The Ultimate Guide to the Big Boys and Girls of Tech
Do you know your Bill Gates from your Satya Nadella? Did you think Elon Musk was a fictional character? Take a look at some of the most powerful people in tech, who are responsible or have working in some of the biggest companies in the world.
Net worth: $22.6 billion
Famous for: Founding PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX. Digging big holes. Selling flamethrowers. Sending a car into space. Smoking a suspicious cigarette on a podcast.
Elon Musk is many things. He is the CEO of Tesla Motors, who make those ultra-fancy electric cars you wish you could afford. He’s the man who sent a car into space for no reason other than he could. He is the bloke who sent his company’s stock tumbling by smoking weed with Joe Rogan.
Born in South Africa, Musk moved to Canada then the US to attend university. He dropped out of Stanford University after two days to pursue to an entrepreneurial career – it turned out to be the best decision he ever made.
In short order, Musk co-founded Zip2 (which he sold to Compaq for $340 million) and X.com, an online bank which later became a little company known as PayPal. PayPal was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.
At this point, most people would probably take a few years off; maybe buy a nice villa in the South of France or take up an expensive hobby. Not our Elon; instead, he founded Space X, a private space transport company, after determining that he could build a space rocket for a fraction of the cost and took on the role of CEO and lead designer. A year later, he invested in Tesla and became CEO and chief product architect in 2008.
On top of that Musk also acts as CEO for Neuralink, a company developing brain-computer interfaces, and The Boring Company, which develops inner-city infrastructure (mainly by digging massive tunnels) and hyperloop tubes.
Musk is probably best known for his antics though. He famously sent a Tesla into space for no reason other than he could, and he also sold 20,000 flamethrowers online – they sold out in just five days. He is also a critic of AI, warning of its potential dangers to humanity, and plans to start a human colony on Mars.
He might believe that reality is a computer simulation too.
Some say Elon is a bit like a Bond villain but actually, he’s more of an eccentric teenager who’s been given more money than he knows what to do with.
Net worth: $137.6 billion
Main achievements: founding Amazon, being the richest man in the world, making it easier than ever to buy things you don’t need at 3 in the morning.
The founder of Amazon and the richest man in the world.
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Bezos graduated from Princeton University in 1986 then worked on Wall Street until 1994. It was that year, on a cross-country trip, that Bezos came up with the idea that would make him the richest man in the world: Amazon.
With a $300,000 investment from his parents and a warning to investors that there was a 70% chance Amazon would fail, Bezos managed to grow his company from a humble online bookstore to the world’s largest online sales company and the largest provider of cloud services through Amazon Web Services too.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows though. In 2002, Amazon almost went bankrupt but after some restructuring, it rebounded to turn a profit of $400 million in 2003.
Like Elon, Jeff fancies going into space too. He founded Blue Origin in 2000, and they plan to offer commercial space flight in the next few years. He also bought The Washington Post for $250 million in cash upfront.
Bezos is the world’s richest man, overtaking Bill Gates, but has faced criticism for working conditions at Amazon. As of 2017, Amazon employs 566,000 people which is an increase of 224,600 staff in just a year.
Bezos is renowned for his high expectations, as demonstrated from his transformation from a bookish type to a full-on money-making ripped alpha male. Hypercompetitive and data-driven. Bezos has a slight super villain vibe and apparently enjoys eating exotic foods like octopus and…erm, iguana.
Net worth: $55.0 billion – Zuckerberg’s net worth dropped by more than $5 billion this year after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Greatest achievements: founding Facebook, being played by Jesse Eisenberg in the film of his life, stealing all of your free time since 2007.
Mark Zuckerberg AKA The Zuck. Fun fact: Zuck has a diploma in the classics and enjoys Greek odysseys and Roman epic poetry. He was also the captain of his prep school fencing team.
He built games whilst others played them, and by the time he started classes at Harvard he was already known as a bit of a programming prodigy. He wrote a program called CourseMatch to help find study groups before making Facesmash that let you choose the best-looking person on campus from a number of photos. The plug had to be pulled within a few days due to the traffic and as students complained their images were used without their permission. If only he’d learnt then, eh?
