10 Titans of Tech
For the world’s largest technology companies, success often hinges on creating a product or service that consumers will want to use every day. In the world of streaming, Spotify brought an enormous music library to our mobile devices, and Netflix has continued to upend the traditional TV business. Meanwhile, Amazon’s popular virtual assistant is showing up in more homes, and Apple’s in-store experience remains a gold standard for brick-and-mortar retail. The people behind these achievements might not all be household names yet, but they are among the most important in the consumer tech world. Meet the 10 most influential figures driving forward the devices, technologies, streaming services, and social networks that have become part of our daily lives
Executive Chair, Ant Financial Services, Alibaba Group
Lucy Peng is a money management master. She co-founded the Chinese e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba, which set the record in 2014 for the world’s biggest IPO in history. Before the IPO, Alibaba spun off the online payment services provider Ant Financial and Peng became CEO. Ant Financial’s mobile payment service, Alipay, currently boasts 450 million users, helping make Ant Financial one of the world’s most valuable privately owned internet companies at around $60 billion. Although Peng stepped down from the CEO position last year, she remains in charge of cultivating new talent and pursuing globalization opportunities.
Senior Vice President, Retail, Apple
When Apple CEO Tim Cook approached then Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts in 2014 about joining his company, she told him she did not think of herself as a techie, Fortune reported. Cook already had plenty of those; what he needed was an executive who understood retail. Since becoming the first woman on Apple’s executive team, Ahrendts has worked to merge the online store with brick-and-mortar retail locations, aiming to turn Apple Stores into town squares for communities.
Chief Content Officer, Netflix
As one of the first video-streaming services to disrupt the traditional TV model, Netflix has grown to more than 100 million subscribers worldwide this year. Ted Sarandos is responsible for overseeing the company’s content, including the booming Netflix originals category. This year, for the first time, two Netflix films were shown at the Cannes Film Festival: Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories.
Vice President of Echo Devices and Alexa, Amazon
If you were to ask, “Alexa, who’s your mother?” Amazon’s flagship virtual assistant should probably answer, “Toni Reid.” A career Amazon employee, Reid has been working on the company’s voice-controlled helper since becoming director of the Alexa team in 2014, when the technology was still a top-secret project within Amazon’s hardware division. Despite the hurdles to widespread adoption still facing AI-enabled technologies, Reid, who told Marie Claire she has eight Echos in her own home, has helped Alexa-powered Echo devices surpass the 10 million–sold mark in May.
President of Product and Merchandising, Nike
During a management reshuffle last year at Nike, Michael Spillane received a notable promotion and continued his steady rise up the company’s ranks. Spillane brought prior experience with fabric companies to Nike when he became chief executive for its Converse brand and later transformed soccer clothing line Umbro, which Nike eventually sold for $225 million. After turning around Nike’s China business and then heading up global footwear, Spillane now leads Nike’s product engine as the company continues to offer advanced technologies such as Flyknit, for lightweight shoe uppers, and Nike Air, for soles that reduce the force of impact.
Technical Fellow, Operating System Group, Microsoft
Brazilian Alex Kipman has been inventing new technologies at Microsoft for more than 16 years. But Kipman doesn’t fit the stereotypical techie mold, telling Fast Company he draws inspiration from the people, art, and environment of Burning Man. Since joining the company, he has been the force behind the motion controller for Kinect, as well as iterations of the HoloLens head-mounted display. His prediction for the augmented reality industry: Once users are able to project apps, information, and videos into their line of sight, there will no longer be a need for smartphones.
Co-Founder and CEO, Spotify
Swedish entrepreneur Daniel Ek is considered to be a freemium content services pioneer. At the age of 13, he started his own web development company out of his parents’ house, and by 18 was managing a team of 25 employees. In 2006, Ek and his partner founded Spotify in Sweden, later expanding worldwide. This year, Billboard named Ek No. 1 on its Power 100 list of top music industry executives, and for good reason: Streaming accounts for around 51% of all music consumption in the U.S., with Spotify in the lead, surpassing 140 million monthly active users.
EVP of Global Marketing, Global IT and Mobile, Samsung
A former executive of L’Oréal and Lancôme, Younghee Lee’s background in beauty products has served her well in the mobile business. When she joined Samsung in 2007, consumers perceived the South Korea–based electronics company as “boring and monotonous,” she told Adweek. But Lee helped the company convey more meaningful stories about the technology, and consumers responded. In 2016, Samsung received recognition for its innovative, inspiring campaigns after being named Marketer of the Year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Founder and CEO, Essential
In 2004, Andy Rubin co-founded Android, which has since become the world’s most popular operating system for getting online. Now he’s aiming to break into the smartphone market with the Essential PH-1, a $499 unlocked Android phone made from titanium that, his startup says, has a magnetic connector for wireless recharging and a 360-degree camera. Rubin is already shaking things up.
Sheryl Sandberg is, by many accounts, leading the conversation about what it means to be a working woman. Since joining Facebook in 2008, she has helped boost the social network’s prominence and influence. Her nonprofit organization, Lean In, named after her best-selling book, focuses on empowering women through small peer-group meetups called Circles, public awareness campaigns, and educational materials. Her husband, SurveyMonkey chief executive David Goldberg, died unexpectedly in 2015 from heart-related causes, and Sandberg suddenly became a widow. In her newest book, Option B, written with psychologist Adam Grant, Sandberg shows how to build resilience, like a muscle, so that we’re better prepared when adversity strikes.