25 Rising Stars What will the world look like a decade or two from now? Who knows? But these young business leaders surely will have helped shape it.
By Bill Powell; Richard Tomlinson; Eric Nee; Justin Fox; Cait Murphy; David Stipp; Julie Schlosser; Alex Taylor III; Janet Guyon; Andy Serwer; Jim Rohwer; Brian O'Reilly; Daniel Roth; Patricia Sellers

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Li Yifei, 37 MTV China CHINA

Think of the company that pretty much defines hip for a scary number of the world's teenagers and twentysomethings--the music, the style, the attitude. That would, undeniably, be Viacom's MTV.

Then think of China. Planet Earth's most populous nation; relentless economic growth; limitless potential. And a country whose young urban elite long ago traded in their dreary blue caps and jackets for designer jeans and stiletto heels, and are coming to know as much about Eminem as they do about Mao. Wouldn't running MTV China rank as one of the world's great jobs?

Li Yifei, 37, has it. And her route there, in all its culturally jarring twists, typifies the generation that is coming to commercial power in the 21st century's most important emerging market. "We are," Li says forthrightly, "the transitional generation." Sons and daughters of the Cultural Revolution, they will be the ones, if all goes right, who complete China's reemergence into the world.

It would be difficult to make up Li Yifei's resume: A native of Beijing, she was a 13-year-old national tai chi champion; then she attended the city's most elite foreign-language university, which she accurately describes, laughing, as the country's chief "spy school." From there she went to Waco, Texas, where she studied political science at Baylor University. Then it was on to the United Nations for a prestigious two-month internship. Convinced that diplomacy was not in her future, she tried her hand at flackery, working for Burson Marsteller for four years. During her time there she did some work for Viacom rival News Corp., which Viacom noticed. In 1999, MTV named her head of its fledgling China operation.

The rest is--well, not quite yet history. History requires a lot of work. The broadcast regulators in Beijing are an older, conservative lot; not all are wild about beautiful vee-jays baring their belly buttons, particularly when they work for a foreign network. MTV at this point is limited to one to four hours of programming a day in China. In dealing with the mostly male authorities, she has had to adopt something other than her natural mien: straightforward, smart, confident. "Particularly as a woman in China, you have to be a little bit softer, and humble," she says.

The approach evidently works. Last year Li persuaded CCTV, the state-owned national TV network, to co-produce and air China's version of the MTV awards. It got a 7.9% rating. When an American interlocutor notes that 7.9% isn't exactly Survivor territory, she casually mentions that in China it means 150 million people were watching--well more than half the population of the U. S.

Li Yifei is grappling with more than just scale. There is history too--and the pressure that comes with it. She and her peers are indeed children of the Cultural Revolution. In her case both of her mother's parents were killed during Mao's years of madness. Her parents' generation did its best to restore some semblance of normalcy, but as she says--in words that will resonate to millions in China, the fortunate ones who are inheriting Deng Xiaoping's China, not Mao's--"We are living our parents' dreams." --Bill Powell

Andreas Schmidt, 40 Bertelsmann GERMANY

Andreas Schmidt is a high school dropout who once nearly blew himself up with a hand grenade. Just the kind of incendiary type, you might think, to cut a deal with Napster, the renegade music-file-sharing outfit. But Schmidt, head of e-commerce at Bertelsmann, insists he's no subversive, even though the German media giant's proposed joint venture with Napster has run into a brick wall of opposition from the music industry. "It's possible to shut down Napster, but it's not possible to shut down file sharing," he argues.

Schmidt's ability to straddle the worlds of buttoned-down big business and baseball-capped dot-coms is a big reason Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Middelhoff picked him to head the newly established e-commerce division last summer. It's a giant franchise, incorporating all of Bertelsmann's Internet businesses, and already Schmidt is being talked about as a possible successor to Middelhoff.

Not bad for someone who began his career as an officer in West Germany's border police in the late '70s. He quit after the grenade accident left him deaf in one ear, obliging him to retrain for the ultimate nonlistening profession, journalism. From there it was a short step to Gruner & Jahr, the magazine arm of Bertelsmann, where he launched several new titles in the mid-1990s and first caught the Internet bug.

