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Fifty people who shaped the decade

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Fifty people who shaped the decade

Leadership

Fifty people who shaped the decade

The game-changing politicians, influential businesspeople, record-breaking sports stars and brave activists who make up the FT’s list

© FT montage; Bloomberg; Getty Images; Reuters

The second decade of the 21st century began with austerity measures to deal with the downturn caused by the global financial crisis and ended with populist governments and illiberal regimes throughout the world. The FT’s 50 People of the Decade reflects these developments, with game-changing politicians and influential executives from banking and industry. The explosion in and dominance of computers and smartphones in every aspect of our lives is evident in the number of technology figures. And in a decade where individuals showed themselves to be capable of wrenching power from long-established institutions, those who have made advancements in science, broke new sporting records, protested bravely against persecution and called out institutional harassment could not be overlooked. 

A panel of FT reporters finalised the list of individuals across politics, economics, business and technology and culture, media, science and sport. The list and profiles of a selection of them appear below:

Politics

Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian prime minister

Recep Tayyip Erdogan,

Turkish president

Nigel Farage

Brexiter who changed Britain
© Charlie Bibby/FT

Nigel Farage has never won so much as a seat in the British parliament. Yet over the past decade, he has reshaped the country’s politics. As leader of the UK Independence party, pressure from Mr Farage was a central part in David Cameron’s decision to hold a 2016 referendum on leaving the EU. He then played a buccaneering — if controversial — role in the winning campaign. As support for a second referendum grew, Mr Farage this year established the Brexit party and used its success in European elections to prevent the Conservatives from wavering. Although Boris Johnson triumphed in the general election, a large part of his Brexit approach has been dictated by Mr Farage. Geoff Dyer

Mohamed Bouazizi

Tunisian street vendor whose death in 2010 set the Arab spring in motion

Koch brothers

Mega-donors to the US right
© Bloomberg

Few people have changed the face of US politics over the past decade more than Charles and David Koch, the billionaire owners of a Kansas-based private industrial empire who used their wealth to launch a hard-right revolution that laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s election in 2016. By financing dozens of anti-government causes and candidates, they helped lead a metamorphosis of the Republican party from a “big tent” coalition that once included pro-business moderates and multilateral internationalists into a more ideologically unified force that has shifted the American political debate further to the right than even Ronald Reagan was able to achieve in the 1980s. Peter Spiegel

Emmanuel Macron

French president

Angela Merkel

German chancellor

Narendra Modi

Indian prime minister

Sérgio Moro

Anti-graft judge turned politician
© Evaristo SA/AFP/Getty

From his position as a judge in a provincial Brazilian city, Sérgio Moro spearheaded a corruption investigation that rocked Latin America’s political establishment. The probe into bribes paid by construction group Odebrecht led to the imprisonment of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and implicated four former or current presidents of Peru — one shot himself before police could arrest him. Last year Mr Moro became justice minister in the government of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro — a move into politics that has cast doubt on his independence as a judge, but which could set him up for a run at the presidency. Geoff Dyer

Barack Obama

US president 2008-16

Vladimir Putin

Russian president

Mohammed bin Salman

Combustible Saudi crown prince
© Cliff Owen/AP

It might come as a surprise that Mohammed bin Salman was only named as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in 2017. Since then he has announced a blizzard of social and economic reforms, including the $25bn December listing of oil company Saudi Aramco. But MBS, as he is known, has also escalated the war in Yemen, placed senior members of the Saudi royal family under arrest as part of an anti-corruption drive, and faced a storm of international criticism over the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Istanbul. Geoff Dyer

Edward Snowden

US intelligence whistleblower

Qassem Soleimani

Head of Iran’s Quds force

Aung San Suu Kyi 

Myanmar’s de facto leader
© Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

No politician has travelled such a dramatic arc as Myanmar’s de facto leader. Released from house arrest in 2010 after 15 years, Aung San Suu Kyi travelled to Oslo in 2012 to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she had been awarded in 1991. Although barred from the presidency, her party’s triumph in 2015 general elections seemed to cement her legacy as a liberal hero who engineered the decade’s most decisive transition from dictatorship to democracy. Yet in early December, she spoke in front of the International Court of Justice in The Hague to defend Myanmar against claims of genocide conducted against Rohingya Muslims — alleged crimes committed by the same military she once opposed. Geoff Dyer

