Digital world's most influential people of 2012
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Sergey Brin and Larry Page
As co-founders of Google in 1998, both Brin and Page have come a long way since working out of a garage in Menlo Park. Today, Page is the company's CEO, taking charge of its day-to-day operations, while Brin works on special projects.
Long a innovation leader in the tech world, Google continued this trend in 2012 with Project Glass. Under Brin's stewardship, Glass promises to add a new layer to our world with augmented reality. Think of it as a computer that you can wear as eyeglasses, so, for instance, you can verbally state that you need to go to the nearest McDonald's, and Google Glasses will show you the way. You can also take and share pictures with it and learn more about landmarks. You won't have to hold on to your smartphone or lug a computer around--the functionality will be there in the glasses. While the prototypes were displayed in 2012, the glasses aren't expected to hit the market until late 2013 or later.
Filling into the very big shoes that Steve Jobs left would be a challenge for anyone, but Tim Cook has proven himself as Apple's first post-Jobs CEO. His first job at Apple was senior vice president for its worldwide operations. Cook is credited for streamlining the company's supply chain, lowering its inventory and improving its margins.
So does Cook have it in him to keep Apple as successful as it was when Jobs was at the helm? Apple's sales more than quadrupled to $157 billion in 2012, and under Cook's leadership, the company secured a 53.3% market share in smartphones. Still, Apple will face challenges in an increasingly competitive space, and recent reports indicate that demand for iPhone 5 wasn't as strong as expected.
Steve Ballmer is currently the CEO of Microsoft and is consistently among the IT world's most powerful and influential people. Ballmer's secret is simple: hire passionate, talented people to work for your company, wisely budget your time, and make sure that your company strives for innovation.
Microsoft's 2012 was pretty much consumed by the launch of Windows 8, its latest attempt to get into the smartphone market, while also providing an overdue update to Windows 7. And by most accounts, Windows 8 is a success. The company announced that within 30 days after it was released, more than 40 million licenses had been sold. People have been upgrading to Windows 8 faster than they did with Windows 7, although Windows 8 also has its critics.
In 2012, the company also introduced the Surface, a Windows-based tablet. Although it hasn't yet become the competitor to the iPad that Microsoft was hoping, it's still early in the game, and the company will release Surface Pro, a larger version, in the coming weeks.
If technology could be defined sexy, then its poster boy would be Elon Musk. As PayPal's founder, Musk was instrumental in its success, but he did not stop there. Instead, he went on to build a viable electric car, and in 2012, Musk's SpaceX was the first privately owned company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Musk was also awarded the Gold Medal, the highest honor from the Royal Aeronautical Society. Further, Musk took his solar panel company, SolarCity, public and raised $92 million from its IPO.
Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg
At 43, Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and she was also the first female board member. Zuckerberg, of course, founded Facebook. Both were largely responsible for the company's much publicized and anticipated (an ultimately criticized) IPO in May 2012. It debuted on the stock market at a value of more than $100 billion, the first U.S. company to to be valued over that number. Later that year, the company acquired photo-sharing and social app Instagram for a cool $1 billion, further cementing its reign over social networking. Although Facebook stock lost a quarter of its value a month after the company went public, the beginning of 2013 signaled an upward trend for the company, with stocks opening above $32 for the first time since July on Tuesday. This came ahead of a press conference where Facebook announced it would be offering a search functionality that could potentially cut into Google's piece of the search pie.
Reid Hoffman is most well known for his involvement in LinkedIn, the IPO of which made him a billionaire. These days, however, he also wears another hat as one the world's most influential venture capitalist at Greylock Partners. He was also an executive vice president at PayPal before founding LinkedIn, is a board observer at various tech companies such as Gowalla and Swipely, and he continues to invest in startups. Hoffman believes that everybody should think of themselves as their own startups, should network constantly, and should learn to adapt. He dismisses the notion of staying at one company through retirement.
Hoffman's contributions to the tech world were solidified when he received the 2012 David Packard Medal of Achievement from TechAmerica, as well as the 2012 Difference Maker Award from the American Business Awards.
A discussion of the tech world in 2012 would not be complete without mentioning Marissa Mayer. After Yahoo's unceremonious sacking of Carol Bartz and months of speculation, the erstwhile search leader announced that Mayer would be stepping in as the company's CEO in July 2012. Mayer became the face of hope for the company.
Mayer earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Stanford University and was Google's first female engineer. While at Google, Mayer focused on user interface first and then moved on to other highly successful Google products such as Gmail, Google News and Google Maps.
Mayer's plan for Yahoo is simple: Maximize the assets that already exist and optimize them for mobile.
Photo: From left, Steve Ballmer, Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Reid Hoffman.