Zuck founded Thefacebook in 2004 and dropped out to pursue his website (don’t worry, he got an honorary degree in 2017). He resisted offers for the company, stating that his mission was to make the world more open.
In 2016, Zuck and his wife Mrs. Zuck pledged to give away 99% of their wealth. Mark, if you’re reading, drop me a message.
Net worth: $3 billion
Known for: founding Snapchat, marrying Miranda Kerr.
Snapchat is another app to be born out of an American college, leading its founder to drop out and pursue his digital dreams. Evan Spiegel’s idea for the app, which currently boasts 187 million daily active users, came while he was studying product design at Stanford.
Originally dubbed Picaboo, Snapchat’s ideology was to have messages that would disappear. Many ridiculed it, but Spiegel would leave college to launch the app, which had reached one million active daily users in little over a year. Evan got his college degree in 2018, having been motivated by the birth of his son.
Back in 2012, Spiegel said the company’s mission wasn’t about “capturing the traditional Kodak moment”, and it was the solution to the fact there is so much information out there about us on social media. The temporary nature of the app means we aren’t scrambling to get rid of incriminating information before our employers find out. Those ugly snaps you send your best friend stays in their memory for just 10 seconds – no need to panic.
In 2015, Spiegel was named the youngest billionaire in the world and he married Australian model Miranda Kerr two years later – he’s still only 28 years old. Spiegel recently said that life is about more than money, although it’s easy to say that when you’re sitting on a few billion dollars.
Snapchat is now the most popular social media platform among 18 – 24 year olds in the UK, ahead of Facebook (sorry Zuck).
Net worth: estimated $45 million. Her annual salary is believed to be $33 million and in 2017, she received a $4.95 million bonus payout.
Known for: being the first female Chair, President and CEO of IBM.
She’s one of the most powerful women in tech, hailed for her innovation in diversifying IBM’s offering. Virginia M. Rometty (or Ginni for short), has worked at IBM since she was 24, beginning her career as a systems analysist and systems engineer in 1981. Now, she’s the CEO, chair and president.
When Sam Palmisano left his position as CEO, GInni took his place – becoming the first woman to head the company. She’s been praised for leading the company through their transformation into AI, blockchain and cybersecurity, ensuring they weren’t left behind as technology moves forward. She also helped to negotiate the company’s purchase of PriceWaterhouseCoopers for $3.5 billion.
She’s come under scrutiny for her pay scale (and pay rises) but is the only powerful woman on our list. Make those money moves, Ginni.
Net worth: $3.8 billion. His base salary is $850,000 a year, yet he made $24.4 million in 2017.
Known for: Co-founding Netflix.
The idea for Netflix was born from a late fee for a movie. Hastings had said he owed his rental store $40 as he was six weeks late returning a video (it was the 1990s) as he’d lost it. On his way to the gym, he realised the business model it had was much better – he would pay the same amount to go to the gym as much or as little as he wanted.
When Netflix was set up in 1997, Hastings used the emerging DVD technology and kept this service to the Internet, rather than faffing with paper orders. He’d been inspired by the Amazon model and championing its field online – Hastings put $2.5 million into the company, launching in 1998 as the world’s first online DVD rental store.
Back in 2000, Hastings approached rental giant Blockbuster, asking their CEO John Antioco for $50 million to buy Netflix. Antioco didn’t see the value in the company, believing it to be a niche business. Two years later, DVD players dropped in price becoming much more accessible, accelerating the growth of the company.
Five years later, they offered a streaming service but the amount of content they could stream was about 1% of their DVD offering. Hastings credits YouTube for his shift in strategy to providing streaming content – a move that’s helped make Netflix the most highly valued media and entertainment company.
Net worth: $625 million.
Best known for: helping to turn Apple into the force it is today.
Whilst Steve Jobs was hailed as a visionary at Apple, much of that accolade is also deserved for Tim Cook, the company’s current CEO. Before working at Apple, Tim Cook spent 12 years working at IBM, going on to serve as their Chief Operating Officer of Intelligent Electronics. Cook then worked at Compaq for just six months as Vice President for Corporate Materials when they were the biggest seller of PCs worldwide.
