Technology is one of the most dominant industries in today’s economy. According to research consultancy firm IDC, in 2021 it’s estimated to be worth a staggering US$5 trillion – and that only encompasses areas of hardware, software, services and telecommunications. With commercial space travel coming closer to fruition, revenue could grow even further.
Needless to say, some of the world’s most talented tech CEOs currently lead these major companies. The usual suspects include Apple’s Tim Cook and Tencent’s Pony Ma, but beyond the household names are quieter driving forces that continue to change the landscape of how the world uses technology in everyday life.
From the United States to Asia to Europe, these are some of the highest performing tech CEOs from around the world.
There’s no shortage of dominating tech companies located in the US. The big four tech CEOs of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon often receive limelight for good and bad reasons, so it’s only fair to shed some light on the other top performers today.
Revenue: US$10.9 billion (2020)
Jensen Huang is Co-Founder of graphics-processor company Nvidia. As a 30-year-old, Huang established the business back in 1993 and has since held the role of the company’s President and CEO. Born in Tainan in Taiwan, Huang and his family immigrated to the US where he would go on to study electrical engineering at Oregon State University before moving onto a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Stanford University. Besides a slew of awards and his philanthropic initiatives towards education, Huang holds a net worth of around US$12 billion.
Company: Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)
Revenue: US$9.76 billion (2020)
Staying within the semiconductor industry will raise another familiar name – Lisa Su. The Taiwanese-American is also an electrical engineer and rose through the ranks in various engineering management positions at IBM, Texas Instruments and Freescale Semiconductor before becoming the CEO and President of AMD in 2014.
Her formative years were spent studying maths and science as encouraged by her statistician father. Her mother meanwhile was an accountant and entrepreneur who introduced Su to the world of business. She graduated from the selective Bronx High School of Science before obtaining an electrical engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today, she continues to successfully lead AMD and is estimated to be worth north of US$500 million in 2020.
Revenue: US$17.1 billion (2020)
Marc Benioff’s efforts have seen him become one of this generation’s most prolific internet entrepreneurs. As the Founder and CEO of cloud computing company Salesforce, Benioff is reportedly now worth US$8.9 billion.
His talents in the early days were evident when he coded and sold his first application, How to Juggle, for US$75. By the age of 15, he founded Liberty Software, which created and sold games for the Atari 8-bit home computer. His video games including Flapper and Crypt of the Undead began to gain traction with developers and by 16 he was earning royalties of US$1,500 per month, which paid for his college.
After programming stints at Apple’s Macintosh division he graduated and joined Oracle Corporation in a customer-service role that saw him rise through the ranks over 13 years. This eventuated in being promoted to Oracle’s vice president role at the age of 24, the company’s youngest person to ever hold that title.
Benioff finally founded Salesforce in 1999 out of a rented San Francisco apartment with nothing more than a slogan proclaiming “The End of Software”. It was his war cry that signalled a move from CD-ROM-based software to software on the internet. More specifically, a model that turned software into a service on the cloud where customers could build their own applications on the company’s architecture. In 2018, Benioff and his wife Lynne purchased the iconic Time magazine for US$190 million.
Revenue: US$16.8 billion (2019)
Sometimes playing the long game can pay off in one’s ascension to the top role. For Brian Humphries, the CEO of digital corporation Cognizant, this was certainly the case. The Irish native started from humble beginnings where any role of CEO was a distant thought. Humphries didn’t have exposure to large multinational corporations until his early 20s but upon graduating from the University of Ulster, he joined the computer company Digital Equipment Corporation, which would later be acquired by Compaq and then HP. He spent 18 years across all three companies before making a switch to Dell and then Vodafone. His move into the role of CEO at Cognizant came in mid-2019, with only a few months in the role before the global pandemic hit. This should make for an interesting observation of where he takes the company.
Revenue: $US92.2 billion (2020)
If you’re sitting in an office reading this article, it’s likely you’re using a Dell product. Michael Dell is the man behind Dell Technologies, one of the world’s largest technology infrastructure companies. The Founder and CEO is ranked the 30th richest person in the world with a net worth of US$40.5 billion.
