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Barack Obama
The decisive winner of the 2012 U.S. presidential election on all counts: Obama took the popular vote, the electoral college and seven out of seven toss-up states. Now he gets four more years to push his agenda past weakened congressional Republicans. Still, he faces major challenges, including an unresolved budget crisis, stubbornly high unemployment and renewed unrest in the Middle East. But Obama remains the commander in chief of the world's greatest military and head of the sole economic and cultural superpower--literally the leader of the free world. 2012 HIGHLIGHT: In June the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of ObamaCare's "individual mandate"--and a conservative Chief Justice cast the deciding vote.
Angela Merkel;Chancellor, Germany
The world's most powerful woman is the backbone of the 27-member European Union and carries the fate of the euro on her shoulders. Merkel's hard-line austerity prescription for easing the European debt crisis has been challenged by both hard-hit southern countries and the more affluent north, most particularly French President Francois Hollande. Merkel has served as ­chancellor since 2005, the first woman in the position, but her biggest challenge may still lie ahead: she is running for a third term this fall's general elections. 2013 SPOTLIGHT: Merkel has earned the top spot on the FORBES list of Most Powerful Women In The World for seven of the past 10 years.
Vladimir Putin;President, Russia
Reelected for a third 6-year term as president in March after a few years swapping posts with Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Putin officially regains the power that no one believes he truly gave up. This October the ex-KGB strongman--who controls a nuclear-tipped army, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves--turned 60. That's Russia's retirement age, but who's got the nerve to tell him to quit? 2012 LOWLIGHT: Global condemnation after the March jailing of anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot.
Bill Gates;Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
He remains atop The Forbes 400, a perch he's held since 1994, despite giving away $28 billion, most of it to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He's also again the world's richest person, having reclaimed that title from Mexico's Carlos Slim earlier this year. Gates bolstered his foundation's efforts to eradicate polio in April, securing $335 million in pledges from six billionaire comrades, including $100 million each from Slim and Mike Bloomberg. Shares of Microsoft jumped in late August on news that Steve Ballmer will step down as CEO, but Gates will remain chairman of the software company he cofounded in 1975 with Paul Allen. His stake in Microsoft represents less than a fifth of his fortune. Gates' investment firm, Cascade, owns chunks of tractormaker Deere & Co., Canadian National Railway and Mexican Coke bottler Femsa.
Pope Benedict XVI;Pope, Roman Catholic Church
How's this for a job description? According to the doctrine of Papal Supremacy, the Pope enjoys "supreme, full, immediate, and universal power" over the souls of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. They turn to the Vicar of Christ for the final word on life's most personal decisions, including birth control, abortion, marriage and euthanasia. Of course, the pope faces dissent anyway--recently from "radical feminist" American nuns. As the leader of Vatican City, he's also a head of state.
Ben Bernanke;Chairman, Federal Reserve, United States
Big Ben has been on a buying spree: In a third round of quantitative easing, the Fed is now snapping up $40 billion a month of mortgage-backed securities and $45 billion of Treasurys. Result: modest economic recovery and a near-record $2.9 trillion on the Fed's balance sheet. The American economy's "adult in the room" recently warned that there is only so much the Fed can do; politicians are the ones with the power to keep us from going over that fiscal cliff. 2012 LOWLIGHT: Recently admitted the financial crisis may have "reduced the potential growth rate of our economy."
Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud;King, Saudi Arabia
The absolute monarch of the desert kingdom controls 20% of the world's known oil reserves and guards Islam's holiest cities. The Arab Spring couldn't shake al Saud's sovereignty, but out-of-control youth unemployment remains a threat. Aging Abdullah lost his second heir apparent in two years when his brother, Crown Prince Nayef, died in June; he's been replaced by another brother, 76-year-old Crown Prince Salman, the former governor of Riyadh.
Mario Draghi;President, European Central Bank
With the euro lurching constantly from crisis to crisis, the European Central Bank is more important than ever. As chief banker of the world's largest ­currency area--the euro zone's collective GDP is now more than $17 trillion--Draghi faces the Herculean task of trying to maintain financial unity across 17 countries. But if anyone can wrangle the interests of nations as diverse as Germany and Greece, it might be the man who navigated the minefield of Italian politics so deftly that he earned himself a nickname: "Super Mario."
Xi Jinping;General Secretary, Communist Party, China
The man who is likely to lead China for the next decade was recently promoted to the Communist Party's top position; Xi also took over as chairman of the Party's Central Military Commission, putting him in control of the world's largest army. His rise to power will be complete in March, when he takes over for Hu Jintao as president and head of state. Xi's only half of a Chinese power couple: His wife, Peng Liyuan, is a superstar folk singer.
