Whether we are aware of it or not, all of our lives have been impacted by the actions of a small band of powerful, rich and influential men. We may not know them, have ever met them, or even know of their existence, but the influence they exert has changed the world. Some are household names and regularly appear on television, in newspapers and magazines, while others shun the limelight. Nevertheless, their sphere of influence extends across the world and shapes history.
In this list we take a look at some of the world’s most influential men, where they came from and how they have made a difference to the world.
Social media has transformed the world as we know it. Regardless of whether we use it or not, there can be no doubt that it has changed almost every aspect of life, from how we interact with each other to the reporting of major new events. And Facebook has been at the heart of that change. At just 31 years-old, American internet entrepreneur and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has revolutionized human relationships. One of the world’s wealthiest men, the Harvard graduate is also a leading philanthropist and announced in December 2012 that he would spend the rest of his life promoting equality and advancing human potential.
While his term in office is nearing the end, there can be no doubt that Barack Obama will retain his position of global influence. Any holder of the office of President of the United States will automatically be featured on any list of influential men, controlling the largest military and economic powers in the world, but it is especially true in the case of Barack Obama. Making history as the first African American to be elected President of the United States, Barack Obama became an icon of equality and possibility for the world. His charisma, ability and powerful public speeches have reinforced his international reputation.
He may not be a household name but as CEO of leading computer firm, Microsoft, Satya Nadella occupies a commanding place in the world. The Indian-born business executive has worked at Microsoft since the early 1990s and was appointed as CEO in 2014. As the head of one of the world’s foremost companies, Satya Nadella has been at the heart of the growth and development of the firm, rising quickly through the ranks and was a key driver in the move towards cloud-computing.
There can be few people in the world not aware of the Apple brand but company CEO Tim Cook may not be as well known. Although Apple is a ubiquitous global giant today, it wasn’t always the case with revenue falling from $11 billion in 1995 to just $6 billion in 1998. By 2011, however, thanks largely to Tim Cook’s partnership with the late Steve Jobs, revenue rocketed to more than $150 billion. The son of a shipyard worker from Alabama, Cook became Apple CEO in 2011 and is known for his dedication and professionalism, regularly beginning his working day at 4.30am.
It is a sign that someone has truly reached a position of global influence if what they do changes our language. Larry Page, CEO of Google, has done just that. Google is not just the world’s most popular search engine, it has almost become a verb in its own right – to Google something. Following in his father’s footsteps as a computer scientist, Larry Page was instrumental in developing the popular search engine and, in doing so, has transformed how we search for and find information.
The American business magnate is one of the world’s richest people, founder of global financial and media empire, Bloomberg LP. His sphere of influence extends far beyond the business world, however, thanks to his political involvement. Initially a Democrat, Bloomberg switched to become a Republican before being elected as Mayor of New York in 2001, shortly after the September 11 terror attacks. He was reelected in 2005 before leaving the Republican Party in 2007 and was then elected for a third term as an independent candidate in 2009. He was also suggested as a potential candidate for Governor of New Work and named as a possible Presidential candidate on several occasions. He is also a well known climate change campaigner and philanthropist, supporting a variety of causes through Bloomberg Philanthropies, donating hundreds of millions of dollars.
The British Royal Family is one of the most recognizable “brands” in the world and Prince William, together with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, is arguably its best asset. While Queen Elizabeth II is the reigning monarch, Prince William represents a new image of the monarchy. Youthful and with a beautiful wife and young family, Prince William has reignited international interest in the monarchy after a decade of negative headlines and tragedy. He has also attempted to adopt a more open and relaxed style, no doubt modeled on his late mother, Princess Diana, who changed the face of the British monarchy by becoming a charity ambassador, in particular campaigning for people living with AIDs and HIV. Currently second in line to the British throne, Prince William’s international influence is likely to rise in the years ahead when he eventually becomes Prince of Wales and, ultimately, king.
Abu Bakr an-Baghdadi
Of course not everyone can exert a benign influence on the world. Abu Bakr an-Baghdadi is the head of the so-called Islamic State organization, one of the world’s largest and most deadly terrorist organizations. As such, he has a huge influenceextending far beyond the geographical areas his organization controls in Syria, Iraq and parts of the Middle East. The activities of Islamic State have come to dominate and dictate the foreign policies of many of the western powers. Little is known about his background and there have several reports of his death in the media but none has been confirmed. He is reported to hold a PhD from the Islamic University of Baghdad and operated as an Islamic cleric before being interned by the US after the fall of Saddam Hussein. He later re-emerged as leader of Islamic State, styling himself as a caliph in 2010 before going on to unleash terror on the world.
The epitome of the cultured English gentleman, Stephen Fry has been a leading figure on the British comedy, acting and literary scene for several decades. In recent years he has become an international figure as a result of his pioneering use of microblogging site, Twitter. A Cambridge educated comic, he is known for his fierce intellect and command of language, as well as his old-world, genteel sense of Englishness. As a result of his well-publicized battles with mental health issues, including depression, Fry became president of Mind, a British-based mental health charity. He is also well known for his love of gadgets and embracing of new technologies. An openly gay man, he has also been an advocate for equality and was involved in the campaign for marriage equality in England.