Schmidt made his mark when he rescued AOLEurope (originally a joint venture with Bertelsmann) following a failed launch in 1997. After taking control in January 1998, he convinced Steve Case that if AOL couldn't beat Britain's Freeserve and other free Internet service providers, it had better join them. So it did, with NetscapeOnline, the first free ISP in AOL's portfolio. Schmidt left AOLEurope last year when Bertelsmann pulled out of the joint venture, but he took deserved credit for turning around the unit.

Will Schmidt's rise continue? It looks doubtful that he can convince Bertelsmann's rivals that they can live with a subscription-based Napster. But even if Schmidt loses the Napster argument, he will remain one of the most influential Germans on America's corporate scene. --Richard Tomlinson

Mike Volpi, 34 Cisco Systems U.S., ITALY

Michelangelo "Mike" Volpi was born in Milan, raised in Tokyo, and educated at Stanford University. It's just the sort of polyglot background he needs as chief strategy officer for Cisco Systems, a company whose goal is to network the world. Like his better-known Italian namesake, Volpi is a Renaissance man, albeit one for the 21st century. Instead of being a sculptor, painter, and architect, he is a technologist, strategist, and banker. And at 34 he's the youngest member of Cisco's executive team, often mentioned as a possible successor to CEO John Chambers.

Volpi tends to operate in the background. He's charged with making sure Cisco stays competitive in the areas that are likely to reshape the communications industry, like fiber optics, high-end routing, wireless, and voice over the Internet. What makes the job complicated is that each of these four areas is already managed by other executives, none of whom report to Volpi. How does he have any impact? "I stick my nose in things," he says. That means making sure other executives are talking to one another about the right things; it also means injecting new ideas into the conversation and even ruffling a few feathers. "It's a very delicate role but one he handles well," says Charles Giancarlo, once Volpi's boss, and now senior VP for small and medium lines of business.

That's where Volpi's people skills come in handy. Growing up in Italy and Japan, two of the most diametrically opposed cultures on the planet, gives Volpi the background and cultural sensitivity to deal with all types of people. Besides plotting strategy, Volpi is charged with keeping Cisco's biggest alliance partners happy--firms like IBM and Microsoft. He's also responsible for all of Cisco's acquisitions (it did 23 last year) and equity investments. And Volpi runs Cisco's Technology Center, where a rotating group of some 80 engineers develops products that don't fit into any of the company's existing groups. If there's a gap in Volpi's resume, it's that he has never run a business operation. But don't be surprised to see him heading up one of the company's product groups in the near future. --Eric Nee

Neil Rimer, 37 Index Ventures SWITZERLAND

For the past few years Europe has been awash in ambitious young Germans, Italians, Swedes, and others home from business school or a couple of years' work experience in the U.S. and looking to hit it big as venture capitalists or Web entrepreneurs. Back in 1991, when Neil Rimer came home to Geneva with similar hopes, he was a lonely pioneer.

Which means that, on a continent now littered with dot-com detritus and disillusioned young would-be entrepreneurs, Rimer, 37, has had time to establish himself as one of Europe's leading VCs. And while these aren't exactly the best of times for VCs, his Index Ventures is likely to survive the tech slump, maybe even thrive.

Rimer was born in Montreal and moved with his family to Switzerland when he was 7. He went to college at Stanford, then stuck around the San Francisco area to work as a investment banker. But after business school at Harvard, he decided it was time to go home. "I was excited about the idea of participating in the birth of the VC industry in Europe," he says.

Upon his return, Rimer took over his father's bond-trading firm, Index Securities, sold off the bond business, and spent several years linking investors and European tech startups one deal at a time. In 1996, Index opened its first fund with $17 million. A $180 million fund followed in 1998. The original $17 million has been returned to investors "several times," he says, while the jury is still out on the second. Among Index's most successful investments: Virata, a British chipmaker, and SCM Microsystems, a German maker of security software. Not exactly household names, but real companies with real businesses and real Nasdaq listings.