Prior to this title, Dell was always determined and smart with his money beyond his years. At the age of eight he applied to take a high school equivalency exam in the hopes of entering business early. He also entered the workforce at the age of 12 as a dishwasher before being promoted to maitre d’. By his early teens he was investing his earnings from part-time jobs into stocks and precious metals. His first encounter with a computer came at Radio Shack when he was 15. He eventually bought his first computer, an Apple II, and pulled it apart to investigate how it worked. During high school, he also sold newspaper subscriptions and it was here that he learnt how to target specific markets, a skill that would earn him US$200,000 in his first year of business.
Dell Technologies itself started in the residential building at the University of Texas where Dell was studying. It was an informal business constructing and selling upgrade kits for PCs. By 1984, Dell would incorporate the company as Dell Computer Corporation and succeeded by keeping overheads low – the venture’s capitalisation cost was just US$1,000 even with a few employees. By the age of 27, Dell became one of the youngest CEOs to run a successful company.
Revenue: US$20.2 billion (2019)
There are over 195 million paid subscribers of Netflix in 2020. That’s not a bad following considering the business began as a rental-by-mail service to those who wanted to rent DVDs via a website rather than a storefront or printed catalogue.
Before founding Netflix, Reed Hastings sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door, was a Marine Corps dropout and Peace Corps volunteer. It was the latter which Reed credits for teaching him the spirit of entrepreneurship. He once explained of his Peace Corps experience, “Once you have hitchhiked across Africa with 10 bucks in your pocket, starting a business doesn’t seem too intimidating.” Hastings would go onto Stanford University alongside stints at Adaptive Technology before starting his own company called Pure Software. Upon its acquisition and shortcomings, Hastings embarked on his next startup and co-founded Netflix in 1997 with his former Pure Software employee, Marc Randolph. The idea was conceived after he received a late fee for misplacing a rented Apollo 13 VHS. “Later, on my way to the gym, I realised they had a much better business model. You could pay $30 or $40 a month and work out as little or as much as you wanted.” When Netflix was founded, Hastings had no idea whether customers would use it.
Revenue: US$15.6 billion (2019)
Susan Wojcicki took the helm of YouTube in 2014 but long before her rise to the video-sharing platform’s CEO role, she was already an entrepreneur paving her own way. Wojcicki started her first business selling spice ropes door-to-door at the age of 11. She wrote for the school newspaper before studying humanities in college and taking on her first computer science class. At Harvard University she graduated from history and literature with honours alongside plans for a PhD in economics before moving into a career in academia. Those plans shifted when she discovered her interest in technology.
Stints in marketing roles for Intel introduced her to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google. In fact, the duo rented Wojcicki’s garage to build the search engine and were soon renting out her bedrooms on the entire ground floor. Wojcicki welcomed the financial assistance at the time since she and her husband were cash-strapped with a mortgage, student loan debts, and a baby on the way. By 1999, she would become Google’s 16th employee and Marketing Manager. She then progressed to Senior Vice President of Advertising and Commerce where she also oversaw Google’s Video Service – YouTube’s competitor at the time. Seeing YouTube’s potential, Wojcicki proposed Google’s purchase of YouTube and handled its acquisition for US$1.65 billion in 2006.
Revenue: US$39.1 billion (2020)
In 2017, Safra Catz was recorded as the highest paid female CEO of any American company with an earning of US$40.9 million. Her early career days were spent as a banker alongside various investment banking jobs leading up to her entry into computer technology company, Oracle. Here, she quickly made her mark by facilitating the acquisition of a software rival for US$10.3 billion. As well as her career achievements, Catz is also considered one of the most powerful women in business. She is also a Director of The Walt Disney Company.
Revenue: US$2 billion (2019)
SpaceX is a relatively young company but in that short time its profile has grown immensely thanks to its bold vision of making space travel affordable for civilians in a bid to colonise Mars. Being backed by the newly crowned richest man in the world – Elon Musk – with a net worth of US$186 billion also helps. Behind the grand title though is Gwynne Shotwell, the President and COO of SpaceX.