Donald Trump

US president

Joshua Wong

Hong Kong political activist

Xi Jinping

Chinese president

Malala Yousafzai

Activist and Nobel laureate
© Stan Honda/AFP/Getty

Malala Yousafzai is to girls’ education what Greta Thunberg is to climate change. Born into a Pashtun family in the Swat valley, she began speaking out on the issue when she was 10. After Taliban militants occupied the valley, she started an anonymous blog defending the right of girls to attend school. In 2012, she was shot in the head at close range but was later transferred for treatment to the UK, where she has since lived. In an interview with the FT in the following year, she criticised those who “think Islam means women sitting at home in purdah or wearing burkas while men do jihad”. David Pilling

Economics, business and technology

Bernard Arnault

LVMH chairman and chief executive

Jeff Bezos

Amazon founder and chief executive

Tim Cook

Apple chief executive

Jamie Dimon

JPMorgan chair and chief executive

Mario Draghi

European Central Bank president, 2011-2019

Larry Fink

BlackRock’s dealmaker
© Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

BlackRock’s founder was already one of Wall Street’s most influential operators when the global financial crisis struck, but it was the deal he struck in 2009 to acquire Barclays’ asset management unit that catapulted him into the ranks of the world’s most powerful people. The exchange traded fund unitwas particularly important, giving BlackRock access to the cheap, passive index-tracking investment vehicles that have exploded in popularity over the past decade. BlackRock is the industry’s biggest player, helping boost its assets under management to almost $7tn. Robin Wigglesworth

Bill and Melinda Gates

US philanthropists

Reed Hastings

Netflix co-founder, chair and chief executive

Elizabeth Holmes

Founder of Theranos
© David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Silicon Valley is no stranger to big promises, but Elizabeth Holmes captivated the tech world with her promise to revolutionise blood testing. Needles and venous draws would be consigned to history, replaced by her proprietary finger-prick “nanotainer”, which could purportedly test for all manner of illnesses with a tiny speck of blood. Better still, her technology was so painless and simple that people would be tested in their local drugstore or supermarket, potentially helping them catch serious illnesses such as cancer. A string of hagiographic profiles in the US media followed, along with hundreds of millions of dollars of investments into her company, Theranos, bestowing it, at one point, with a $9bn valuation. But the technology did not work, and Ms Holmes allegedly duped her investors. She now faces a criminal trial, having been charged with nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which she denies. David Crow 

Kylie Jenner

Gen Z make-up entrepreneur
© Kevi Tachman/MG19/Getty

Whether you prefer to style her the youngest self-made billionaire on earth or Gen Z’s first billionaire, the 22-year-old founder of Kylie Cosmetics sold a majority stake in her firm to Coty Inc for $600m in November, just in case anyone thought selling lipstick to teens on Instagram was a sideline. A tender nine years old when her family’s reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians began, she was 16 when she used the money from modelling to invest in a cosmetics line, going on to launch a small range of lipsticks and lipliners in 2015. Her only stumble has come from a three-year battle to trademark the name Kylie in the US, blocked by objections from a Ms Minogue. The dispute has now been resolved and both Kylies sell cosmetics. Janine Gibson

Travis Kalanick 

Controversial co-founder of Uber
© Thor Swift/FT

Travis Kalanick’s frustration one snowy December night in Paris that he couldn’t simply “push a button and get a ride” from his phone inspired the creation of ride-hailing service Uber. What began as a high-end limousine service in San Francisco is now a regular habit for more than 100m people worldwide. Burning through more than $15bn of venture capital, Mr Kalanick’s pugnacious approach set a new template for “gig economy” ventures in the past decade: asset-light yet also capital-intensive, exploiting legal loopholes to drive rapid growth. However, Mr Kalanick’s rule-breaking also enabled bad behaviour within the company and left bad blood with regulators that his successors are still scrambling to fix. Tim Bradshaw

Haruhiko Kuroda

Bank of Japan governor

Christine Lagarde

IMF managing director, 2011-2019

Jack Ma

Alibaba co-founder

Sergio Marchionne

Italian business leader

Aubrey McClendon

Shale revolutionary
© Layne Murdoch/Getty

The shale energy revolution that transformed the US into the world’s leading oil and natural gas producer involved hundreds of exploration and production companies, geologists, engineers and financiers. No one embodied its headlong growth like Chesapeake Energy’s Aubrey McClendon, a persuasive industry advocate who built up the largest acreage position in the country. Soaring debts financed Chesapeake’s rapid growth, making it an early case study of the sector’s struggles to deliver returns to investors. McClendon was replaced as Chesapeake chief executive in 2013 after a scandal involving his personal borrowings. A second act was cut short in 2016 when he died in a car crash aged 56. Gregory Meyer