David Cameron;British Prime Minister, United Kingdom
Two years into office the Tory PM has gone from being called the second coming of Margaret Thatcher to standing in the shadow of Europe's new Iron Lady, Angela Merkel.
Carlos Slim Helu & family;Net Worth $73 B
He is the world's richest man for the fourth year in a row. He clocks in at $4 billion more than a year ago, thanks to surging stock prices at his financial arm, Grupo Financiero Inbursa, and at his Grupo Carso industrial and retail giant. Pan-Latin American mobile telecom outfit America Movil remains his most valuable holding at $36.3 billion; the company spread its wings to Europe in the past year, buying pieces of Dutch telecom company KPN and Telekom Austria. Other listed companies focus on mining, real estate and infrastructure. Slim does not hold an executive position at any of the companies he controls, but remains engaged and advises on strategy. He put his sons, Carlos, Marco Antonio and Patrick, in charge of the industrial, finance and telecom companies he controls.In September America Movil bought stakes in two Mexican professional soccer teams; in November Slim bought a majority of struggling Spanish soccer team Real Oviedo. Early 2013 saw a surge in Slim's philanthropic activity. The Carlos Slim Foundation pledged to translate into Spanish 1,000 videos from the Khan Academy education nonprofit website. Slim also hosted Bill Gates in late February; the two men announced they are funding research to improve farmers' yields and reduce hunger.
Sonia Gandhi;President, Indian National Congress, India
As the longest-serving chief of India's ruling political party, Gandhi has the reins of the world's second-most-populous country and tenth-largest economy. Rumors persist over a rift between her and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with many expecting Singh to leave office before the 2014 general elections. Son Rahul is next in line to take over India's most famous political dynasty. 2013 SPOTLIGHT: In May it was announced that women commandos of the elite Special Protection Group may soon be guarding Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka Vadra, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's wife, Gursharan Kaur.
Li Keqiang;Vice Premier, China
The number 2 man in the Chinese Communist Party will become premier after Wen Jiabao steps down in March. Li worked on a commune and has developed a reputation as an advocate for the working class.
Francois Hollande;Residence: Paris, France
Defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in May elections, but since then the first Socialist Party president in 2 decades has seen his popularity plummet to 36%. Bland Hollande's nicknames include "Flanby" (a pudding brand) and "Mr. Normal."
Warren Buffett;CEO, Berkshire Hathaway
Neither age nor prostate cancer slows Warren Buffett down: a year after completing radiation treatment, he is still doing huge deals. His Berkshire Hathaway picked up iconic ketchup maker H.J. Heinz for $23.2 billion in June in a deal with Brazilian billionaire Jorge Paulo Lemann. A Berkshire subsidiary is buying Nevada's NV Energy for $5.6 billion in cash. He gave away another $2 billion of Berkshire stock to the Gates Foundation in July, bringing his lifetime giving to nearly $20 billion. Despite the gift, he saw his fortune rise $12.5 billion over the past year, more than any other member of The Forbes 400, thanks to a 34% increase in Berkshire shares. After studying under Benjamin Graham at Columbia Business School, Buffett offered to work for his former professor's investment partnership, Graham-Newman Corporation, for free. According to Buffett, "he turned me down as overvalued." It was only after several years of "pestering" that the father of value investing agreed to take on the younger man in 1954. When Graham retired two years later, Buffett returned to Nebraska to launch his own partnership. In 1962 Buffett began buying up shares of a struggling textile company called Berkshire Hathaway. Though Buffett has called Berkshire "the dumbest stock" he ever bought, the firm has long since shed its textile assets and today serves as Buffett's famed investment vehicle.
Michael Bloomberg;Mayor, New York City, United States
The world's richest mayor Michael Bloomberg relinquishes control of New York City in December, after 12 years shaping everything in the Big Apple. On one hand, Bloomberg guided the city through the financial crisis and his efforts to restrict smoking and encourage bicycle use and pedestrian access have won him plaudits from locals. But he was also ridiculed for his controversial "nanny state" campaigns, including banning sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. Plus, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in August 2013 that Bloomberg's signature "stop and frisk" policing practice is unconstitutional. What the billionaire will do post elected office is anyone's guess, but it seems unlikely he will fade from the spotlight. In his last year as mayor, Bloomberg took steps to extend his political influence into the national debate around gun control. That influence is richer than ever, with his fortune up $6 billion since last year, thanks to the performance of Bloomberg LP, the financial data firm he founded in 1982 after being fired from Salomon Brothers. He owns 88% of the company, which generated $7.9 billion in 2012 revenues. Bloomberg also owns at least 10 homes in Manhattan, Westchester County, Bermuda, Vail and the Hamptons. His lifetime philanthropic giving has reached $2.8 billion, including his recent $100 million pledge to the Gates Foundation to help fellow billionaire Bill Gates eradicate polio
Michael Duke;CEO, Wal-Mart Stores
Chief of the world's largest retailer (projected sales of $470 billion in 2012) and biggest private employer (2.1 million employees). Wal-Mart can make or break a company simply by deciding to stock its product. Duke was reelected to his board position in June with just 70% of non-Walton family votes?a distinct drop from last year's 99%. 2012 LOWLIGHT: Employees hold pro-union ­protests at U.S. stores during Thanksgiving holiday.