As leader of one of the world’s largest religions, the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is one of the world’s most recognizable and revered men. He made history as the first South American to lead the Catholic Church when he was elected to succeed Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. Since then he has been regarded as a modernizing figure within the Church, challenging global capitalism and austerity. He has also expressed liberal views on homosexuality, unmarried mothers and gay people within the Catholic Church. Known for his humility and simple lifestyle, following his election as Pope he famously eschewed the luxury Papal apartments in the Vatican and chose instead to live in a simple apartment alongside other clerics and eat his meals in a communal canteen. He has also been involved in international affairs, working closely with Raul Castro and President Barack Obama to secure a historic breakthrough in relations between the USA and Cuba.
Ban Ki Moon
As Secretary General of the United Nations, South Korean-born Ban Ki Moon is one of the best known human rights advocates in the world. A career diplomat, Ban Ki Moon grew up in a small farming village and was displaced by the Korean war as a child. Since becoming Secretary General in 2007 he has sought to prioritize issues around global warming, continually challenging world leaders to take action to protect the environment and reduce harmful emissions. He has likened the dangers posed by global warming to the threat of nuclear war in the past. He has also worked to support efforts to bring peace to troubled regions in the Middle East. a leading advocate of LGBT rights, he has urged governments around the world to combat homophobia and discrimination.
It has long been said that the wheels of global politics are lubricated with oil and, as such, Rex Tillerson, is certainly a major figure on the world stage as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Under his leadership, Exxon has become one of the World’s top three companies in terms of market value alongside Apple and Google. He started with the company in 1975 as an engineer and rose through the ranks before becoming chairman and CE0 in 2006. In that position he successfully negotiated a deal with Russia for oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic which could be worth up to $300 billion.
This Italian banker and economist is regarded by many as one of the most powerful un-elected leaders in the world. The President of the European Central Bank has a long history in some of the world’s leading financial institutions including the World Bank and Goldman Sachs. In 2011 he succeeded Jean-Claude Trichet to the top job in the European Central Bank $640 billion loan program from the European Central Bank to the European Banks in response to the Euro zone debt crisis. He also caused controversy when he stated that European member states would have to be prepared to give up some of their sovereignty to the European Central Bank and other organizations if the Euro is to survive.
Given China’s emerging global economic power, Xi Jinping, as de facto leader of China is a major world figure by anyone’s standards. Technically he is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People’s Republic of China, and Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission. Under his leadership he has led major anti-corruption initiatives and improvements to the country’s economy and world standing. He has also pioneered a more assertive and aggressive foreign policy, setting out what he has referred to as the ‘Chinese Dream’ to explain his world-view. He has traveled more widely and met more world civic and political leaders than any other Chinese premier.
Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei is the Supreme Leader of Iran and is also a former president of the oil-rich country. He became the second Supreme Leader in 1989 when he succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution. One of the longest serving leaders in the Middle East, he is also the leader of Iranian armed forces. As Supreme Leader he has the final say on economic and political matters, including foreign policy. In 2003, shortly after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, claiming their stockpiling was against the Islamic faith.
Having amassed vast amounts of wealth as the co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates is best known these days as one of the world’s foremost philanthropists. His computer programming talents made him the world’s richest man from 1995 to 2007, and again in 2009. He has reclaimed the title again since 2014 with an estimated net worth of $76 billion. Since 2006 he has stepped back from a front line role with Microsoft and has instead chosen to focus on his work with the Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation which he set up with his wife to oversee his philanthropic activities.
The Russian politician and statesmen has had an impact on world politics which has no parallel since the fall of the Soviet Union. The former KGB agent has dominated political life in Russia for almost two decades. He is currently the President of Russia and has also served as prime minister and as leader of the United Russia party. He presided over almost a decade of economic growth in Russia and is known for his aggressive foreign policy positions, annexing Crimea and ordering military intervention in Eastern Ukraine. He is known for his macho image and has in the past demonstrated his martial arts ability.
Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is the leader of the Royal house of Saud and king of Saudi Arabia. He ascended to the throne in 2015 following the death of his half brother. He previously served for 43 years as Governor of the Riyadh province. He is regarded as a conservative but reorganized and simplified Saudi Arabia’s governmental structures as one of his first acts on becoming king. He has also gained a reputation as a mediator, often resolving disputed between the extended Royal Family, believed to contain as many as 4,000 princes.
As head of an influential British media empire, Jonathan Harold Esmond Vere Harmsworth – also known as Viscount Rothermere – is a leading figure in British political circles. His media group includes the popular Daily Mail group of newspapers. Having inherited the media empire established by his great grandfather, Viscount Rothermere, regularly makes the Sunday Times Rich List. Politically, he is a supporter of the British Conservative Party and was a close associate of outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron during his rise to power.
Born Shawn Corey Carter in 1969, the rapper and investor better known as Jay Z is one of the world’s leading performers. He is one of the best selling artists of all time and is reportedly worth an estimated $600 million. He has one 21 Grammy awards during his career to date and sold millions of albums across the world. Outside of music he owns a New York Sports bar, a sports agency and his own line of clothing. He was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s campaign for the US presidency and has taken part in initiatives aimed at getting more young people from black communities to take part in the democratic process.