Whether it’s billionaire Warren Buffett, banking chief Jamie Dimon or businessman-turned-politician Michael Bloomberg, the big names of the corporate world typically dominate the media headlines. However, there are many other entrepreneurs and business leaders who wield great influence to starting their own business but don’t grab as much of the limelight.
Let’s take a look at a handful of the influential business leaders you may be hearing more about in 2014:
Neil Blumenthal – Warby Parker
In 2010, Neil Blumenthal and three other students at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania developed and co-founded the e-commerce eyewear company Warby Parker, naming it for two characters from the works of Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac. According to the company’s website, the goal of the four classmates was to make it simpler for consumers to choose eyewear and to offer retro-style, designer glasses at affordable prices.
After initially driving sales through networking and word-of-mouth advertising, Warby Parker began attracting interest from investors and has expanded from its online store to open pop-up shops in Los Angeles, Nashville and San Francisco, as well as a flagship retail store in New York City.
“A lot of companies don’t expect or ask their team members to come up with ideas, but we demand it,” Blumenthal told The New York Times in 2013. “It’s just everybody’s responsibility.”
Kat Cole – Cinnabon
Kat Cole began her career at age 19 as a server at a Hooters restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida, eventually rising through the company ranks and becoming part of the team opening franchise locations worldwide. By age 26, this woman entrepreneur was a vice president.
In 2010, the same year she received her Master of Business Administration, Cole was named Chief Operating Officer of Cinnabon, the cinnamon roll bakery chain that was founded in Seattle, Washington, in 1985 and now has more than 1,000 franchises globally. Within two months of being appointed as COO, Cole had been promoted to president of Cinnabon, a division of Focus Brands, which also owns Auntie Anne’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Carvel, among other brand.
Under Cole’s leadership, Cinnabon has expanded its licensing agreements, with the company’s products now being sold at fast-food chains such as Burger King and Taco Bell.
“The key, in business and in leadership, is staying really close to the other people who kind of know what is going on so that it doesn’t take too long for you to figure that out,” Cole told Entrepreneur magazine in 2013.
Reed Hastings – Netflix
In 1997, Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix and currently serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Today, the video-streaming service and Internet-based television network has more than 44 million subscribers worldwide and reported $1.2 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2013. Based in Los Gatos, California, Netflix has about 900 employees.
Hastings, who also serves on Facebook’s board of directors, was behind the 2011 decision to separate Netflix’s rapidly growing online streaming service from the diminishing DVD-by-mail business upon which the company was founded.
Under Hastings, Netflix also has moved into producing original programming, including the Emmy-winning “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black,” which have helped the company shake up the TV industry in the United States.
The company is seeking to expand its presence overseas, including launching its streaming services in the Netherlands in September 2013.
“People around the world want what we offer: consumer-in-control Internet television,” Hastings said in a January 2014 letter to shareholders.
Angela Ahrendts – Apple
In spring 2014, Angela Ahrendts will trade iconic raincoats for iconic digital devices as she leaves her job as Chief Executive Officer of Burberry to take on a newly created role with Apple, where she will oversee the California-based technology company’s online and retail stores.
Ahrendts has headed London-based Burberry, a 158-year-old luxury clothing and accessory company, since 2006. Previously, she was president of Donna Karan International and an executive vice president with Liz Claiborne, Inc.
In an October 2013 statement announcing the hiring of Ahrendts, Apple CEO Tim Cook described his new senior vice president as someone who focuses on customer experience and innovation.
Ahrendts, who grew up in Indiana, will be responsible for strategy, operations and expansion at Apple’s stores, including 250 in the United States.
“She has shown herself to be an extraordinary leader throughout her career and has a proven track record,” Cook said.
During her time at Burberry, Ahrendts has been credited with moving the 11,000-employee company into the online marketplace and with tapping into the power of social media to build brand awareness.
“After years of hiring and fostering the best talent … the team and the culture have never been stronger,” she wrote in a November post on her LinkedIn blog.
Jonah Peretti – BuzzFeed
After co-founding The Huffington Post in 2005, Jonah Peretti went on to become the founder and CEO of BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed was developed and launched in 2006 as an experimental site to better understand how information and ideas spread throughout the Internet, by tracking viral content within the social sharing world.
Peretti’s company, which has about 300 employees worldwide and reports more than 80 million unique visitors monthly, offers entertainment, news and user-generated content, in addition to producing “branded content” for corporations and other clients.
In a September 2013 posting on LinkedIn, Peretti outlined his company’s plans for 2014 and credited employees for BuzzFeed’s success.
“The best work comes from small groups of smart people with considerable autonomy and the ability to collaborate freely with others when it makes sense,” he wrote.