Influential
723 voters

The Most Influential CEOs of All Time

Updated April 15, 2020 5.8k votes 723 voters 21.9k views54 items

List RulesUpvote your picks for the most important and inspirational CEOs in the history of business.

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.

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    Steve Jobs

    Apple Inc., Pixar

    AgeDec. at 56 (1955-2011)

    BirthplaceCalifornia, United States of America

    GenderMale

    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

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    250
    96

    Bill Gates

    Cascade Investment, Microsoft Corporation

    Age64

    BirthplaceSeattle, Washington, USA

    GenderMale

    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

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  • 3
    216
    84

    Henry Ford

    Henry Ford Company, James F. Flower & Bros

    AgeDec. at 84 (1863-1947)

    BirthplaceGreenfield Township, Wayne County, Michigan

    GenderMale

    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

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    179
    62

    Walt Disney

    Laugh-O-Gram Studio, Walt Disney Animation Studios

    AgeDec. at 65 (1901-1966)

    BirthplaceHermosa, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America

    GenderMale

    Alternative NameWalt Disney

    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

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    173
    63

    Warren Buffett

    Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett Partnership Ltd.

    Age90

    BirthplaceOmaha, Nebraska, USA

    GenderMale

    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

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    Elon Musk

    SolarCity, Tesla Motors

    Age49

    BirthplacePretoria, South Africa

    GenderMale

    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

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    149
    58

    John D. Rockefeller

    Standard Oil, Exxon Mobil

    AgeDec. at 98 (1839-1937)

    BirthplaceRichford, New York

    GenderMale

    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

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    136
    52

    Sam Walton

    Walmart, J. C. Penney

    AgeDec. at 74 (1918-1992)

    BirthplaceKingfisher, Oklahoma

    GenderMale

    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

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    Jeff Bezos

    D. E. Shaw & Co., Kosmix

    Age56

    BirthplaceAlbuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

    GenderMale

    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

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    115
    51

    Andrew Carnegie

    Homestead Steel Works, Pennsylvania Railroad

    AgeDec. at 84 (1835-1919)

    BirthplaceDunfermline, United Kingdom

    GenderMale

    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

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    106
    51

    J. P. Morgan

    J.P. Morgan & Company

    AgeDec. at 76 (1837-1913)

    BirthplaceHartford, Connecticut

    GenderMale

    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

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  • 12
    96
    61

    Larry Page

    Google, Alphabet Inc.

    Age47

    BirthplaceEast Lansing, Michigan

    GenderMale

    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

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  • 13
    77
    48

    Lee Iacocca

    Ford Motor Company, Chrysler Corporation

    Age95

    BirthplaceAllentown, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    GenderMale

    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
  • 14
    65
    36

    Sakichi Toyoda

    Toyota Boshoku Corporation, Toyota Industries

    AgeDec. at 63 (1867-1930)

    BirthplaceKosai, Japan

    GenderMale

    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
  • 15
    69
    43

    Ray Kroc

    McDonald's

    AgeDec. at 82 (1902-1984)

    BirthplaceOak Park, Illinois, United States of America

    GenderMale

    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

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  • 16
    63
    48

    Jack Welch

    General Electric, MIT Sloan School of Management

    Age84

    BirthplacePeabody, Massachusetts

    GenderMale

    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
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    45
    29

    Cornelius Vanderbilt

    New York Central Railroad, Grand Central Depot

    AgeDec. at 83 (1794-1877)

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    GenderMale

    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
  • 18
    46
    41

    Age67

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    GenderMale

    Howard D. Schultz (born July 19, 1953) is an American businessman and multi-billionaire. He was Chairman and Chief Executive of Starbucks from 1986 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2017, as well as its...  more

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    37
    30

    Conrad Hilton

    Hilton Hotels & Resorts

    AgeDec. at 92 (1887-1979)

    BirthplaceSan Antonio, New Mexico, United States of America

    GenderMale

    Conrad Nicholson Hilton (December 25, 1887 – January 3, 1979) was an American hotelier and the founder of the Hilton Hotels chain....  more
  • 20
    38
    33

    Estée Lauder

    Estée Lauder Companies

    AgeDec. at 98 (1906-2004)

    BirthplaceCorona, New York City, New York

    GenderFemale

    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
  • 21
    80
    88

    Mark Zuckerberg

    Facebook, Inc.

    Age36

    BirthplaceWhite Plains, New York

    GenderMale

    Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (; born May 14, 1984) is an American technology entrepreneur and philanthropist. Zuckerberg is known for co-founding and leading Facebook as its chairman and chief executive...  more

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    50
    51

    Jack Ma

    Alibaba Group

    Age55

    BirthplaceHangzhou, China

    GenderMale

    Jack Ma, or Ma Yun (Chinese: 马云; [mà y̌n]; born 10 September 1964), is a Chinese business magnate, investor, politician and philanthropist. He is the co-founder and executive chair of Alibaba Group,...  more
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    41
    39

    Jack Warner

    Warner Bros.-Seven Arts

    AgeDec. at 86 (1892-1978)

    BirthplaceLondon, Canada

    GenderMale

    Jack Warner may refer to:...  more
  • 24
    57
    60

    Richard Branson

    Virgin Broadband, Virgin Mobile UK

    Age70

    BirthplaceBlackheath, London, London, United Kingdom

    GenderMale

    Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson (born 18 July 1950) is a British business magnate, investor, author and philanthropist. He founded the Virgin Group in the 1970s, which controls more than 400...  more

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    26

    AgeDec. at 78 (1851-1929)

    BirthplaceVilla Rica, Georgia, United States of America

    GenderMale

    Asa Griggs Candler (December 30, 1851 – March 12, 1929) was an American business tycoon who owned the Coca-Cola Company, which he founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1892. He also served as the 41st Mayor...  more