Influential

The Most Influential CEOs of All Time  

Ready To Startup
2.9k votes 371 voters 10.3k views 48 items

List Rules Upvote 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.

list ordered by
1
Henry Ford is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Henry Ford Company, James F. Flower & Bros, Detroit Dry Dock Co
Henry Ford was an American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. Although Ford did not invent ...more
2
Steve Jobs is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Apple Inc., Pixar, Atari
Steven Paul Jobs was an American entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor, who was the cofounder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. Through Apple, he was widely recognized as a charismatic and ...more
3
Bill Gates is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Cascade Investment, Microsoft Corporation
William Henry "Bill" Gates III is an American business magnate, philanthropist, investor, computer programmer, and inventor. Gates originally established his reputation as the ...more
4
Walt Disney is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Laugh-O-Gram Studio, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Kansas City Film Ad Company
Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was an American entrepreneur, cartoonist, animator, voice actor, and film producer. As a prominent figure within the American animation industry and ...more
5
John D. Rockefeller is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Standard Oil, Exxon Mobil
John Davison Rockefeller Sr. was an American business magnate and philanthropist. He was a co-founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. ...more
6
Warren Buffett is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett Partnership Ltd., Graham-Newman Corp
Warren Edward Buffett is an American business magnate, investor and philanthropist. He was the most successful investor of the 20th century. Buffett is the chairman, CEO and largest shareholder ...more
7
Sam Walton is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Walmart, J. C. Penney
Samuel Moore "Sam" Walton was an American businessman and entrepreneur best known for founding the retailers Walmart and Sam's Club.
8
Elon Musk is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
SolarCity, Tesla Motors
Elon Reeve Musk is a South African-born, Canadian-American entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and investor. He is the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and chief product architect of Tesla Motors, and ...more
9
Jeff Bezos is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
D. E. Shaw & Co., Kosmix, Fitel
Jeffrey Preston "Jeff" Bezos is an American business magnate and investor. He is a technology entrepreneur who has played a key role in the growth of e-commerce as the founder and CEO ...more
10
Andrew Carnegie is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Homestead Steel Works, Pennsylvania Railroad, Keystone Bridge Company
Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish American industrialist who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century. He is also well known as a leading philanthropist. ...more
11
J. P. Morgan is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
J.P. Morgan & Company
John Pierpont "J.P." Morgan was an American financier, banker, philanthropist and art collector who dominated corporate finance and industrial consolidation during his time. In 1892, ...more
12
Ray Kroc is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
McDonald's
Raymond Albert "Ray" Kroc was an American businessman. He joined McDonald's in 1954 or 1955 and built it into the most successful fast food operation in the world. Kroc was included in ...more
13
Larry Page is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Google, Alphabet Inc., PageRank
Larry Page was Google's founding CEO and grew the company to more than 200 employees and profitability before moving into his role as president of products in April 2001. He continues to share ...more
14
Mark Zuckerberg is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Facebook, Inc.
Mark Elliot Zuckerberg is an American computer programmer and Internet entrepreneur. He is best known as one of five co-founders of the social networking website Facebook. Zuckerberg was made ...more
15
Lee Iacocca is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Ford Motor Company, Chrysler Corporation
Lido Anthony "Lee" Iacocca was an American businessman known for engineering the Ford Mustang and Ford Pinto cars, being let go from Ford Motor Company, and his revival of the Chrysler ...more
16
Sakichi Toyoda is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Sakichi Toyoda Toyota Boshoku Corporation, Toyota Industries
Sakichi Toyoda was a Japanese inventor and industrialist. He was born in Kosai, Shizuoka. The son of a poor carpenter, Toyoda is referred to as the "King of Japanese Inventors".
17
Richard Branson is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Virgin Broadband, Virgin Mobile UK, Virgin Mobile France
Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is an English businessman and investor. He is best known as the founder of Virgin Group, which comprises more than 400 companies. At the age of sixteen his ...more
18
Cornelius Vanderbilt is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
New York Central Railroad, Grand Central Depot
Cornelius Vanderbilt, also known by the sobriquet Commodore, was an American business magnate and philanthropist who built his wealth in railroads and shipping. He was also the patriarch of the ...more
19
Jack Warner is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Jack Warner was a film producer and a business person.
20
Howard Schultz is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Starbucks
Howard D. Schultz is an American businessman. He is best known as the chairman and CEO of Starbucks and a former owner of the Seattle SuperSonics. He was a member of the Board of Directors at ...more
21
Jack Welch is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
General Electric, MIT Sloan School of Management
John Francis "Jack" Welch, Jr. is a retired American business executive, author and chemical engineer. He was chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. During his ...more
22
Jack Ma is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Alibaba Group
Jack Ma or Ma Yun is a Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is the founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Internet-based businesses. He is the ...more
23
Conrad Hilton is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Conrad Nicholson Hilton was an American hotelier and the founder of the Hilton Hotels chain.
24
Larry Ellison is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
Oracle Corporation, Ampex, Precision Instruments
Lawrence Joseph "Larry" Ellison is an American programmer, internet entrepreneur, adventurer, businessman and philanthropist. He was the Chief Executive Officer of the software company ...more
25
Rupert Murdoch is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Influential CEOs of All Time
News Corporation, Fox Television Stations, DirecTV Group
Keith Rupert Murdoch, AC, KCSG is an Australian American business magnate. Murdoch became managing director of Australia's News Limited, inherited from his father Sir Keith Arthur Murdoch in ...more