As a businesswoman and engineer, Shotwell originally planned to work in the automotive industry and was enrolled in Chrysler’s management training program. Her interest in engineering roles, however, would see her leaving that industry and instead moving to the El Segundo research centre of The Aerospace Corporation where she conducted technical work on military space research over a decade. After leaving this company she did a quick stint at the low-cost rocket builder, Microcosm Inc, before joining SpaceX in 2002 as Vice President of Business Development alongside a seat on the board of directors. As of today, she continues to manage SpaceX’s day-to-day operations while overseeing customer and strategic relations to drive company growth.
Whitney Wolfe Herd
Revenue: US$162 million (2018)
Social awareness is one of Whitney Wolfe Herd’s greatest talents. As a 20-year-old college student she started her own business selling bamboo tote bags to help areas affected by the BP oil spill of 2010. Wolfe Herd enlisted the help of celebrity stylist Patrick Aufdenkamp to launch the not-for-profit ‘Help Us Project’ and soon her bags found their way onto the national press circuit when they were spotted on celebrities like Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe.
After a short stint working with orphanages in South-East Asia post-graduation, Wolfe Herd joined Hatch Labs at age 22. It was at this New York City incubator that she met Sean Rad and became involved with the startup Cardify. The project would eventually be abandoned but her connection with Rad soon saw her joining his other venture in 2012 – a dating app called Tinder – alongside Chris Gulczynski. Wolfe Herd became the marketing manager for Tinder and is also credited for creating the app’s name. The signature flame logo is a reference to her having to use small sticks (tinder) to start the fireplace at her father’s cabin in Montana. After tensions with company executives, Wolfe Herd left Tinder in 2014 and created her own dating app designed to give women more control.
As one of the most important women in tech today, Wolfe Herd is also the CEO of the newly acquired MagicLab, the parent company of multiple popular dating apps (Bumble, Latch, Badoo), valued at US$3 billion with an estimated 500 million users across its entire portfolio. Bumble alone has over 100 million users worldwide and is valued at more than US$3 billion.
They’re household names around the world let alone tech industry CEOs so they do receive honourable mentions for the countless contributions to business. While some of their decisions might be controversial and widely publicised, there’s no denying that the following figures have and will continue to shape the way the entire world uses technology.
Companies: Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, PayPal, Neuralink, OpenAI, Zip2, SolarCity
Net worth: US$186 billion
Net worth: US$1 billion
Net worth: US$77 billion
Net worth: US$320 million
Net worth: US$99 billion
Net worth: US$188 billion
The tech sector in Asia is no minor player in the global economy. There are plenty of heavy hitters and tech CEOs in the region who are shaping their local landscape and beyond.
Tan Hooi Ling
Revenue: US$2.3 billion (2019)
Passengers outside of Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan likely wouldn’t have heard of Grab. The ride-hailing service is known for becoming South-East Asia’s first Decacorn – a company valued at over US$10 billion. The current Co-Founder and COO of Grab is Tan Hooi Ling, a Malaysian native who holds a mechanical engineering degree alongside a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. Her career started off at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and consulting firm McKinsey, the former of which introduced her to her Grab Co-Founder Anthony Tan.
The service came about when the duo conceived an idea to directly connect passengers to taxis amid Malaysia’s chaotic urban environment and safety concerns for female taxi passengers. Since 2015, Tan has been in charge of expanding into new markets. In 2018, the company bought out Uber’s South-East Asia operations for billions.
Jane Jie Sun
Company: Trip.com Group
Revenue: US$5.12 billion (2019)
Travel might not be on the cards for now but that doesn’t negate the fact that Jane Jie Sun worked her way to the top of Trip.com Group to become CEO. The Chinese company was founded in 1999 and owns online travel services including Trip.com, Skyscanner, Qunar and Ctrip. The company is currently the largest online travel agency in China and one of the largest in the world.
