Here at StratX we have picked 10 of the most inspirational business leaders from recent times...
1. Steve Jobs – Apple
Steve Jobs was known for his ruthless leadership approach – an approach that went against many definitions of a ‘good leader’ – but he was one of the most successful and influential business leaders in recent history. Jobs was a creative genius, focused on complete customer orientation and would fire people on the spot if they didn’t share the same vision. What this relentless approach led to however, was a company full of hard-working employees that respected and admired him. His unique style has led to making Apple one of the most valuable brands in the world.
"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." Steve Jobs
2. Tim Cook – Apple
Following on from Steve Jobs as the new CEO of Apple is certainly no easy task, but Tim Cook has managed to do it fantastically well. Rather than simply continuing with Jobs’ strategy, Cook has become a leader in his own right and has already made his own changes. Since becoming CEO of Apple, he has implemented a new inventory management technique across the entire company, and has shown real ambition to continue Apple’s growth by acquiring Beats Audio, further developing the iPhone range and disrupting another market with the launch of the Apple Watch due in 2015.
"Some people see innovation as change, but we have never really seen it like that. It’s making things better." Tim Cook
3. Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, and now owns over 400 companies! His entrepreneurial leadership qualities have seen his empire grow and grow, and he remains just as ambitious as ever. Branson is admired by his employees and often gives them a stake in his business ventures to help make sure they’re fully motivated to make it as successful as possible. The Virgin brand is one of the most recognizable in the world and has been applied to products that range from Virgin Cola to Virgin Galactic – the power of building such brand equity is clear.
"Being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader; you have to listen to the people who are on the front line" Sir Richard Branson
4. Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg became COO of Facebook at a time when the company wasn’t profitable, and she completely turned things around with her driving leadership approach. Now that Facebook is very much a profitable business, she continues to oversee the company’s business operations as they diversify the services they offer to their 1.3 billion users. Aside from Facebook, Sandberg uses her influence to encourage more women to work in executive positions.
"Leadership is not bullying and leadership is not aggression. Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place." Sheryl Sandberg
5. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp – Lego Group
With the increasing popularity of video games and more advanced entertainment for children, Lego Group and its toys and Lego bricks found itself in a potential crisis. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp to the rescue! He became CEO of Lego Group in 2004, and has successfully grown the company with his innovative leadership qualities. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp diversified Lego’s products by identifying potential new customer groups by introducing ideas such as video games, movies and even theme parks, and has helped the company continue to compete despite finding itself in a dramatically changing industry.
6. Jeff Bezos – Amazon
Jeff Bezos is the CEO of Amazon, and his ambitious leadership style has played an enormous part in making it the largest e-commerce company in the world. Bezos took Amazon from a book selling website, to an online retailer that sells almost anything you can possibly think of. His relentless desire to focus on providing the best possible customer experience has meant that the company continues to grow and diversify. Despite starting with books, Bezos always wanted Amazon to be perceived as a technology company and after the success of the Kindle e-book reader, the recent tablet and smartphone launches offer even greater opportunities to expand.
“It’s perfectly healthy–encouraged, even–to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.” Jeff Bezos
7. Warren Buffett – Berkshire Hathaway
Many business leaders shine when they completely change how a company is run, but Warren Buffett is inspirational due to his patience and perseverance. Buffett is an incredibly traditional trader, and his instincts and calm approach saw Berkshire Hathaway and his other investments run smoothly during the financial crisis. Many other traders tried to change the way they did things as a result of the crisis, and many of them fell. Buffett is a great example for the tortoise and the hare story!
“it’s better to hang out with people better than you” Warren Buffett
8. Brad Smith – Intuit
Brad Smith is an entrepreneur that isn’t afraid to take risks, and he passes that same philosophy onto his 8,000 employees. He wants to Intuit to continue growing in the same way that it started, and has embedded a unique culture at the company whereby he encourages his employees to take measured risks and learn from their success or failures. Allowing such creativity has led to Intuit becoming one of the biggest financial software companies in the world!
9. Angela Ahrendts – Apple
Angela Ahrendts was the CEO of Burberry between 2006 and 2014, and this is where she really became such an inspiring leader. So much so that Apple has now hired her! Ahrendts completely transformed the way Burberry was run – her focus on digital saw the introduction of tech-savvy stores, and her modern outlook also took Burberry from its brand tarnishing ‘chavvy’ reputation to becoming the biggest high-fashion retailer in the UK. It will be interesting to see how she impacts Apple’s focus as they continue to explore new market opportunities.
“When you have trust and you get that trust in place throughout the company, people are empowered — people are free.” Angela Ahrendts
10. Anne Mulcahy – Xerox
Xerox faced a financial crisis when Anne Mulcahy was made CEO in 2001, and her leadership qualities were evident straight away. She had the task of reducing the workforce by 30%, and she also made the bold decision to completely eliminate the desktop section of the company. Xerox has flourished under her leadership, and her courageous approach saw her named as one of the most influential women in the world in both 2005 and 2009.
"There's nothing quite as powerful as people feeling they can have impact and make a difference. When you've got that going for you, I think it's a very powerful way to implement change." Anne Mulcahy
30 Inspirational Quotes From Global Leaders Every Business Person Needs To Read
Still looking for inspiration? We have collated some more inspirational quotes from a range of business leaders in our infographic below.