Most impressive of all may be that over the past few months, amid the global tech-stock crash, Index has been putting together another fund--with $200 million raised as of mid-April. "This is a great market to be investing in," Rimer contends. "Prices are better. Good people are still coming up with good ideas, and it's easier to see the good ideas when there's less clutter and less struggle for attention." --Justin Fox

Hiroshi Mikitani, 36 Rakuten Ichiba JAPAN

You can take the boy out of America, but not America out of the boy. Or at least something like that seems to describe Hiroshi Mikitani, the brain behind Rakuten, a virtual mall that is Japan's most popular online shopping site. The son of an economics professor, Mikitani lived in New Haven as a kid, an experience that left him with flawless English and a feel for the American way. Oh, sure, Mikitani did the right Japanese things on his return, going to Hitotsubashi University and then starting a dull but safe job in 1988 at the Industrial Bank of Japan.

But it didn't last. When he returned to the U.S. in 1993 to get a Harvard business degree, Mikitani decided that the life of a salaryman wasn't for him. So he left IBJ two years later, first starting a consultancy, Crimson Global, and eventually Rakuten Ichiba--that rarest of things, an Internet startup that knows how to make money.

Mikitani forced Rakuten onto Japan's radar screen by applying American-style brashness. He ignored the conventional wisdom that the Japanese would never shop online because (1) they preferred face-to-face transactions, and (2) credit card use was limited. Build it well, Mikitani figured, and they will come. He was right.

More than 6,000 retailers are now listed on the site, selling everything from alabaster eggs to zebra-design handbags. Rakuten offers stores a base of 1.6 million customers. But what about the credit card problem? Well, duh, provide an alternative. Most shops are happy to arrange for customers to pay through the post office.

The formula is working. Rakuten averages eight million site visits a day. Sales have grown from $1.2 million in 1998 to $26 million in 2000, and operating profits doubled last year to almost $900,000.

Or course, this is the Internet and this is Japan and this is a startup--which is to say, Rakuten has issues. For one, the site has grown unwieldy, so Rakuten is creating more categories to make finding products easier. But that is a challenge of success: Would that all of Japan were so lucky. --Cait Murphy

Ernesto Bertarelli, 35 Serono SWITZERLAND

As a student at Babson College in the early 1980s, Ernesto Bertarelli had a galvanizing brush with American provincialism. His biology professor spoke dismissively of European biotech, including the genetic-engineering program launched by a company called Serono, 59% owned by Bertarelli's family. "He talked as if biotech had just come down from Mars and landed in California," Bertarelli recalls. "From that time, I had the ambition to create a European leader in biotech."

And so he has. The Geneva-based Serono has seen its market cap soar nearly fivefold, to over $9 billion, since Bertarelli became CEO in 1996. He is quick to note that his father, Fabio, deserves much of the credit--in the 1980s he spearheaded development of bioengineered proteins to replace Serono's hormone extracts. The elder Bertarelli, who died in 1998, lived to see the fruits of his labor: Some 75% of Serono's sales now come from bioengineered proteins to treat everything from infertility to multiple sclerosis.

Fabio also lived to see his son transform the firm into a biotech big shot. Ernesto beefed up manufacturing, replaced his father's top-down management structure with a more flexible horizontal one, and boosted Serono's visibility--last year its stock was listed on the Big Board.

As with most biotech firms, Serono has seen its stock price fluctuate wildly recently, but Bertarelli isn't fazed. Serono is clinically testing compounds for some 20 indications, dominates the market for infertility drugs, and is funding a gutsy clinical trial that pits its multiple sclerosis drug, Rebif, against Biogen's Avonex. The trial's results, due by year-end, could give Serono a commanding lead in the $1.8 billion MS treatment market by 2003. That's the same year Bertarelli will mount his nation's first bid for the America's Cup. A sailor from landlocked Switzerland challenging the masters of the sea? It's almost as wild an idea as, say, turning an obscure Swiss drug firm into a global dynamo. --David Stipp

Feng Tao, 33 NewMargin Venture Capital CHINA

In the old Shanghai the man to see if you wanted to get a deal done was a party official--a hack in the mayor's office, most likely. Now, thank goodness, the hacks no longer have a monopoly on deals. In the new Shanghai there are new men to see, and among the most prominent is Feng Tao, a 33-year-old venture capitalist.

