The world is evolving in rapid and unexpected ways, and the change agents who are ushering in this global transformation sit at the helms of some of the world’s biggest business empires.
Gone are the days of the stoic, conservative leader, void of imagination and bright insight, today’s leaders are savvy, stylish and doggedly-determined to save the world. Here are Exec Digital’s favorite fresh elite.
Elon Musk, The Visionary
The luxury industry has long been at odds with the ‘hippy-dippy’ measures of the green movement. After a lifetime of disciplined hard work, consumers traditionally wanted to indulge in luxury experiences without considering the ramifications of their indulgences to the globe at large. However, things are changing.
Take for instance the recent revival of the electric car. When the phenomenon of electric cars first came to the market, the buying masses had little interest in the seemingly ‘granola’ trend of electric auto-buying.
That was until Elon Musk entered the scene. The head of Tesla Motors, Musk oversaw the creation of the first universally tasteful electric car – the chic and speedy Tesla Roadster. Elon Musk brought to the electric car what nobody else could – indisputable style. He understood the sophisticated aesthetic tastes of the masses, and found a way to marry the luxury design of a sports car with the eco-friendly genius of the electric car.
His creation has been received with thunderous success. In 2012, Musk made Forbes’ list of ‘New Billionaires’ with a net worth exceeding $2 billion.
However, Musk’s success is not confined solely to the automotive world. Prior to Tesla, the South African-born American entrepreneur and engineer successfully cofounded internet giant Paypal and space transport company SpaceX.
However, his biggest mission now is his philanthropic work, as it seems his insatiable appetite to do good will not be easily satisfied by creating three globally impactful companies. Given Tesla’s genius and suave demeanor, it is no coincidence that fans refer to him as the "Real life Tony Stark."
Petter Stordalen, The Activist
As a recent addition to Forbes’ billionaire list, and a fortune estimated anywhere from one to seven billion dollars, Russian hotel tycoon Peter Stordalen is in an elite bracket of business moguls. Owner of Nordic Choice Hotels, Stordalen is in command of over 170 hotels, shopping centers and properties.
However, it is Stordalen’s role as an environmental activist that makes him an unusually refreshing billionaire executive. In his personal life he is a rebellious activist, willing to break boundaries and challenge opposition to achieve justice for his cherished causes.
In 2002 he broke into the Sellafield nuclear treatment plant in the UK and chained himself to the bridge of the plant for nine hours in protest of the plant’s discharging of the radioactive element technetium -99 into the sea. Then in 2007, he was charged with trespassing for entering a restricted area in protest of the dumping of toxic mud in the Oslofijord bay.
His activist ambitions led him to found the philanthropic organization The Stordalen Foundation which focuses on the effects of climate change by supporting the Rainforest Foundation Fund, renewable energy research and educating consumer behavior.
Lapo Elkann, The Refined Playboy
Elkann is the grandson of Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, and is an Italian entrepreneur and former Fiat marketing manager. A favorite of the international press, the famous heir is known for his impeccable style in men’s fashion, cars, women and marketing design. Vanity Fair listed him in their ‘Best Dressed Hall of Fame’ for his commitment to unique and exciting wardrobe choices.
However Elkann is no cookie-cutter celebrity. A former drug addict, Elkann amended his playboy ways and recommitted to the family business as the company’s marketing manager in 2003. Prior to this position he did the marketing for Ferrari and Maserati and worked as the personal assistant to Nobel Peace Prize recipient Henry Kissinger. His legacy of fame, whirlwind lifestyle, and creative insight have forged him into one of Italy’s most competent and exciting creative entrepreneurial forces.
He now sits as the head of his companies Italia Independent - a lifestyle and clothing brand - and Independent Ideas, a communication and advertising agency, Elkann is committed to merging quality with creativity, and trendsetting through applied innovation.
Jeremy Stoppelman, The Freshman
No businessman has banked on the fiscal power of consumer opinion quite like Yelp.com’s Jeremy Stoppelman. A software engineering employee at PayPal, Stoppelman partnered with his then coworker Russell Simmons to launch Yelp.com as a working entity in 2004. Hoping to update the Yellow Pages for the modern age, Stoppelman had the insight to include the consumer’s personal experience into the review, and the idea caught like wildfire.
Now garnering over 54 million unique monthly visitors, Yelp incorporates social networking, user reviews and local search into one easy-to-use website. The app version of Yelp is also one of the most powerful apps on the market, with developers from Apple and Droid often turning to Yelp as a benchmark app to develop for.
When Yelp went public Stoppelman became a rich man (his share of the sale puts his personal fortune at approximately $135 million), however he does not subscribe to the traditional pretenses associated with being wealthy. Stoppelman still does not have his own Wikipedia page and his personal blog only serves as an outlet for reviews of books he is currently reading.
These four men represent only a fraction of the new emerging class of executives. However, their combined profiles illustrate a new sort of leader.
The new leader is as committed to the global cause of transparency and ethics as he is to his personal philanthropic endeavors. The idea is reassuring, and it feels good to know, that in some industries, the future is being shaped by powerful visionaries and humble leaders. Tomorrow’s leaders are hungry to transform, and refuse to conform.
All artwork by Heather Rushworth