The 11 Most Inspirational Leaders Of 2013

From a street artist to a world leader, these 11 people broke new ground in their respective fields and left a permanent mark on the world.
December 10, 2013

This year, people around the globe made memorable headlines with their contributions. A pastry chef, an entrepreneurial billionaire, a political prisoner-turned South African president, a street artist and more than a few company founders and executives shaped their companies, their industries and even their countries—and changed the world in the process.

Here are the 11 most influential people of 2013:

Nelson Mandela, Anti-Apartheid Leader

Last week, Mandela died at the age of 95, leaving behind a world of mourners. The anti-apartheid South African leader spent 27 years in prison for his beliefs before becoming the country's first black president and winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

President Barack Obama called Mandela one of the "most influential, courageous and profoundly good" people to ever have lived.

Elon Musk, Tech Entrepreneur

Often included in any list that mentions the most innovative, inspirational leaders, Musk was named "Businessperson of the Year" by Fortune magazine in 2013 because of his "audacity and tenacity." This serial entrepreneur and innovator immigrated to Canada from South Africa at the age of 17, moving to the U.S. just two years later and making his billions after co-founding PayPal.

Later, Musk invested in two startups, automobile manufacturer Tesla Motors and space flight company Space X, which are both now major players in their industries. This year, Tesla posted profits for the first time, and Space X disrupt the aeronautics industry when it launched its first major commercial satellite into orbit.

Musk also made headlines this year when he proposed designs for his Hyperloop plan, a transportation mode that would allow people to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes.

Jeff Bezos, CEO Of Amazon

Bezos has been all over the news this year as Amazon generated $17.1 billion in net sales in the third quarter and increased active users by 19 percent. The businessman also bought The Washington Post for $250 million cash earlier this year.

In a recent interview with journalist Charlie Rose, Bezos revealed that Amazon is currently testing drones to deliver packages within 30 minutes. He's often referred to as the next Steve Jobs.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO Of Facebook

It's hard to discuss 2013 without mentioning Sandberg's book, Lean In, which encourages women to seek executive positions and ask for more in their careers. 

Now the COO of Facebook and a former Google exec, Sandberg is an inspiration to educated women who understand all too well the struggles of gender bias in the workplace today.

Neil Blumenthal And Dave Gilboa, Co-Founders Of Warby Parker

Blumenthal and Gilboa were Wharton School classmates who just wanted to provide hip, affordable, fashion-forward eyewear to the public. Seems they touched on a neglected niche: Since launching their company, Warby Parker, in 2010, business has been booming. This year, the duo opened Warby Parker's flagship store, and the company is now considered a strong competitor of Luxottica, a $20 billion company that owns most of the eyewear industry.

In addition to providing reasonably priced, high-fashion eyeware, the company also donates one pair of glasses for every pair sold.  In July 2013, Warby Parker announced that it had distributed 500,000 pairs of eyeglasses to people in need.

Tony Hsieh, CEO Of Zappos.com

He's already wildly successful as the CEO of online shoe and accessories company Zappos, but that isn't enough. Hsieh believes so strongly in transforming Las Vegas into the smartest, most "community minded" city in the world that he invested $350 million of his own money into the Downtown Project.

By the end of this year, Hsieh has said that he'll relocate 1,500 of Zappos employees to Las Vegas’ city hall building downtown. His project includes an impressive, major new transit service, which incorporates shared electric cars and bicycles, shuttles and chauffeured vehicles, all for a monthly fee.

Angela Ahrendts, New Retail Chief Of Apple And Former CEO Of Burberry

Being one of a small handful of women CEOs didn't stop Ahrendts from also being the U.K.'s highest-paid chief executive in 2012. Since taking the reins as CEO of Burberry in 2006, the brilliant businesswoman rebranded the company as a high-fashion house worth an estimated $10.4 billion.

Ahrendts was listed in Forbes' list of the World's 100 Most Powerful Women in 2013. In October, it was announced that Ahrendts will step down as CEO of Burberry and join Apple as a retail exec.

Reed Hastings, CEO Of Netflix

This has been an incredible year for Netflix, and a lot of that success is attributed to Hastings' leadership. Netflix's stock surged by 260 percent in 2013 and picked up 14 Emmy nominations, including a nod for its political thriller, House of Cards.

Dominique Ansel, Pastry Chef And Owner Of Dominique Ansel Bakery

Ansel's cronut—a doughnut-croissant hybrid—turned the pastry world upside down with its exclusivity and notoriously long lines. Dubbed "the cronut wizard," Ansel created a food craze in New York City within days of unleashing his cronut this summer. He has since partnered with Shake Shack and recently published his first book, Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes.

Banksy, Street Artist

No one knows his true identity, but the graffiti artist who calls himself Banksy created an uproar in New York throughout the month of October. Beginning on October 1, Banksy unveiled new artwork on the streets of New York City every day, working throughout the night to make it happen.

Although his politically driven street art has been criticized as vandalism, his pieces have been sold for hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars.

Marissa Mayer, CEO Of Yahoo

She's the tech genius who became one of the youngest CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. Since joining Yahoo, Mayer has rebranded the company with a new home page and logo and orchestrated 17 acquisitions. This includes the $1.1 billion purchase of blogging service Tumblr.

Since Mayer joined the company a little more than a year ago, the company's stock prices have doubled.

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