Before Jack Welch became the most respected CEO in America, he was the feisty young executive in charge of General Electric's (GE) plastics division. Before Lou Gerstner got around to rescuing IBM (IBM), he ran travel services for American Express (AXP). Behind every corporate magnate stands the talented middle manager he or she once was, distinguished by a gift for innovation and an awesome power to execute. At some point in each of these people's careers, it became apparent that this hotshot was going far.
That's what people who know -- industry leaders, executive recruiters, management consultants -- are saying about the 20 executives you're about to meet. Our score of rising stars come from all kinds of organizations -- from corporate giants like eBay (EBAY), Eli Lilly (LLY), FedEx (FDX), General Motors (GM), and IBM to foundations, young biotech firms, and media companies. Their titles are an alphabet soup of EVPs, CIOs, and GMs, and their specialties range from technology to marketing to research and development. What they all share, however, is a record of achievement, a reputation for innovation, and a career trajectory that will carry them well beyond their current job description.
And of course, we're not the only ones who think so. The employer of one of our selections refused to let him be interviewed for fear that competitors would come calling. (We'll tell you about him anyway.) Accomplished though these executives are, their eyes are already on their next prize. We think your eyes ought to be on them.
Title: VP for information technology and chief information officer, Eli Lilly
Inside Eli Lilly, Roy Dunbar's 1999 promotion to chief information officer was controversial. The mapping of the human genome, then only months from completion, promised to open to drug makers a new universe of possibility -- but exploiting it would require enormously sophisticated data analysis.
Dunbar, a Jamaican reared in England, had experience in sales, marketing, and product development but none in information technology. Clearly, in filling such a crucial position with an infotech novice, the $74 billion pharmaceutical giant was gambling that the man was more important than the credentials.
It's clear now that the company's bet paid off handsomely. Among Dunbar's first moves was to make a searchable database of molecular information available to employees on the Lilly intranet. He also created tools to sort through the massive amounts of data generated by genomics analysis. These systems cut research time from weeks to just hours and have already yielded a number of promising drug candidates. At the same time, Dunbar successfully presided over the doubling of his department to 2,800 employees. "He established a comprehensive IT strategy, which is driving significant change in the company," says EVP and chief financial officer Charles Golden, Dunbar's boss.
Dunbar joined Lilly after getting his MBA from Manchester Business School, rising to general manager of Lilly Venezuela and then head of new-product development before being appointed CIO.
He understood that his first task was to get his skeptical department to follow him, which he did by soliciting input on matters outside his areas of expertise. He also upped his credibility by enrolling in a Harvard course on information systems and reading tech manuals at night. Dunbar believes that his nontechnical background helped him make projects accessible to all employees, not just the Ph.D.s and techies.
Signs of his background are still apparent in his easy salesman's charm and his relentless insistence on aggressive quarterly development and delivery goals. "I'm intensely focused on results," he says. "[I'm also] very keen on the human side -- work really gets done by individuals."
The results are already starting to roll in, as Lilly capitalizes on the promise of genetic engineering. Now, if they can only find something challenging for him to do. -- Stephanie Clifford
Title: EVP and chief information officer, FedEx
Why him: In 2000, Carter integrated FedEx's ground and air package delivery tracking systems to make the company one of the most advanced real-time enterprises in the world, with virtually every business process -- from human resources to customer service -- on the Internet. Much of Carter's $1.5 billion annual information technology budget goes toward maintaining FedEx's extensive online delivery-tracking system, which reaches 229 countries and routes 1.5 million packages daily. His next initiative is switching couriers' handheld devices to Bluetooth, a cutting-edge wireless networking technology, even as he expands into more international markets.
Personal fact: The self-described "gadget geek" enjoys tech toys including a TiVo player, an 802.11b wireless home network, a pool cam -- which he uses in the office to watch his four kids swim at home -- and a new BMW 745i with a built-in iDrive computer.
Title: EVP for worldwide sales and operations, Apple Computer
Why him: Since Cook signed on at Apple (AAPL) four years ago, he has led a spectacular overhaul of the computer maker's supply chain. In Apple's most recent quarter, it had just 36 hours' worth of inventory on hand -- down from a month's worth before he arrived and 60 percent less than supply-chain legend Dell (DELL). Last year Cook also was handed responsibility for Apple's sales and customer service -- and got a raise to almost $1 million a year, making him the company's highest-paid exec. (His boss, CEO Steve Jobs, draws a token cash salary of just $1.)