Earning her business degree from the University of Florida and a master’s in law from Peking University, Sun started her career at KPMG in Silicon Valley before moving over to Applied Materials. She eventually joined Ctrip as CFO and worked her way through to the COO role before being named the successor to the company’s Founder, James Liang, as CEO in 2016.
Revenue: US$1 billion (2019)
One of the fastest growing tech and ecommerce companies in South-East Asia is Lazada and at the helm is their CEO, Chun Li. The Singaporean multinational technology company was originally founded by Maximilian Bittner and Pierre Poignant with support from Rocket Internet in 2012. Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group eventually acquired Lazada in 2016 to help boost its international expansion plans. Chun Li was brought over to Lazada from Alibaba a year later. His experience includes positions at PayPal and eBay, and in 2018, Lazada became the largest ecommerce operator in South-East Asia based on its average monthly site visits. The company claims to attract more than 50 million active users annually.
Revenue: US$58 billion (2019)
Ma Huateng, also known as Pony Ma, and his prolific company needs no introduction. The Chinese billionaire businessman is the Founder, Chair and CEO of Asia’s most valuable company, Tencent. As one of the world’s largest internet and technology companies with investments in gaming, entertainment and communications, Tencent is responsible for China’s biggest mobile instant messaging service known as WeChat.
Ma, meanwhile, lives a highly private life away from the spotlight. His father Ma Chenshu was a port manager in Shenzhen where the younger Ma would accompany him. In 1989, Ma enrolled into a computer science degree at Shenzen University before taking roles at China Motion Telecom Development and Shenzhen Runxun Communications.
In 1998, alongside four of his classmates, Ma founded Tencent, which mimicked the internet’s first messaging service known as ICQ. Then named OICQ, Ma’s service was a hit with Chinese users, but when AOL bought ICQ in 1998, Ma’s OICQ was ordered to change the service’s name and relinquish the similar sounding domain names. Tencent eventually expanded into online gaming while listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange. This move helped propel Ma as one of the wealthiest figures in China’s telecommunications game. The company would go on to launch its own direct competitor to fellow ecommerce giant Alibaba while also launching WeChat, which is today’s largest instant messaging platform in the world controlling 48 per cent of internet users in the Asia-Pacific region.
Revenue: US$56.9 billion (2020)
SoftBank is ranked as the 66th largest public company in the world and leading the Japanese conglomerate holding company is its CEO, Masayoshi Son. SoftBank’s main business lies in its stakes across numerous technology, energy and financial companies. It also operates Vision Fund, which is the world’s largest venture capital fund targeted at technology with over US$100 billion in capital.
Son himself is considered one of the world’s most powerful people and the second richest person in Japan with an estimated worth of US$30 billion. Growing up, Son left Japan for California to complete his high school studies. He studied economics and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, and was fascinated by a microchip he read about in a magazine. At the age of 19, he was convinced that computer technology would usher in the next commercial revolution. His first business venture would begin shortly after when he built an electric translator with the help of his professors, which he sold to the Sharp Corporation for US$1.7 million. Following this deal he earned another US$1.5 million by importing used video game machines from Japan on credit before installing them in dormitories and restaurants.
Son is also the Founder of Unison, which was bought out by Kyocera. He was an early investor in internet firms including Yahoo! in 1995 and Alibaba in 1999. Today, SoftBank owns 29.5 per cent of Alibaba as well as the entirety of European semiconductor company, Arm Holdings. Son is currently invested in the world’s biggest solar project planned for Saudi Arabia alongside plans to establish a nationwide solar power network for Japan. Some notable investments include Didi, Uber, WeWork, Grab, Doordash and Boston Dynamics.
Revenue: US$72 billion (2020)
Before taking on the role of Alibaba CEO as the successor to Founder Jack Ma, Daniel Zhang was already a seasoned leader within the company. He was previously the CEO of Chinese online shopping site Taobao and the President of Tmall – both owned by Alibaba. Zhang himself is credited as the brainchild of the prolific Singles’ Day shopping holiday in China, an annual sales event which generates three times the gross sales of America’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Zhang is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. Since then, he’s held roles at Barings Bank, Arthur Andersen and PwC. He eventually moved onto Alibaba subsidiary Taobao and is one of the world’s most influential people today.