Dilma Rousseff;President, Brazil
Now at the midpoint of her first term, the former revolutionary sits atop the world's seventh-largest national economy (GDP $2.4 trillion). Despite Brazil's size, Rousseff is tasked with pulling the country out of its slowest two years of growth in more than a decade. Her emphasis on entrepreneurship has inspired a new generation of startups, however many criticize the leader for favoring pro-development policy over more humanitarian concerns. 2013 SPOTLIGHT: Rousseff has a new ally in the first-ever Brazilian director-general of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo, who was confirmed in Geneva in early May.
Manmohan Singh;Prime Minister, India
Oxford- and Cambridge-educated economist is the architect of India's economic reforms, but Singh's quiet intellectualism is increasingly seen as timid and soft.
Sergey Brin;Cofounder, Director Of Special Projects, Google
He lets Larry Page run the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant while he oversees its secretive Google X division, dedicated to breakthrough ideas like driverless cars and Glass, the augmented-reality spectacles he wears everywhere. He had a cameo in Google-inspired Hollywood flick, The Internship. The company's soaring stock price led to a $4.1 billion jump in Brin's net worth since last September. News broke in August that he and his wife of six years, Anne Wojcicki, are splitsville and that Brin is involved with a Google employee. He and Wojcicki donated $53 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation in February as part of the Brin-Wojcicki challenge to fight Parkinson's disease.
Larry Page;CEO, Google
Google cofounder added $4.6 billion to his fortune in the past year. Shares of the search juggernaut are up nearly 50% since he took over as CEO in April 2011. Lately he has been deflecting intense scrutiny on Google and other online services over accusations that they supplied the U.S. Government with users' data through the previously secret PRISM program. Page wrote in his blog: "Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users' data are false, period." He's still suffering from a vocal-cord nerve issue that makes his voice raspy. Googlers created a personal synthetic voice service that should make communication a bit easier for him. A clean energy nut, Page's network of houses in Palo Alto use fuel cells, geothermal energy and rainwater capture.
Ali Hoseini-Khamenei;Grand Ayatollah, Iran
The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Khamenei is the America-hating, nuke-hungry country's top decision maker. Soon he gets to anoint the successor of controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who hits a term limit in June. 2012 HIGHLIGHT: Acquitted Christian pastor ­Youcef Nadarkhani, who faced execution for apostasy.
Rex Tillerson;CEO, Exxon Mobil
Exxon Mobil boasted $41.1 billion in profits last year and has long been the world's biggest producer of oil and natural gas, wielding significant political power in countries where it drills
Benjamin Netanyahu;Prime Minister, Israel
The leader of one of the world's most religiously and geopolitically fraught nations, Netanyahu is a central player in nearly every Middle Eastern crisis. Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons; its Iron Dome missile defense system proved highly effective in 2012, intercepting more than 400 rockets fired from Gaza over the course of the year.
Jeffrey Immelt;CEO, General Electric
As head of the third-largest company in the world, Immelt oversees one of the most diverse businesses on the planet: GE produces aircraft engines, lightbulbs, amusement parks, medical devices and much more. A second-generation GE employee, Immelt also serves as head of the President's Council on Jobs & Competitiveness.
Mark Zuckerberg;Cofounder, Chairman and CEO, Facebook
He foiled doubters with a strong return to the Top 20 of The Forbes 400. Thanks to strong mobile ad growth, shares of Facebook have more than doubled in the past year, helping to erase the sting of the company's botched IPO in May 2012. The hoodie-wearing CEO expanded his influence beyond Silicon Valley with lobbying group FWD.us, which advocates for immigration reform and technology education. One of the more generous figures in tech, Zuckerberg donated 18 million Facebook shares, worth $500 million at the time, to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in December 2012 for education initiatives.
