musk, and I find him so influential because of the sheer number and variety of technology companies he has started and grown. He has influenced everything from digging tunnels more cheaply to connecting brains to machines, space launches, electric cars, rapid transportation, and electricity generation and storage—each time having an opportunity to radically reshape a particular market. - John Walsh III, Red Summit Global
2. Neil Gunther
Neil Gunther developed the universal law of computational scalability. This law is profoundly powerful and not only explains the factors behind scaling computational systems but also the underlying dynamics behind agile teams and highly scalable organizations. - Sheldon Monteiro, Publicis Sapient
3. Antonio Neri
Antonio Neri, CEO of HPE, is a visionary who has made a big bet on moving to an “Everything as a Service” model by 2022. The move to an entirely services-led organization and the disruption of a decades-long, hardware-based sales model in enterprise IT is a bold move. Neri’s engineering background, customer-centric approach and strategic acquisitions put HPE ahead in the market. - Jo Peterson, Clarify 360
4. Jack Dorsey
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, is the influential tech leader of our era. He has built great tech companies like Twitter and Square while leading the charge for curbing false information on social media. Twitter is able to stand up and block inflammatory or fake news from spreading. - Umesh Vaidyamath, INSZoom.com, Inc.
5. Steve Jobs
I believe the most influential tech leader of our era was Steve Jobs. He was so forward-thinking and innovative and utilized out-of-the-box business and product strategies. He created something truly unique and set up growth for Apple for many years to come. - Marty Puranik, Atlantic.Net, Inc.
6. Meredith Whittaker
AI researcher Meredith Whittaker is the thorn in Big Tech’s side—in the best possible way. After leading walkouts at Google over diversity and accountability, she reinvented herself as an AI ethicist, elevating awareness of algorithmic bias and sparking a backlash against “black box” systems. As employees and advocates work to make Big Tech more accountable, Whittaker is leading the charge. - Chris Turlica, MaintainX Inc.
7. Satya Nadella
Satya Nadella’s belief in customer value as the lodestar for everything Microsoft does is a radical shift in culture for Microsoft and, by example, the entire technology industry. It’s a shift from focus on self to focus on the other, and it’s a remarkable example of how to build lasting value in every business. - Jon Sobel, Sight Machine
8. Jack Ma
Jack Ma experienced many personal and career failures prior to emerging as a recognizable tech leader. The ability to overcome misfortunes and still achieve one of the most influential tech leadership roles in the world takes a great deal of passion, lots of energy and a commitment to keep marching forward no matter what happens along the way. - Jay Hakami, Sky I.T. Group
9. Jeff Bezos
When you look at all the companies, brands and organizations you interact with on a daily basis, you will be hard-pressed to find one that Jeff Bezos doesn’t influence, whether directly or indirectly. He might not be a tech professional but he does influence almost every industry, so I think he is the most influential tech leader in our era. - Magdiel Rodriguez, Alivi
10. Salman Khan
Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, may not be an obvious tech leader, but he is my choice for the most influential because he effectively used technology to make the world a better place by bringing education to the masses for free. Touching 100 million users annually, Khan’s goal of “leveling the playing field” is the promise of what technology can be: a tool for positive change. - Neelan Choksi, Tasktop Technologies
11. Lt. Gen. John ‘Jack’ Shanahan
Lt. Gen. John “Jack” Shanahan served as the first director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC). He advanced a bold vision: “to transform the DoD through AI.” He espoused the idea that our future national security and economic security, as well as the preservation of “our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” depend on embracing AI across every element of the Department of Defense. - Hassan Tetteh, Department of Defense Joint Artificial Intelligence Center
12. Anne Wojcicki
Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andMe, has changed the game by putting health information in the hands of individuals instead of in folders in a doctor’s file cabinet. Now, with the pharmaceutical industry moving to personalized medicine, 23andMe is in a great position, holding a huge amount of data that it can leverage to create an individualized approach to healthcare. - Amy Czuchlewski, Bottle Rocket
13. Jack Welsh
As a former GE employee, I believe it is Jack Welsh. He leveraged data analytics for achieving business results with the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) initiatives. Also, LSS was the language in which an entire organization of over 300,000 employees very successfully communicated across the globe. - Prashanth Southekal, DBP Institute
14. Alex Karp
Alex Karp is a behind-the-scenes tech guru, and his work will become more influential to everyone in due time. His work at Palantir is something of a revolutionary approach in the tech community—not to mention his opinions on data transparency. He is a barbarian at the gate for this generation of data privacy. - Damian Ehrlicher, Protected IT
15. Tobi Lütke
The most influential tech leader of our era is Tobi Lütke, CEO and co-founder of Shopify. While Amazon seeks to build on its lead as the world’s marketplace, Shopify is empowering every other small, medium and large business to launch e-commerce stores. Tobi’s people-centric approach to leadership differentiates him from the Jeff Bezoses and Mark Zuckerbergs of this world. - Maddison Long, CloudOps
16. Leaders In The Sharing Economy
Great technology is defined by how it has changed the way we live in the world. I’m biased, but the growth of the sharing economy is what inspires me most about the possibility of technology. In this Covid-19 era, I know there’s some doubt around how this business model will evolve, but the underlying insight—that technology allows us to open our cars and our homes to each other—will persist. - Jody Kelman, Lyft