With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, India serves as a lucrative market for tech companies. These are the CEOs at the helm of the country’s most notable corporations.
Company: Tata Consultancy Services
Revenue: US$23 billion (2020)
Tata Group possesses a rich history in business that dates back to 1868. It is considered one of the largest and oldest industrial groups in India with subsidiaries that include Tata Chemicals, Tata Communications, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Consumer Products, Tata Motors, Tata Power, Tata Steel, Tata Capital, Indian Hotels Company Limited, TajAir and Tata Starbucks, just to name a few.
Rajesh Gopinathan is the CEO and Managing Director of Tata Consultancy Services, which specialises in IT. Gopinathan joined the company in 2001 after completing an engineering degree and postgraduate diploma in management. During his 15-plus years with the company, he was promoted to the role of CFO and CEO. He is also one of the youngest CEOs in the Tata Group and is credited for helping Tata Consultancy Services become a US$19 billion global company.
Revenue: US$13 billion (2020)
Salil Parekh is the CEO and Managing Director of Indian multinational corporation Infosys. The company provides business consulting, information technology and outsourcing services. Before rising to the role, Parekh was a graduate of aeronautical engineering and mechanical engineering. He also holds a Master of Engineering in Computer Science. His career began at Ernst & Young’s consultancy division before it was acquired by Capgemini. It was here that Parekh became a member of the group management board before moving onto Infosys.
While Australia is one of the smaller markets in the tech industry, its homegrown talent isn’t lacking. These are some of the highest achieving tech CEOs to come out of the Southern Hemisphere.
Michael Cannon-Brookes & Scott Farquhar
Revenue: US$1.6 billion (2020)
The poster boys for the Australian tech sector consists of the duo of Michael Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar. The pair founded Atlassian in 2002 while at university and bootstrapped their startup over the initial years with a A$10,000 credit card loan. Today, their company focuses on producing products for software developers and project managers.
The pair who met and became friends during their course often credit themselves as accidental billionaires as the creation of Atlassian was driven by the aim to replicate the typical graduate starting salary of the big corporations at the time – A$48,000 – without having to work for someone else. Since then both Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar have received countless awards and recognitions for talents and leadership. Both are also prominent young voices on Australia’s public policies.
Kelly Bayer Rosmarin
Revenue: US$6.9 billion (2020)
It was during the height of the pandemic in 2020 that Kelly Bayer Rosmarin was promoted to the coveted role of CEO of Australian telecommunications company Optus. Her relationship with Optus started in early 2019 when she signed on as the Deputy CEO following a variety of executive roles across the banking sector including the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Bayer Rosmarin’s early days were spent in her hometown of South Africa where she earned a scholarship at Stanford University in the US. She eventually obtained a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and a Master of Science in Management Science accompanied with an Academic Excellence Award for being the top master’s graduate. Her academic prowess led her to Silicon Valley where she was exposed to startups and software companies, allowing her to hone her skills in product development, business development, marketing, mergers and acquisitions, and strategy.
Bayer Rosmarin did a quick stint in consulting before her move to the bank. Today, she is considered among the top performing businesswomen in the region as well as one of the most powerful.
Melanie Perkins is a household name among Australia’s startup scene. As one of the youngest female CEOs of a tech startup valued at over US$1 billion, her Canva company has been making waves for years in the graphic design community. Perkins hails from Perth in Australia and it was during her high school years that her passion for business began. At 14 she was selling handmade scarves at the markets. While studying communications, psychology and commerce at university she would also tutor graphic design privately on the side and it allowed her to see the difficulties students had with learning programs such as Adobe Photoshop. She saw this as a business opportunity and dropped out of university at 19 to create a design platform with her partner and Co-Founder Cliff Obrecht, which catered to users with no technical expertise.