Motto: "If you have closets, you'll fill them up." (This may explain why he closed half of Apple's 19 parts warehouses.)
Personal fact: Apple PR people wouldn't let Cook be interviewed for this story. Who can blame them? Even without the publicity, headhunters frequently try to lure him away from Apple to run his own company.
Title: President, Dennis Publishing U.S.
Why him: Colvin had already started three successful computer titles in the United Kingdom (all by the time he was 30) when media baron Felix Dennis picked him to lead the launch of his U.S. operation in 1996. Colvin's magazines -- Blender, Maxim, Stuff, and the Week -- boasted a combined circulation of almost 4 million by the end of 2001, plus rapidly rising ad pages and ad revenues despite the year's brutal advertising climate. A nonhierarchical manager and a master at all the specialties of magazine publishing, Colvin has now set for himself the task of extending Maxim's powerful brand into new areas, including consumer products (such as music compilations) and a television special.
Personal fact: In 1996, Felix Dennis got wind that a West Coast computer publisher was romancing Colvin. Alarmed, Dennis flew Colvin to his home in Connecticut, took him out in a boat on Candlewood Lake, and offered him his current job.
Title: Chief scientific officer and EVP, Exelixis
Why him: Duyk's deep knowledge of genetics and involvement with the human genome project proved a huge asset to Millennium Pharmaceuticals (MLNM). That's the biotech firm he helped found and where he learned that science gets noticed when it's translated into a commercially viable product. "If you take money from investors," he says, "you owe them a return." Duyk went on to join tiny Exelixis (EXEL) in 1997, where his accessibility and medical brilliance help researchers race to identify and develop therapies for major diseases like cancer.
Rave review: "Geoff's ability to tie science and business together made him a key driver of our early successes. Everything was possible with him." -- Mark Levin, chairman and CEO, Millennium Pharmaceuticals
Personal fact: Duyk left an assistant professorship at Harvard Medical School for a biotech startup because of his commitment to turning the promise of the genomics revolution into meaningful therapeutics. He says, "You must show the investment was worthwhile and that there was a benefit -- or else you jeopardize the next big idea." Recent Exelixis breakthroughs include cloning of human disease genes. Clearly, where Duyk goes, big ideas tend to have a field day.
Title: VP for marketing (North America), Electronic Arts
Why him: Gibeau combines killer instincts for what sells in videogames (he's an expert player himself) with sharp business acumen and the decisiveness to quickly cut losses on a game that's not working. He needs all those skills: Like the movie industry, videogaming is an unforgiving, capital-intensive business whose executives have to produce monster hits. "I sit down with my sales guys," he says, "and I tell them, 'You owe me $200 million.'" Gibeau has more than his share of monsters: He drove the marketing behind the popular Sim strategy games, which, at 13 million copies sold, make up the best-selling PC videogame franchise of all time. His latest hit -- more of a grand slam -- was the Harry Potter game, which sold 9 million units in just five months.
Personal fact: To help "research" EA's famed Need for Speed auto-racing game, Gibeau got to test-drive some of the 20 fastest cars in the country. "It sure beats selling insurance," he reports.
Title: President and CEO, CNBC
Pamela Thomas-Graham sleeps just four hours a night, which seems about right for someone who is president and CEO of CNBC, the mother of three small children, and a best-selling mystery writer on the side. Lest the burden of her responsibilities seem too light, Thomas-Graham's promotion to power at CNBC last July coincided with what is probably the most trying period in the business and financial cable network's history. War and a stock market crash combined to chop CNBC's audience by 3 percent compared with the previous year (to an average of 267,000 households a day). Despite it all, Thomas-Graham managed to increase 2001 profit margins, and the network is on track to increase profits by more than 10 percent this year. These accomplishments are due to her ability to rethink an old (and once very successful) programming model and her flair for matching talent to the task. Responding to her audience's renewed interest in government and international affairs since Sept. 11, for example, Thomas-Graham added Capitol Report, the network's first exclusive Washington coverage. In a coup, she recruited the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray to coanchor the show with CNBC veteran Tyler Mathisen. Altogether, CNBC has launched eight new shows under Thomas-Graham's stewardship, with an emphasis on high-quality content rather than high-profile correspondents. "You can learn to run a TV station, but it's very difficult to understand what makes good TV," says Ron Insana, coanchor of CNBC's flagship Business Center. "She's a proven moneymaker, and she also has a sensitivity to content that isn't easy to find."