Rupert Murdoch & family;Chairman and CEO, News Corp
Australian-born media tycoon Rupert Murdoch completed a yearlong effort in July to divide his News Corp. empire into 2 unequal parts, a big one with television and film properties (21st Century Fox) and a smaller one for newspaper and book publishing (News Corp.). The decoupling was undertaken in part to contain the damage from the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed his British papers. He launched 2 national sports channels, Fox Sports 1 and 2, a bid to grab slice of $10 billion revenues that Disney's ESPN now rakes in. Murdoch filed for divorce from third wife, Wendi, mother of his 2 youngest children
Jeff Bezos;CEO, Amazon.com
Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos shocked the world in August 2013 when he bought himself a new toy: the storied 136-year-old newspaper The Washington Post. The $250 million purchase launched fevered speculation about what insights an exemplary disrupter like Bezos might have about the troubled print media business. Meanwhile, despite operating at basically zero profit in recent quarters, Amazon stock peaked over $300 for the first time in July 2013, with investors increasingly bullish about the online behemoth's potential as the go-to site for online shopping. It reported 2013 second-quarter sales of $15.7, up 22% from the year prior. Hard to believe it started with the Princeton grad, who had quit his job on Wall Street, selling books from his Seattle garage in 1994. Bezos' skyrocketing net worth - his fortune is up $4 billion in the past year - has fueled other side interests besides the Post. He funnels money into Blue Origin, a West Texas-based rocket-development outfit, and funded the "10,000 year clock" built 500 feet under a Texas mountain. He also has a small interest in Business Insider and invested in 3D printer company MakerBot before it was sold for over $400 million in June 2013.
Ashfaq Parvez Kayani;Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan
The most powerful man in an unstable country; Pakistan's de facto leader controls nuclear weapons and one of the world's largest standing armies. Despite tension over drone strikes, Kayani remains a key ally in the war on terror. 2012 LOWLIGHT: His own Supreme Court issued a series of rulings holding the military accountable for human rights abuses and political meddling.
Mario Monti;Prime Minister, Italy
Appointed to lead the country with the world's eighth-largest GDP in 2011, after 3-time PM Silvio Berlusconi was forced to resign. In just one year Monti pushed through tough austerity measures and saved the country from default; now he says he may not serve past the end of his term next spring. 2012 HIGHLIGHT: Silvio Berlusconi said he won't run next year, either.
Ban Ki-moon;Secretary-General, United Nations
As head of the 193-member international organization, the Secretary-General helps promote peace, fight hunger and protect millions of refugees worldwide. Recently headed to Israel and the West Bank to plead for peace with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. His term continues through 2016.
Li Ka-shing;Chairman, Hutchison Whampoa
Asia's richest person Li Ka-shing added $5.5 billion to his fortune as shares of his biggest holdings, Cheung Kong, Hutchison Whampoa and Husky Energy, all jumped 10% or more. He scooped up another $860 million in dividends in 2012. At age 84, Li still oversees one of the world's most far-reaching empires with 260,000 employees in 52 countries. Li controlled companies bought British gas supplier Wales & West Utilities for $1 billion in October; his third utilities acquisition in the U.K. in 24 months. He now supplies gas to a quarter of all Brits. Last summer Li officially announced his succession plans, positioning his elder son Victor to take over management and control of the publicly traded assets. Son Richard, also a billionaire who runs his own businesses, will get cash and help on deals. The elder Li is also an investor in Facebook, Spotify, social TV platform Stevie, Kaiima, Everything.Me and Hola.org Kaiima, Everything.Me and Hola.org.
Ali Al-Naimi;Oil Minister, Saudi Arabia
Started at Saudi Aramco at age 12 and will celebrate his 30th year as president in 2013. The state-owned oil and gas company is by far the largest oil company in the world, with proven crude oil reserves of more than 260 billion barrels. 2012 HIGHLIGHT: Upped crude oil output to record levels.
Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan;President, United Arab Emirates
One of the world's wealthiest monarchs, with a net worth of $15 billion. It's not all from oil, although he does control 97.8 billion barrels of proven reserves: Al Nahyan also runs the world's second-largest sovereign wealth fund, with reported assets of $627 billion. 2012 HIGHLIGHT: Students at UAE's three major universities were given free iPads.
Jamie Dimon;CEO, JPMorgan Chase
Since taking the reins in 2005, Dimon shepherded the $2.2-trillion-in-assets company through the global financial crisis and on to fiscal 2011 profits of $19 billion. 2012 LOWLIGHT: An employee nicknamed "the London Whale" made huge gambles on complex derivatives--and lost $6 billion.
Timothy Cook;Residence: Cupertino, CA
A year after he succeeded Steve Jobs as CEO, Apple is not only the most valuable company in the world but a bigger-than-ever player in design, technology, publishing, Hollywood and music. 2012 HIGHLIGHT: Stock hit alltime high in September, rising above $700 a share: That's up more than $300 from the day Steve Jobs died in October 2011.