Tim Cook joined Apple after his first meeting with Steve Jobs. Despite having been at Compaq for a short time – and others advising him to stay put – Cook went with his gut to join Apple, helping to completely transform the company. Factories and warehouses were closed in favour of contract manufacturers as well as long-term deals being invested in that would help shape the iPod Nano, iPhone and iPad. After nine years, Cook was promoted to lead operations and would serve in Jobs’ absence as Chief Executive.
Jobs and Cook helped to take the company that was teetering towards failure into a well-oiled machine, producing high quality tech the world fell in love with. It has gone on to become one of the most valuable companies in the world – the first to become worth $1 trillion.
Net worth: $5.3 billion
Known for: Co-founding Twitter, getting fired then re-hired as CEO, founding Square.
Jack Dorsey, along with Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, founded Twitter in 2006. Dorsey had the idea to create an SMS style service for communicating, originally dubbed twttr. Within a year, they saw serious growth, with the tipping point coming during South by Southwest Interactive. Twitter usage increased from 20,000 to 60,000 tweets a day – a mere drop in the ocean compared to the numbers it does today.
A year later, Dorsey was fired, offered a “passive chairman role and silent board seat” due to the amount of time he spent on hobbies rather than his job. Between sewing, the huge phone bills and server issues that birthed the infamous fail whale, it got too much and Evan Williams became CEO.
Amid the Twitter drama, Dorsey tried to embody Steve Jobs and founded Square, a small business platform to accept payments from credit and debit cards on mobile devices. All was not lost on the Twitter front, as Williams was replaced by Dick Costolo in 2010 and Dorsey was now Executive Chairman. Costolo resigned five years later, with Dorsey becoming CEO.
Dorsey has declined compensation for his work at Twitter for a third year, but he owns 18 million shares to the tune of $529 million. The 65.5 million shares he owns at Square would equate to $3.1 billion.
Sergey Brin & Larry Page
Net worth: Brin – $48.5 billion / Page – $53 billion
Known for: Inventing Google, founding Alphabet, owning half the internet.
What began as a research project when Brin and Page were PhD students at Stanford University spurred on to become one of the biggest powerhouses of the internet. They created a technology called PageRank to determine a website’s relevance by the number of pages and the importance of those pages that linked back to the original site.
Their new search engine was later named Google, a misspelling of Googol – the number one followed by one hundred zeros. The company was incorporated in September 1998, and ran out of Susan Wojcicki’s garage. Susan is the CEO of YouTube.
The pair had wanted to create the company in order to organise the world’s information and make it accessible. By 2000, it was the most comprehensive search engine on the web. The minimalistic web page is down to Larry Page, kept this way to make the results load faster.
Page’s first stab at CEO was not a successful one. He went out of his way to fire all of Google’s project managers in 2001. He would have to step aside as CEO to make way for Eric Schmidt the same year, but a decade later Page would be back as CEO.
Although both Page and Brin are on one dollar salaries, they are worth more than $100 billion combined. Today, Page is CEO of Alphabet Inc., the parent company to Google and Brin serves as president. Both are among the richest people in the world.
Net worth: $95.6 billion
Known for: founding Microsoft, being insanely wealthy.
The former richest person in the world, Bill Gates, made his names in computers. After contacting Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) to tell them he was working on a BASIC interpreter for their platform back in 1975, Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard – and never returned. The partnership Gates and Paul Allen struck up with MITS became dubbed Micro-Soft before dropping the hyphen a year later.
IBM approached Microsoft in 1980 about an operating system for the IBM PC. Even though the system has IBM’s name on it, word soon spread that Gates was the man behind it. The first retail version of Microsoft Windows launched in 1985 – and the rest is history.
Gates is a technology advisor for Microsoft, having transitioned his full-time work out of the company and into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded to improve global health. As of November 2018, the only man on the planet richer than Gates is Jeff Bezos.
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