Sanity check: The 10 most influential leaders in business technology in 2007

Who were the biggest, baddest, and brashest movers and shakers in the business technology sector in 2007? This edition of Tech Sanity Check has the top 10, plus 10 who didn't make the list.

10. Padmasree Warrior, Cisco CTO

Last week, Padmasree Warrior — one of the few non-CEOs on this list — stepped down as the CTO of Motorola and was introduced as the new CTO of Cisco. This was a huge coup for Cisco, since Warrior has been a driving force for innovation at Motorola and she knows how to harness the creative power of engineers. CTOs are often the "chief innovation officers" at tech companies and are also becoming key public evangelists of their innovations to their fellow technology professionals. Warrior is great example of how to skillfully juggle those two roles.

9. Marc Benioff, CEO

During 2007, no one had a greater impact on the evolution of business software than Marc Benioff. His product,, emerged from being an upstart Web-based CRM (customer relationship management) package to being the leader of the Software-as-a-Service movement and the developer of a full SaaS platform ( Powered by Benioff's vision, the company's motto is "No Software," but what it really wants to do is to bring an end to shrink-wrapped software and replace it with an on-demand software model. In the wake of the dot-com bust, that was considered a Utopian dream, but the success of is opening up new possibilities. That's why I named it No. 8 on my list of The 10 most important business technology products of 2007.

8. Paul Otellini, Intel CEO

Intel went through some tough years in 2005 and 2006, when the company was still reeling from the Itanium failure, playing catch-up to AMD on the chips used by the masses, and going through the largest round of layoffs (10,500 employees, or 10% of the workforce) in company history. Otellini took over the reins of Intel in spring 2005 when Intel was in the midst of all that turmoil, and Otellini was the one who executed the layoffs. The turnaround began at the beginning of 2007 with the launch of the Core Duo processors, which offered much faster performance while consuming less power.

During 2007, Intel took back lost market share from AMD, powered by the Core Duo. Plus, at the Intel Developer Forum in September, Intel announced its 45-nanometer breakthrough, which will eventually power another wave of advances in performance and energy efficiency. While many of these plans were put in motion long before Otellini took over, Otellini has played his hand well in Intel's traditional strength of computer chips, and he has also provided a broader vision of Intel as a global technology company with projects such as WiMAX and the Classmate PC.

7. Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO

For most big tech companies, the list of failed acquisitions badly outnumbers the list of successful ones. Cisco has always been the exception. Oracle may now be the other exception. Larry Ellison has used the war chest Oracle built up during the tech boom of the 1990s to make a flurry of acquisitions over the past several years, including a few blockbusters like Siebel and PeopleSoft. By successfully integrating these companies and their products, Ellison has transformed Oracle from a database company to a major provider of backend business software and platforms. While Oracle's attempted acquisition of BEA fell through in 2007, and poses a new threat to Oracle, I would expect Ellison to continue his buying spree and to look to expand his empire into SaaS. An acquisition of or, more likely its rival NetSuite, could be on the top of the list in 2008.

6. Carly Fiorina, former HP CEO

It turns out that the merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq in 2001 — which was orchestrated by former HP CEO Carly Fiorina — was a masterstroke that has created one of the world's largest and most important business technology companies. It took several years for the full value of the merger to manifest itself, and Wall Street's impatience during that period led HP to fire Fiorina in 2005, but its success was never clearer than in 2007. In units shipped, HP is now the worldwide leader in desktop and notebook PCs, x86 servers, Windows servers, Linux servers, blade servers, UNIX servers, high-end UNIX servers, and disk and storage systems.

Although the popular view is to credit HP's dramatic rise to current CEO Mark Hurd — and Hurd certainly deserves credit for strong execution over the past two years — the fact is that much of HP's success in 2007 traces its roots back to Fiorina's vision and the methodical work done to merge HP and Compaq under her leadership. She deserves a victory lap.

5. Barry West, Sprint CTO

One of the most important developments in business technology in 2007 was the progress of Sprint's Mobile WiMAX (802.16e) network, which is on track to become the world's first major deployment of Mobile WiMAX — as opposed to Fixed WiMAX (802.16d). Sprint's Mobile WiMAX will provide a true taste of roaming broadband Internet, the high-speed communications platform of the future. During the second half of 2007, Sprint got its WiMAX trials up and running in the Chicago and the Washington D.C. areas. Commercial launch will happen in those two cities during the first half of 2008 and Sprint is also prepping Mobile WiMAX networks in several other major metro U.S. cities for the second half of 2008.

As I wrote last week in Sprint should thumb its nose at Wall Street and proceed with WiMAX, Sprint's long-term investments in WiMAX have led to Wall Street discontent with the company's short-term results, and it cost CEO Gary Forsee his job in October. Those developments have put pressure on Sprint to slow down its WiMAX plans. However, Sprint still has CTO Barry West at the steering wheel on WiMAX, and he apparently has not taken his foot off the gas. I applaud him for that. Sprint's WiMAX plans have the potential to start a revolution in both the Internet and mobile phone industries in the United States and change Sprint's role from a laggard to a leader in the U.S. wireless race.

4. Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman

Don't forget that 2007 was the last full year that Bill Gates will work at Microsoft. In July 2008, he will became a part-time Microsoft employee and will spend most of his time working for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While the man who pioneered the PC revolution has lost a little bit of his cutting edge prominence in recent years, he still has a strong vision for where computing is headed, and that vision has a major impact on both Microsoft's corporate strategy and the direction of the technology industry in general. In 2007, Gates pushed for development in touch-based interfaces and voice recognition. He also led Microsoft to develop software for robots, even though they are years away from arriving as a real-world product. So don't expect Gates to quietly disappear into the sunset. His passion for the computing industry will keep him involved, and his vision will continue to influence products for several years to come.

3. Steve Jobs, Apple CEO

What's this guy doing on a business technology list? Steve is here for two reasons: the iPhone and the Mac. The iPhone was the hottest technology product of 2007 and it was No. 1 on my list of The 10 most important business technology products of 2007 because of its catalyzing effect on the smartphone market. Plus, even though the iPhone does not have push e-mail and it was not designed as a business smartphone, it has been adopted for business use by many executives, consultants, sales people, and other independent operators.

The Mac began its resurgence in January 2006 with the switch to Intel processors. Traditionally, the only place you would regularly find Macs in businesses were in the graphic arts departments. However, Macs are rapidly becoming the de facto standard for video production — a booming field — and in 2007, they even started gaining popularity among IT professionals, who can use Macs to administer both UNIX servers (because of Mac OS X's UNIX underpinnings) and Windows servers (by running a standard installation of Windows XP or Windows Vista on Boot Camp or using virtualization software such as Parallels or VMware Fusion). IT pros used to be hostile to Macs, which is one of the things that limited their use in businesses. Now that many IT pros are warming up to them, it's a lot easier for many workers to get Macs and for IT to support them. Apple's influence and penetration into businesses has never been greater. I don't think anyone would be surprised if Steve Jobs decided to target business users more directly.

2. Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief software architect

When Bill Gates announced his impending 2008 retirement back on June 15, 2006, there was a joint announcement that Ray Ozzie was being promoted from CTO to chief software architect, the role that Gates had occupied since 2000, when he handed over the CEO duties to Steve Ballmer. Ozzie, who joined the company as part of Microsoft's 2005 acquisition of Groove Networks and was once the leader of the Lotus Notes development team, essentially moved into the top software strategy role at Microsoft. Since that time, it's become clear that Ozzie — who is Microsoft's most outspoken internal advocate for SaaS — has been moving Microsoft toward becoming a software services company. With the 2007 advancements of Silverlight, Office Live, and Windows Live — all fledging services — it's likely that we've only seen the very beginnings of what Microsoft will do in this new Web software paradigm. Only now it's Ray Ozzie rather than Bill Gates who is driving Microsoft's strategy.

1. John Chambers, Cisco CEO

Like many of the large companies on this list, Cisco Systems is in the midst of a transformation. The difference between Cisco and most of the others on the list is that there's a lot of confidence that Cisco will successfully navigate its transition. That's mostly due to the leadership of John Chambers. When Chambers became the CEO of Cisco in 1995, the company brought in about $1 billion in annual revenue. In 2007, Cisco will bring in more than $30 billion in revenue.

While Cisco's bread-and-butter is still the networking equipment that connects and powers corporate networks and the Internet, Cisco is rapidly expanding into collaboration software, unified communications equipment and software, and video conferencing. Chambers is a maestro at pulling off acquisitions. He has an excellent track record of picking the right companies to buy and successfully integrating them into Cisco. During 2007, Cisco bought Web conferencing leader WebEx, and Chambers indicated that it was likely the first of several buys in the Web 2.0 space when he said, "This truly is the top of the first inning of a nine-inning game." Cisco also bought several social networking sites. These moves are definitely a major departure for Cisco, but you won't find too many people willing to bet against them, especially while John Chambers is in charge.

10 who didn't make the list

  • Mark Hurd (Hewlett-Packard) — See No. 6 above in relation to Carly Fiorina.
  • Jonathan Schwartz (Sun Microsystems) — Sun made some nice moves by open sourcing Java and moving toward x86 servers, but those moves have a "me too" feel. Schwartz must demand innovation if Sun wants to regain its former glory.
  • Matt Szulik (Red Hat) — Red Hat might have some cool stuff happening, but I haven't heard anything about it. Either there's not much happening or Red Hat needs better PR.
  • Sam Palmisano (IBM) — With the Lenovo sale, IBM is focused squarely on serving big enterprises. However, it's still not easy to explain in one or two sentences what IBM does now.
  • Arun Sarin (Vodaphone) — Driving the world's largest mobile phone operator is getting much more challenging with next-generation wireless peeking around the corner. Will Vodaphone's 3G investments be enough to withstand WiMAX?
  • Eric Schmidt (Google) — With Google Apps and Google Search Appliance, the company is making some moves toward business technology, but these guys are still focused mostly on consumer tech.
  • Hector Ruiz (AMD) — After several years of excellent progress, AMD took it on the chin from Intel in 2007. Can AMD come up with a suitable answer to Core Duo?
  • Linus Torvalds (Linux founder) — Linus, are you still working on the Linux kernel? Please send a postcard.
  • Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) — Steve moves audiences at events, but his influence in 2007 was not nearly as significant as Gates or Ozzie. That should change with the retirement of Gates in 2008.
  • Michael Dell (Dell) — Dell is still looking for answers after getting knocked off the market share mountaintop by a resurgent HP. Putting low-margin PCs in Wal-Mart doesn't sound like the right answer, especially for a company whose strength has always been selling to businesses.


Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

Editor's Picks