Equally difficult to find is an overachiever of Thomas-Graham's magnitude. She was raised in Detroit and earned three Harvard degrees: a BA in economics, an MBA, and a JD. Thus equipped, she went to spend a decade at McKinsey, where she became the consulting firm's first black female partner and developed a specialty in online strategy for media and entertainment clients. She then ran CNBC.com for a year before moving to the network. Her legacy, she hopes, will be "that CNBC was able to maintain its growth rate even as the bull market slowed because it was innovative, smart, sharp, and nimble."
As one of the highest-ranking black females within NBC, Thomas-Graham has another legacy to consider as well. "I'd like to believe that I am a [role model] for younger women in business," she says. "It is possible to be a successful young, black woman in corporate America." And while they're at it, why not a successful mom and a best-selling writer too? It's easy. All it takes is uncommon talent, ferocious drive, and four hours of sleep a night. -- S.C.
Title: Marketing director, WebSphere, IBM
Why him: Hebner helped double IBM's market share for server-side Web management and development software, a product line that now runs neck-and-neck with that of market leader BEA Systems (BEAS). He plans to use WebSphere as a foundation to change the way IBM sells software from stand-alone packages to subscription-like services. "The idea is to create e-business on demand, like a utility," he says. "You'll take it for granted and pay for how much you use." Taking the long view is one of his strong suits -- he embraced open standards such as Java and Web services early on (and persuaded colleagues to get behind them). That has proven key to Big Blue's remarkable resurgence.
Motto: "Organizations don't do things. People do."
Title: EVP for research and development, Merck
Why him: The award-winning structural molecular biologist and former MIT professor discovered how HIV fuses with human cells -- a breakthrough toward his goal of finding an AIDS vaccine. Kim's scholarship and tireless passion, along with his supervision of a research and development lab of 10,000 people (and a $2.9 billion budget), have boosted the confidence of the pharmaceutical giant, which is currently vexed by expiring patents and a big dip in stock price.
Personal fact: Within several months of his arrival, Kim spurred Merck (MRK) to acquire Rosetta Inpharmatics (RSTA), a genomics company based in Kirkland, Wash. The move gave Merck a leg up on its rivals, providing technology that could significantly speed drug discoveries. With Kim championing the deal, it closed just 10 weeks after talks began.
Title: EVP, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Why her: Before Mathews arrived, the Gates Foundation, which doles out $1.2 billion a year, was largely a behind-the-scenes entity. Now it's an international presence -- she established an advocacy team and an office in Washington, D.C., that puts it in closer contact with government officials and global organizations. As the former deputy director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, she has a lot of Beltway clout.
Management style: "We have what I call a stand-up meeting: If we all have to sit down, it's taking too long."
Title: SVP and general manager, eBay U.S.
Three years ago, when he joined eBay, Jeff Jordan thought of the site as little more than an online flea market, a place to buy and sell slightly used Beanie Babies. Now, thanks to the innovations he brought to the Web's biggest success story, you can sell a used car there -- something, in fact, that Jordan recently did with his old Yukon Denali. (He got $26,000 for it.) As head of eBay U.S., Jordan has moved the sprawling auction site well beyond the flea market, adding not only cars but thousands of new categories -- from real estate to fashion accessories -- and new ways of buying and selling. The expansion is paying off: eBay U.S. has become the global company's profit engine, with online revenues growing by 45 percent to $162 million in the past year alone.
The quick-moving, fast-talking Jordan, a former chief financial officer of Disney Stores (DIS) and video retailer Hollywood Entertainment (HLYW), has restructured the company so that each of its seven channels now functions as an independent business unit with a general manager who's responsible for the category's offerings, budget, and marketing efforts.
He has shifted eBay into new business areas as well. To compete with online shopping portals, Jordan last year added storefronts, which let traditional retailers like Motorola (MOT) and Sears (S) sell through eBay; 27,000 retailers have signed up. And for mom-and-pop sellers who prefer a more traditional approach to commerce, he added fixed-price buying. It now accounts for almost a fifth of all eBay sales.