Lloyd Blankfein;CEO, Goldman Sachs Group
The indomitable investment bank had some rough spots last year, including a rare quarterly loss; 2012 is shaping up to be better, with profits expected to exceed $4 billion. 2012 LOWLIGHT: London exec Greg Smith resigns and then slams the company in a New York Times op-ed entitled "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs."
Mukesh Ambani;Chairman, Reliance Industries
His fortune dropped $1 billion though he remains India's richest person and his Reliance Industries remains country's most valuable company. Reliance, along with its partner BP, will be investing $5 billion in KG-D6, the country's largest offshore gas field where output has sharply declined and which has been the subject of scrutiny by a federal auditor. Despite hectic lobbying with the federal oil ministry, it has not yet secured a price increase for gas. Ambani is also preparing to roll out 4G services for which he may reportedly lease towers from Reliance Infratel, run by his once-estranged sibling Anil. Mukesh and his wife Nita throw lavish parties, the latest being for British prime minister David Cameron on his recent trip to Mumbai.
Christine Lagarde;Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
The first woman to run the 188-country financial organization spent much of her first two years on the job battling the debt crisis in Europe and calling for ailing global economies to accelerate steps for stable growth. Her push for debt-sharing between EU nations and an increase in rescue funds has faced resistance from fellow power woman Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. French-born Lagarde was a labor and antitrust attorney in the U.S. before a six-year stint as French finance minister. 2013 SPOTLIGHT: Tongues are wagging that she may make a run for the French presidency.
Lou Jiwei;Chairman, China Investment Corporation, China
The man charged with stewarding one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds has vowed to invest more of his $482 billion in neighboring Asian nations, in order to support ­regional growth. Also staying away from ­European bonds: "The risk is too big and the return too low."
Masaaki Shirakawa;Governor, Bank of Japan, Japan
The chief banker of the world's third-largest economy ($5.8 trillion GDP) announced this fall that he'll inject an additional $128 billion into monetary easing programs, pushing Japan's total spent on asset-buying programs past the $1 trillion mark.
Charles Koch;CEO, Koch Industries
He is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, the country's second largest private company with sales of $115 billion, a post he's held since 1967. His net worth is up $5 billion this year as Koch Industries steadily expands. The company agreed to buy electronics-components maker Molex for $7.2 billion and cellulose fibers producer Buckeye Technologies for $1.5 billion. It invested $1.5 billion in glassmaker Guardian Industries. The thrifty brothers reinvest 90% of earnings in the business. Charles studied nuclear and chemical engineering at MIT. He and his brother David, who has an equal stake in Koch, failed to unseat Barack Obama as President in 2012 but keep finding ways to drive liberals crazy. The latest frenzy was over Charles and younger brother David's widely reported interest in buying Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune as platforms for their libertarian views; they later said they were no longer interested.
David Koch;Executive Vice President, Koch Industries
He is New York City's richest resident. His net worth is up $5 billion this year as Koch Industries steadily expands. The company agreed to buy electronics-components maker Molex for $7.2 billion and cellulose fibers producer Buckeye Technologies for $1.5 billion. It invested $1.5 billion in glassmaker Guardian Industries. The thrifty brothers reinvest 90% of earnings in the business. Like his brother Charles, who is chairman of Koch, he studied chemical engineering while at MIT. The brothers failed to unseat Barack Obama as President in 2012 but keep finding ways to drive liberals crazy. The latest frenzy was over their widely reported interest in buying Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune as platforms for their libertarian views; they later said they were no longer interested. David is a prostate cancer survivor, and he's contributed more than $200 million to finding a cure.
Larry Fink;Cofounder, CEO, BlackRock
BlackRock's $3.6 trillion in assets may actually understate the influence of the world's largest money manager: Fink is often the first phone call for governments or businesses in trouble, with clients including Germany, Greece and AIG. Fink's decisions impact the retirement savings of millions of workers; 60% of BlackRock's total long-term ­assets under management are for institutional investors, including pensions.
Akio Toyoda;Akio Toyoda
The grandson of Toyota ­Motor's founder. The company is now the world's top automaker, with $228 billion in revenues versus Volkswagen's $222 billion. The feat is particularly impressive given the severe impact on ­business caused by 2011's earthquake and tsunami. 2012 LOWLIGHT: The company had to issue ­multiple waves of recalls, affecting millions of vehicles worldwide.
Kim Jong-un;Supreme Leader, North Korea
The youngest son of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il took over leadership of the Hermit Kingdom after father's December 2011 death, but some outside observers wonder if older uncle Jang Song-thaek is pulling his strings. In theory "Brilliant Comrade" Kim Jong-Un has absolute control over the 24 million citizens in his reclusive, rusting nuclear state; satellite photos reveal a newly constructed, half-kilometer-long message of praise carved into a hillside in Ryanggang Province.