In 2007, Fusion Books was created, a program that allowed students to design their own yearbooks with drag-and-drop tools. It was a time-consuming process on the consumer side but more importantly it served as the perfect test bed for Canva. Nonetheless, Fusion Books grew to become the largest yearbook company in Australia, which also made its way into France and New Zealand.
It wasn’t until 2011 that prominent investor Bill Tai met Perkins at a startup competition where Perkins was able to pitch her idea for Canva over dinner – a relationship that didn’t see funding but access to Tai’s Silicon Valley network including Lars Rasmussen, the Co-Founder of Google Maps. Rasmussen believed in the Canva project but was weary of the tech expertise required to get it off the ground. He’d eventually become Canva’s tech advisor and introduced Perkins and Obrecht to ex-Google employee Cameron Adams who had the technical skills required. Perkins convinced Adams to join Canva and today he is the company’s third Co-Founder and their Chief Product Officer. As of mid-2020, Canva’s valuation is pegged at US$6 billion.
The EMEA region isn’t without its talents when compared to the rest of the world. These are the notable tech CEOs that are making an impact from Europe to the Middle East.
Revenue: US$7.3 billion (2019)
With 320 million active users from across the globe, Spotify is today’s premiere music streaming service. At its helm is CEO and Co-Founder Daniel Ek. The Swedish billionaire entrepreneur with a net worth of US$4.5 billion hails from Stockholm where he spent his early years studying engineering at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology before dropping out to pursue a career in IT. This wouldn’t be a problem though as Ek was naturally gifted in coding early on. At the age of 13, he was already running his own website building business from home. His first client was charged US$100 for a website and after a second client enquired, he charged US$200. He eventually ended up commanding US$5,000 per website. Seeing its potential, Ek recruited fellow students from his class to help build the websites in their school computer lab but instead of paying them money he bribed them with video games.
By the age of 18, Ek was earning US$50,000 per month and he was managing a team of 25 coders. Ek’s parents caught on to his earnings when he started carrying home large televisions. After this Ek had stints in various tech-based companies before starting another of his own, Advertigo, an online advertising business that he eventually sold.
While he had made enough from the sale to retire, Ek realised quickly after a few months that his money was meaningless without a passion project. The idea for Spotify came about when illegal music sharing sites like Napster were shut down and others subsequently took over the practice. Ek realised that piracy could never be fully eradicated by law so proposed Spotify as a solution and service that would also compensate the music industry. Ek brought Martin Lorentzon on board from the firm, which purchased his Advertigo company and in 2008 they officially launched their legal music streaming service. Lorentzon has since stepped down from his role leaving Ek to steer the company. In 2017, Ek was listed as the most powerful person in the music industry by Billboard.
Souq may have been bought out by Jeff Bezos’ Amazon but prior to that it was already a successful online marketplace serving the Middle East region. It was founded in 2005 by Ronaldo Mouchawar as a consumer to consumer auction site. It wasn’t until 2010, when Wisam Daoud joined Souq from eBay where he was CTO, that he was able to transform the auction service into a catalogue based one similar to Amazon with consumer products.
Investment was quickly secured and by 2015, Souq would be valued at the US$1 billion mark with around 10 million visitors a month. In 2017, it was officially acquired by Amazon for US$580 million and acts as the American company’s reach into the Arab world. Today, it is officially the largest ecommerce retailer in the Arab region.
Mouchawar himself, meanwhile, is a well-seasoned entrepreneur who has worked for an internet portal company that was purchased by Yahoo before launching Souq. He was born in Syria, played basketball professionally and holds a master’s degree in digital communications as well as a degree in electrical and computer engineering from Northeastern University in Boston. It was during this time that he worked on technology and business management.
At Souq, Mouchawar is credited for replicating America’s Black Friday sales into his own region with the White Friday sales event – a reflection of the region’s traditional day of prayer which garnered over US$275 million in sales in its debut year. Today, Mouchawar serves as Vice President of Amazon MENA.