Jordan will need to address some problems if he's going to maintain eBay's impressive growth. The site's media division, which sells books, movies, and music, trails behind Amazon.com (AMZN), and its storefront service has competition from Yahoo Shopping (YHOO) and Amazon zShops. But eBay CEO Meg Whitman has faith in Jordan. "He has a great strategic sense and is an extremely capable general manager," she says. "His intensity and analytical firepower are his greatest assets. Jeff can cut through to the core of a problem very quickly."
Despite the pressures of the job, Jordan relies on a lighthearted touch to motivate both his employees and his peers. Not long ago, for instance, he rewarded eBay tech chief Maynard Webb, who had been teased about being an ice-dancing fan, by giving him a trading card heralding the sport (found on eBay, of course). "You want to have people be serious and work hard, but also enjoy the job and get rewarded," Jordan says. For him, the rewards now include the ability to sell not just knickknacks but Yukon Denalis too. -- S.C.
Title: VP, mergers and acquisitions, Credit Suisse First Boston
Why him: Before he turned 28, Mehta had played a significant role in advising Seagram on its $5.7 billion acquisition of MCA, Sony Pictures Entertainment on its acquisition of Telemundo, and LVMH on its $500 million purchase of Gabrielle Studios/Donna Karan. With domestic M&A in the doldrums, Mehta has lately followed the action to Europe and Asia, picking up expertise in cross-border mergers. Mehta has a reputation as an incredibly quick study, which he couples with an encyclopedic understanding of his clients' businesses and an amazing grasp of the financial, industry, and even political environments surrounding his deals. The buzz is that he could someday run not just an M&A department but an entire bank.
Personal fact: Born in India and raised in Nigeria, Mehta has been dazzling his superiors at CSFB since he arrived as a 20-hour-a-week analyst from New York University's Stern School of Business. He virtually never left. During his last year as an undergrad, he was working 80-hour weeks for the bank. "My first year at CSFB and last year at Stern were the same thing," he says.
Title: Chief technology officer, U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency
Why her: Military brass in different hemispheres can now collaborate electronically, thanks to Meyerriecks, who spearheaded the development of a common operating system linking all the branches of the military. Interoperability had been stymied for years by interservice turf battles; Meyerriecks got the feuding sides into the same room and brokered a technological agreement that would pay off big time in Afghanistan. During that operation, defense officials worldwide were able to view the battlefield simultaneously and in real time, which contributed to the swift victory. Matt Mleziva, program director for the Defense Information Infrastructure for the Air Force and a witness to Meyerriecks's interservice diplomacy, says, "Dawn understands how technology can be put to use to benefit the war fighter, but she's also very good at consensus building."
Personal fact: Meyerriecks's efforts have personal resonance: Her younger brother, Mark, an AC-130 gunship pilot for Air Force Special Operations, wound up flying missions over Afghanistan.
Title: Executive director of design for body frame integral architecture, General Motors
Why him: Before coming to GM, Nesbitt created the critically acclaimed PT Cruiser for DaimlerChrysler (DCX). The aggressively retro sensation helped the automaker turn a tremendous profit in the traditionally money-losing low-end market. Now, GM's new product development guru, former Chrysler president Bob Lutz, has charged Nesbitt with reinvigorating GM's Chevrolet product line. (Lutz had been one of the PT Cruiser's champions at Chrysler.) If Nesbitt succeeds, industry insiders say, he could challenge J Mays, designer of Volkswagen's New Beetle and the relaunched Ford Thunderbird, as the Motor City's resident design genius.
Personal fact: When Nesbitt was 12 years old, his car-nut dad took him to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and said, "This is where you need to go." After studying architecture and industrial design at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he returned to the West Coast and earned a bachelor's degree in transportation design in 1993 at -- yes -- the Art Center College of Design.
Title: VP for customer technology, American Airlines
Why him: Samuel was responsible for taking American to the Web, where customers now buy one out of every six tickets, and he invented the industry's first weekly e-mail for last-minute discount fares. His online push gave the airline a cost-effective direct channel that ultimately allowed it to slash commissions to travel agents, saving it $80 million in the most recent quarter. The buzz is that Samuel could end up running the show if he gets more experience with operations. Building intranets to connect the airline's scattered labor force could be his next stop.