Jim Yong Kim;President, World Bank
Head of the World Bank doles out cash and ­development advice to the world's poorest nations: "This is not about charity. This is a commitment to the global economy of the future."
Steve Ballmer;CEO, Microsoft
He is throwing in the towel. Microsoft's CEO since 2000 has been pilloried in the press for years for a lack of strategic focus and letting Apple and Google run off with the mobile future. But Ballmer had just been doing what he's always done best: Sell wildly profitable software to businesses around the globe. Microsoft has generated more than $120 billion in profit and $80 billion in dividends since he took over, yet its long-suffering shareholders have been treated to a negative 17.6% return. The news was a surprise to many because in July Ballmer issued with a 2,700-word memo outlining a big reorganization and focus on building "devices and services that provide compelling, integrated experiences across the many screens in our lives, with maximum return to shareholders." He won't be around long enough to see that overhaul through. Ballmer grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. His father, a Swiss immigrant, was a midlevel manager for Ford Motor Co. Ballmer won a scholarship to a prestigious private day school, scored a perfect 800 on his math SATs and graduated Harvard with a BA in math and economics. He worked as an assistant product manager at Procter & Gamble before attending Stanford business school. In 1980, his old Harvard classmate Bill Gates talked him into joining Microsoft. This spring Ballmer fell short of his cherished goal of returning an NBA team to Seattle when he lost in the bidding for the Sacramento Kings to a rival consortium that promised to keep the team in California.
Lakshmi Mittal;Chairman and CEO, ArcelorMittal
Indian-born steel baron Lakshmi Mittal is facing hard times; his fortune dropped more than $4 billion in the past year, and is down $14.6 billion in two years as shares of his ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, tanked due mainly due to slumping demand in Europe, which forced it to take a $4.3 billion writedown. It reported a net loss of $3.7 billion in 2012. Despite its debt rating being downgraded to junk status, the steelmaker raised $4 billion in an offering of shares and convertible notes in January in a bid to reduce its $21.8 billion debt. It has been selling non-core assets and shutting down certain sites; in May, it sold American unit Skyline Steel to Nucor for $605 million. It has also inked a deal to sell a 15% stake in a Canadian mine to Korea's Posco and China Steel Corporation for $1.1 billion. But its plan to close two idle furnaces in France were put on hold after the government threatened to nationalize its operations. Longtime London resident, he and his son Aditya were among the torch bearers for the 2012 Olympics Torch Relay. Son-in-law Amit Bhatia's family recently partnered Air Asia's Tony Fernandes and the Tata group, to start a new airline in India.
Hugo Chavez;President, Venezuela
In October Venezuela's bad-boy ruler won a fourth term: six more years to pester the West, implement socialist policies and develop some of the world's largest proven oil reserves. But only weeks after declaring victory he traveled to Cuba to seek medical treatment for the pelvic cancer he's been fighting for years.
Sebastian Pinera;President, Chile
This businessman-turned-politician, is in his last full year as his country's first conservative president in decades. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard, founded credit card company Bancard and owned other businesses. After he was elected president in January 2010, Pinera kept his campaign promise to sell his holdings, a popular move. He unloaded his 26% stake in Chilean airline LAN for $1.5 billion, sold the TV channel Chilevision to Time Warner for a reported $150 million, and sold his share of popular soccer team Blanco & Negro. Under his leadership Chile's economy has grown roughly 5% for the past three years, thanks in part to the country's prodigious copper exports. A wave of student protests, worker strikes, and raging wildfires in Torres del Paine National Forest pushed Pinera's approval rating down to 30% as of November 2012. His public blunders, such as using one term when he means another, are known as "pinericosas" and followed in their own Wikipedia page. He is not immediately eligible for a second term.
Bill Clinton;Chairman, Clinton Global Initiative
The unusually active ex-Prez hit the campaign trail for Obama in 2012 and cemented his status as a kingmaker. Clinton's nonpartisan Global Initiative has raised $73.1 billion in commitments from major philanthropists, CEOs and heads of state to fund charitable action around the globe.
Bill Gross;Cofounder and Co-Chief Investment Officer, Pacific Investment Management Company LLC
He heads the world's largest bond fund, PIMCO's Total Return, which currently has about $250 billion under management. With interest rates rising, bonds had a relatively tough first half in 2013; Total Return was down about 4% through August. "The Bond King" co-founded Pacific Investment Management Company or PIMCO, in 1971 and sold a 70% stake to Allianz SE in 1999 for $3.3 billion. Today, PIMCO, still under parent company Allianz, manages about $2 trillion. Gross got his start in Las Vegas where he spent four months playing blackjack after college and turned $200 into $10,000. He became an investment superstar after discovering that the key to profits was to trade bonds, not to buy and hold them. He and his wife's William and Sue Gross Family Foundation is an annual contributor to Columbia University, Doctors Without Borders and the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum, which is building the 12,000 square foot William H. Gross Stamp Gallery. An active philatelist, Gross donated about $9.1 million from the proceeds of his stamp collection auction to Doctors Without Borders in 2007.