Elon Musk

Tesla founder and chief executive

Thomas Piketty

Leader of the debate on inequality
© Loic Venance/AFP/Getty

The French economist’s vital analysis of the roots and consequences of inequality — Capital in the Twenty-First Century — helped shape the debate about wealth distribution in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The book, which won FT Business Book of the Year in 2014, gave intellectual grounding to the political movements across the world that grew in response to the rapid accumulation of wealth by the super-rich in an age of austerity and quantitative easing. Josh Noble 

Ren Zhengfei

Huawei founder and chief executive

Margrethe Vestager

EU commissioner for competition

Susan Wojcicki

YouTube chief executive

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder, chairman and chief executive

CULTURE, MEDIA, SPORT AND SCIENCE

David Attenborough

British natural historian and broadcaster

Jennifer Doudna

American biochemist

Kevin Feige

Marvel’s mastermind
© Jesse Grant/Getty

The 46-year-old film producer is the mastermind behind the Marvel superhero movie and TV franchise that has come to dominate the entertainment industry and generate tens of billions of dollars at the box office. His success reoriented Hollywood around an all-consuming obsession with superheroes and space adventures, culminating in the record-breaking 2019 hit Avengers: Endgame. The franchise, in which a wide range of characters and storylines were meticulously interwoven by Feige and his team, redefined the superhero genre for a new generation, and helped Disney to not just withstand the threat from new rivals in Silicon Valley, but to fight back. Josh Noble 

Rose McGowan

Campaigning #MeToo actor 
© Matthew Sperzel/Getty

Rose McGowan once said she knew she was “destined for a big and strange life”. Yet even she might not have predicted the role she would play in #MeToo, one of the decade’s most influential social movements. In 2016, the outspoken film star posted a series of tweets claiming an unnamed “studio head” had once raped her. The boss was rumoured to be Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, so Ms McGowan was among the first women The New York Times called when it launched its 2017 investigation into Mr Weinstein, who has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex. At first Ms McGowan balked at talking to the paper, claiming it had “sexism issues”. But the story she eventually told helped to bring down Mr Weinstein and launch a movement that continues to reverberate today. Pilita Clark

Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo

The battle to be football’s GOAT
© Josep Lago/AFP/Getty

The battle to be crowned football’s Greatest of All Time has been a key driver for the global marketing machine that football has become, attracting billions of new fans, particularly in Asia, and with it vast sums in sponsorship and broadcasting rights deals. The intense rivalry between the Argentine and Portuguese superstars has played out in the Spanish league, the Champions League and the World Cup — and on countless games consoles across the planet. One of the pair has been named as the world’s best player in nine of the past 10 years. Josh Noble

Rupert Murdoch

News Corp founder

Grigory Rodchenkov

Whistleblower on Russian sport
© Netflix/Kobal/Shutterstock

Mr Rodchenkov, star of the doping movie Icarus, was the mastermind turned whistleblower of Russia’s massive state-sponsored doping programme that delivered 34 tainted Olympic medals across five Olympic Games, until it was uncovered with his help after the 2014 winter games in Sochi. The exposure shook global sports, underlined the lengths countries were willing to go for sporting success and has ultimately resulted in Russia's banfrom the next Olympics and football World Cup. Henry Foy

Taylor Swift

The world’s most powerful pop star
© Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The singer-songwriter has sold 37.3m albums and been named artist of the decade by both the American Music Awards and Billboard. But her power extends far beyond her record sales. She was 16 when she released her first album in 2006, since then she has sued a radio DJ for groping her and waged war and won against both Spotify and Apple Music over royalties paid to artists on streaming services. The first battle took three years, the second 24 hours. Arguably the only person to have bested her was Kanye West in a spat over whether she had agreed to a crude reference to her in his lyrics, a feud which spawned a record-breaking album, Reputation. Scooter Braun and The Carlyle Group are currently learning how it feels to be one of Swift’s exes as she seeks to frame a battle over her masters as a fight for artists’ rights. Don’t bet against her. Janine Gibson 

Serena Williams

US tennis superstar

Who did we miss? Who would you add? Share who you think have been the most influential people of the decade in the comments below. We may round up and publish a selection on FT.com
Read our Fifty Faces of 2000-09

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