As business leaders, historical captains of industry and current CEOs inspire generations of entrepreneurs. They shape the commerce worlds of their day and beyond, influence political destinies - and make beaucoup bucks in the process. What does a CEO do, exactly? As a titan of the industrial revolution, Henry Ford perfected the assembly line to produce more affordable cars. Walt Disney brought "imagineering" to Hollywood with Disney animation studios, and later Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Many contemporary "celebrity CEOs," aka famous CEOs, work out of Silicon Valley. Case in point: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who spun a social media and communications revolution from his Harvard dorm room to the halls of Congress.
While the leaders on this list are notable in their fields, not all fit the formal CEO definition in their time. What does CEO stand for? By strict standards, the CEO meaning is 'chief executive officer,' a relatively modern term that came into common parlance in the 1970s. Before then, company heads were more often referred to as 'Chairman' or 'President.' Some companies retroactively refer to their founders and figureheads as CEOs, while others do not.
For the purposes of this list, a person's stewardship and iconography are more important to consider when voting, rather than the formal title held during their tenure. Now that you know what a CEO is, share your opinions on the greatest CEOS of all time.
- Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was an American industrialist and a business magnate, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and the sponsor of the development of the assembly line ...more
- Steven Paul Jobs (; February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011) was an American business magnate, entrepreneur and investor. He was the chairman, chief executive officer (CEO), and co-founder of Apple Inc., ...more
- John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) was an American business magnate and philanthropist. He is widely considered the wealthiest American of all time, and the richest person ...more
- Elon Reeve Musk (; born June 28, 1971) is a technology entrepreneur, investor, and engineer. He holds South African, Canadian, and U.S. citizenship and is the founder, CEO, and lead designer of ...more
- Andrew Carnegie kar-NAY-gee (November 25, 1835 – August 11, 1919) was a Scottish-American industrialist, business magnate, and philanthropist. Carnegie led the expansion of the American steel ...more
- Walter Elias Disney (; December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966) was an American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer. A pioneer of the American animation industry, he introduced several ...more
- Sakichi Toyoda (豊田 佐吉, Toyoda Sakichi, February 14, 1867 – October 30, 1930) was a Japanese inventor and industrialist. He was born in Kosai, Shizuoka. The son of a farmer and sought-after carpenter, ...more
- Samuel Moore Walton (March 29, 1918 – April 5, 1992) was an American businessman and entrepreneur best known for founding the retailers Walmart and Sam's Club. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. grew to be the ...more
- Raymond Albert "Ray" Kroc (October 5, 1902 – January 14, 1984) was an American fast-food tycoon. He joined the California company McDonald's in 1954, after the McDonald brothers had franchised 6 ...more
- Warren Edward Buffett (born August 30, 1930) is an American business magnate, investor, speaker and philanthropist who serves as the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is considered one of ...more
- William Henry Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American business magnate, investor, author, philanthropist, and humanitarian. He is best known as the principal founder of Microsoft ...more
- John Pierpont Morgan Sr. (April 17, 1837 – March 31, 1913) was an American financier and banker who dominated corporate finance on Wall Street throughout the Gilded Age. As the head of the banking ...more
- John Francis "Jack" Welch Jr. (born November 19, 1935) is an American business executive, author, and chemical engineer. He was chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. During his ...more
- Jack Warner may refer to:
- Cornelius Vanderbilt (May 27, 1794 – January 4, 1877) was an American business magnate who built his wealth in railroads and shipping. After working with his father's business, Vanderbilt worked his ...more
- Conrad Nicholson Hilton (December 25, 1887 – January 3, 1979) was an American hotelier and the founder of the Hilton Hotels chain.
- Marjorie Merriweather Post (March 15, 1887 – September 12, 1973) was an American businesswoman, socialite and the owner of General Foods, Inc. She used much of her fortune to collect art, ...more
- Jeffrey Preston Bezos (; né Jorgensen; January 12, 1964) is an American technology entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. He is the founder, CEO, and president of Amazon.com, Inc. Bezos was born ...more
- Andrew William Mellon (; March 24, 1855 – August 26, 1937), sometimes A.W., was an American banker, businessman, industrialist, philanthropist, art collector, and politician. From the wealthy Mellon ...more
- Lido Anthony "Lee" Iacocca ( EYE-ə-KOH-kə; October 15, 1924 – July 2, 2019) was an American automobile executive best known for the development of Ford Mustang and Pinto cars, while at the Ford Motor ...more
- Lawrence Edward Page (born March 26, 1973) is an American computer scientist and Internet entrepreneur who co-founded Google with Sergey Brin.Page is the chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc. ...more
- Lawrence Joseph Ellison (born August 17, 1944) is an American businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who is a co-founder and the executive chairman and chief technology officer (CTO) of Oracle ...more
- Feodor Ingvar Kamprad (Swedish: [ˈɪŋːvar ˈkamːprad] (listen); 30 March 1926 – 27 January 2018) was a Swedish business magnate best known for founding IKEA, a multinational retail company specialising ...more
- Estée Lauder (; July 1, 1906 – April 24, 2004) was an American businessperson. She co-founded her eponymous cosmetics company with her husband, Joseph Lauter (later Lauder). Lauder was the only woman ...more
- Indra Nooyi (née Krishnamurthy; born 28 October 1955) is an Indian American business executive, serving on the board of directors of Amazon, the largest eCommerce business in the world by net ...more