Zaheer ul-Islam;Director-General, Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan
The new head of Pakistan's notorious intelligence service took command in March. The ISI has played both sides in the war on terror and, as U.S. troops draw out of Afghanistan, will be hugely influential in determining the region's future. 2012 HIGHLIGHT: First official visit to U.S. as spy chief in August, for talks with then counterpart in CIA, General David Petraeus.
Masayoshi Son;CEO, Softbank
Founder of Asia's leading Internet venture, Softbank. In October the company announced it would acquire 70% of Sprint Nextel for $20.1 billion. Since then the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security have asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to defer deal approval until the agencies complete their review. In March Son met FCC officials. He's also leading the company into wind and solar power generation projects in Japan and a PayPal partnership to promote small and medium-size businesses in Japan. Investors are happy: the company's share price has climbed by more than 50% during the past 12 months.
Enrique Pena Nieto;President, Mexico
Won election in July; just took office in December as leader of one of Latin America's dominant powers.
Terry Gou;CEO, Hon Hai Precision
He chairs Hon Hai Precision, the world's largest electronics contract manufacturer and a key supplier to Apple. It is often known by its trade name, Foxconn. After a tumultuous 2011 when the company's image was sullied by alleged labor law violations and employee suicides, the past 12 months have been relatively calm. Sales and profits both rose. Hon Hai had 1.3 million employees at the end of last year. In December 2012, Hon Hai bought a nearly 9% stake in video camera maker GoPro.
Bernard Arnault & family;Chairman and CEO, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton
The world's most influential tastemaker, Bernard Arnault fell from No. 4 in the world to No. 10 not because his luxury goods powerhouse LVMH dropped in value - its shares were up 6% in fact - but due to more information on his ownership stake and a revised valuation method. Another factor: His fortune is mostly held in Christian Dior, which has a 41% stake in LVMH and trades at a near 20% discount to the underlying shares. Arnault denied reports that his request for Belgian citizenship last year was related to the country's tax regime, but it nevertheless sparked a debate about France's taxes on the rich. It was announced in October that he will be knighted for his services in the U.K. He is opening his new museum, the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation, designed by Frank Gehry, by the end of this year. Arnault apparently wooed his wife, Helene Mercier, a concert pianist, by playing Chopin and other classical composers.
Rostam Ghasemi;President, OPEC
Former commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps serves as the country's oil minister and as president of OPEC. 2012 LOWLIGHT: Iraq has overtaken Iran as OPE''s second-largest oil producer
Margaret Chan;Director-General, World Health Organization
As the lead of the World Health Organization (WHO) Chan is the sole person with the authority to call a worldwide pandemic; her recommendations on drugs and treatments direct countries battling major diseases and viruses like malaria and HIV/AIDS. Chan, born in the People's Republic of China, is regarded as a strong and activist secretary-general. Prior to joining WHO in 2006 the first female director of Hong Kong's Department of Health handled outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) and of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). 2013 SPOTLIGHT: The WHO 2013 Statistics report published in May was largely a positive one: declining infant mortality rates in the world's poorest countries, increased life expectancies worldwide and a pronouncement that 27 nations have already met the U.N.'s 2015 Millennial Development Goals.
John Roberts;Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, United States
Only 7 years into his lifelong tenure as the Supreme Court's top judge, Roberts has consistently assembled ­conservative majorities to support property rights and undermine tort lawyers, but proved a surprising swing vote the other way on ObamaCare.
Yoshihiko Noda;Prime Minister, Japan
Heads the world's third-biggest economy, with a nearly $6 trillion GDP. He's up for reelection in December and will struggle to keep his job.
Dmitry Medvedev;Prime Minister, Russia
The junior member of Russia's ruling duopoly swapped jobs with Putin and returned to the lower-profile PM gig. 2012 HIGHLIGHT: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put on a suit for a 20-minute meeting in Moscow with Medvedev in October.
Jiang Zemin;Former General Secretary, Communist Party, China
The retired party chief and president is China's biggest behind-the-scenes power broker. Jiang is said to have picked many of the new members of the Central Politburo Standing Committee, representing the top leadership of the Communist Party.