Rave review: "It was clear to me immediately that John was destined to be the next generation of senior leader at American." -- Richard Barton, CEO, Expedia
Title: EVP and chief information officer, Wal-Mart
Why him: When he was promoted to vice president for application development at age 29, Turner became the youngest corporate officer in Wal-Mart's (WMT) history. He sold company founder Sam Walton on a major investment in the world's largest wireless mobile-computing network. Today more than 125,000 employees log on, doing everything from changing prices to ordering replenishments from warehouses. Turner's boldest current initiative is exploring radio frequency identification tags, which attach to goods and broadcast current digital information about the location and state of that inventory. The goal is to further improve Wal-Mart's already prodigious ability to manage supply-chain costs, reduce theft, and determine what's flying off shelves in real time.
Rave review: "He sets incredibly high goals, but he knows how to motivate his people, and he has a record of achieving those goals." -- Randy Mott, CIO, Dell, and former CIO, Wal-Mart
Motto: "Our best ideas come from the people who do the work, who are using the technology."
Title: SVP for Internet switching and services group, Cisco
Why him: After joining Cisco (CSCO)
in 1994, Miller led the acquisition of more than 70 companies,
a spree that played a crucial role in keeping Cisco on the
technological cutting edge. Today, Miller runs the heart of
Cisco's operation, its Internet switching division, which
creates networking services and hardware and markets it to
big companies. As demand for Internet gear continues to slacken,
however, Miller is pursuing new markets in voice and video
applications and secure data networks.
Rave review: "What sets Liberty apart is his leadership
and judgment -- traits that are in very short supply in [Silicon]
Valley." -- Andy Rachleff, a partner at VC firm Benchmark
Title: SVP and chief technical officer, SonicBlue
Why him: In just three years, Wolfe has helped turn SonicBlue (SBLU) from a vendor of geeky graphics gear into a digital entertainment powerhouse. A dealmaker with the rare ability to explain highly technical details in layman's terms, he masterminded the acquisitions of Diamond Multimedia, manufacturer of the Rio MP3 player, and ReplayTV, maker of controversial digital video recorders that allow users to swap recorded TV shows over the Internet. His current obsession: putting the video capabilities of ReplayTV into computers, TV sets, and even handheld devices.
Title: General manager, MTV Networks China
Why her: How many people do you know who are privy to the discussions of Sumner Redstone and Chinese president Jiang Zemin? Since being tapped to run MTV China in 1999, Li has cultivated a business that has grown an average of 40 percent each year (it's currently in 60 million households). Next up: winning over even more of China's 200 million-strong youth population with the possible launch of a 24-hour Nickelodeon channel.
Title: Director of advertising and sales promotion, Hummer
If anyone can overhaul the image of the Hummer as a Schwarzenegger-mobile and recast it as a sophisticated, comfortable suburban hauler, it's Liz Vanzura. The former director of marketing and advertising at Volkswagen launched the New Beetle in 1998 and increased VW's brand awareness by 70 percent. Her biggest hit? The so-called Da Da Da commercial, which featured two grungy kids, a VW Golf, and a discarded couch. End of nonstory. Five years after it originally aired, "people still tell me, 'I remember that ad,'" she says.
What made those VW ads unforgettable was what they didn't have: a story line. Vanzura's genius was recognizing that "a simple connection" was more important than a narrative. "At the time, it was so unexpected that an auto company would plan an ad around nothing. When you're a brand that isn't for everyone, you can do that."
The brand on her hands now certainly fits that description. Last March, Vanzura was recruited by GM to work her magic on the H1 truck and the H2 SUV, which debuts in July. Lance Jensen, co-founder of Modernista, which created the new campaign, says admiringly, "Liz is never risk-averse."
Vanzura helped come up with Hummer's new tagline, "Like Nothing Else." And it had better be. "As much as they might rationalize, no one ever needs a product that costs 100-plus thousand on the high end," she acknowledges. "Why do people buy anything that's absurdly priced? Because they want it." End of story. -- Amy Goldwasser
Interviews by Brian Caulfield, Nancy Einhart, Matthew Maier, Susan Orenstein, Stacy Perman, Mark Roberti, Abby Roedel, Erick Schonfeld, Owen Thomas, and Elizabeth Wasserman.