Joaquin Guzman Loera
The world's most powerful drug trafficker, billionaire "El Chapo" is responsible for many of the illegal narcotics imported into the U.S. from Mexico each year. 2012 LOWLIGHT: The murders continue--70,000 estimated dead in the ongoing Mexican drug war.
Robin Li;Founder and CEO, Baidu
He is CEO of China's biggest search engine Baidu. You might think its 2012 profit growth of 57% would be enough to please investors, but Baidu shares have tanked on worries of intensifying competition and crimped revenue and profit as the world shifts from Pcs to mobile devices. Li lost his top spot among mainland China's billionaires this year--his fortune has shrunk by a third. A one-day fall of 10% in January alone wiped $785 million from his fortune. Before founding Baidu, Li worked in Silicon Valley for Infoseek, a search pioneer. Li holds degrees from Peking University, where he majored in library science, and the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he earned a master's degree in computer science. He sits on the board of New York-listed New Oriental Education & Technology, which provides educational services in China. His wealth includes shares held by his wife, Melissa Ma.
John Boehner;Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives, United States
His party lost the presidential election and seats in Congress. But the GOP still controls the House, and Boehner is the party's man in the crucial battle over the "fiscal cliff."
Elon Musk;Founder, CEO, Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
His fortune more than doubled since last year thanks to investors' passion for his shoot-for-the-moon inventions. Shares of Tesla, his profitable electric car company, and solar panel installer SolarCity have both surged. NASA is using his privately held SpaceX to resupply the International Space Station. Musk proposed his latest big idea in August: a "hyperloop" to carry people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes. Born in South Africa; by age 12 he sold first software - a space game - for about $500. Musk left for the U.S. At 17 and made first fortune as a PayPal cofounder.
Alisher Usmanov;Founder, Metalloinvest
The richest man in Russia, Alisher Usmanov, has his fingers in many pots: he got rich in metals (iron and steel), but now has interests in everything from Silicon Valley start-ups to Russia's second largest cellphone operator, Megafon, to its largest business daily, Kommersant. He sold part of his stake in Facebook at the time of the 2012 IPO, pocketing $1.3 billion. He bought a controlling stake in Megafon in April 2012 and brought it to IPO in London in November 2012. Also in November, he and his Metalloinvest partners Andrey Skoch and Farhad Moshiri announced the creation of USM Holdings Limited, a joint company to manage all their assets; Usmanov's stake is 60%. He and Moshiri also own stakes in FC Arsenal. Usmanov reportedly paid more than $300 million for an Airbus A340-300 last year. He named it Bourkhan after his father. He also bought a new yacht named Dilbar after his mother.
Kathleen Sebelius;Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services, United States
His most pressing concern is ObamaCare. The roll out of the insurance "exchanges" comes early 2014, and will impact the health and lives of millions Americans as well as the insurance, medical and pharmaceutical industries for decades to come. 2013 SPOTLIGHT: In May Sebelius shot down a proposal by the FDA's Margaret Hamburg to make the Plan B emergency contraception pill available without a prescription to women of all ages, eventually compromising by reducing the age of access to the drug from 17 to 15.
Joseph Blatter;President, FIFA
The 4-term chief of the International Federation of Association Football runs the world's most popular sport--and unofficial religion. 2012 LOWLIGHT: Calls for internal investigation into his unopposed 2011 election.
Alexey Miller;CEO, Gazprom
Runs Russia's largest company ($149 billion in sales) and world's biggest natural gas producer. Friends in high places: worked under ­Vladimir Putin in the St. Petersburg mayor's office.
Reid Hoffman;Partner, Greylock Partners
These days it's hard to find a Silicon Valley success story that Reid Hoffman hasn't touched. He was an angel investor in Facebook and, as a partner at Greylock Ventures, led his firm's investment in hot home-sharing startup Airbnb. He's also the cofounder and chairman of one of the valley's best performing public companies, Linkedin. Shares of the Mountain View, Calif.-based professional social network more than doubled in value over the past year--the main reason Hoffman's fortune has grown $2.3 billion in 12 months. He owns about 14.6% of LinkedIn. Hoffman splits his time between Linkedin, which celebrated its tenth birthday this year, and Greylock, which recently raised a new $1 billion fund. He invested $40,000 in Facebook in 2004 and was an early investor in online game firm Zynga. He sits on the boards of several nonprofits, including Kiva, which seeks to combat poverty through microfinance. Hoffman belongs to the so-called "PayPal Mafia" and was one of the first employees at the payment business that was later sold to eBay. Prior to joining PayPal in 1998, Hoffman was the founder of (failed) online dating site Socialnet, which some regard as the first online social network. In April, He joined Mark Zuckerberg and other valley titans to support the controversial political action group FWD.us, which advocates for immigration reform.