Feng is the founder and managing director of NewMargin Venture Capital, one of the first VC firms to set up shop in Shanghai, the once and future financial capital of China. Since 1999 he has funded 33 companies, and the firm now has $100 million under management. Among the successful companies NewMargin has brought to market is Red Flag Linux software, run by a former Microsoft senior VP in China.

Like many accomplished thirtysomethings in China, Feng got part of his education abroad--a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto--then came home as China's boom gathered momentum. And like many Chinese entrepreneurs, he is convinced that nothing--and he repeats, "Nothing"--will disrupt the nation's emergence as an economic power. So he doesn't pay much heed to politics. Ask him to name the figure in Chinese history he most admires, and he picks an ancient calligrapher. But just then a businessman knocks on Feng's door. After a brief conversation Feng tells Fortune that the man was one of Cisco's senior China people. Based in Shanghai? No, the city's new man to see says with a hint of a smile, "Silicon Valley. And--we're going to do a deal." --B.P.

Mellody Hobson, 32 Ariel Capital U.S.

Though it seems as if everybody is far too wrapped up in the comings and goings of the stock market, Mellody Hobson worries that one important group isn't nearly preoccupied enough: African Americans. The 32-year-old president of Ariel Capital Management, a Chicago-based mutual fund company, wants "to make the stock market a subject of dinner conversation" in every black household.

Hobson has no illusions that her crusade to educate the African-American community about investing will be easy. For decades blacks have been far less likely than whites to plunge into the market, even when differences in annual income are taken into account. Due to a combination of factors--lack of trust, knowledge, and exposure to the market--they have long preferred lower-paying savings accounts, life insurance, and real estate. According to a survey by Ariel and Charles Schwab, only 64% of blacks have money invested in the market, vs. 82% of whites. In 1999 black households had $107,000 less saved or invested than whites of similar income levels.

To help remedy the situation, Hobson is on the road constantly, teaching investment strategies to the underinvested black community. Lately anyone who listened to Ariel's cautious approach has been rewarded. After two years of underperforming the S&P 500, the $336 million Ariel Fund (a small-cap value fund) has gained 32.6% over the past year, outpacing most of its rivals.

Will Hobson, who helped run Bill Bradley's presidential fundraising campaign, be lured away by a FORTUNE 500 company? Not interested, she says, calling herself "an Ariel lifer from day one." But Bradley allows that if he'd won the presidency, he would have urged her to move her day job to the White House. --Julie Schlosser

Mark Fields, 40 Mazda Motor U.S., JAPAN

Mark Fields is an unlikely person to be running Mazda. For one thing, it's still rare for a gaijin, or foreigner, to head any Japanese company, let alone a prominent one like Mazda, the nation's fifth-largest carmaker. Then there's the fact that he needs a translator for meetings because he doesn't speak a lick of Japanese. And in a land where geriatric CEOs are pretty much the norm, Fields, 40, is a whippersnapper. But when Ford Motor, which owns 33.4% of Mazda, needed someone to lead the turnaround of the troubled Hiroshima-based carmaker, the folks in Dearborn turned to the Brooklyn-born Fields.

To gain the trust of his Japanese subordinates, Fields, who came in as a senior advisor in 1998, moved slowly at first. "When people look at me, they see a foreigner and a young person," he says. "I've had to balance the process of consensus building with the need for urgency." He's been moving a lot faster since being named president 17 months ago--closing old plants, reducing head count, starting work on a new plant in Spain--and he appears on track to meet his immediate goal: getting Mazda back to breakeven by next April.

But that's only the beginning. Besides using Mazda to appeal to import-oriented buyers in the U.S., Ford has made the company its global engineering center for midsized front-wheel-drive cars like the 626 and large four-cylinder engines. The expanded duties have been murder on Fields' bio clock--every three months he boards a bullet train near Mazda headquarters for a 3 1/2 hour ride to Osaka airport, and then endures an 11-hour flight to Dearborn for several days of meetings.

This isn't Fields' first experience as a cross-cultural fix-it artist. Recruited out of Harvard Business School by Ford, he was posted to Argentina in 1997 when the automaker was breaking up its alliance there with Volkswagen. Fields had to get two assembly lines built, start production of an economy car and pickup truck, and reorgan-ize its dealer network.

"It was like starting a new company," he says. Within 15 months he took Ford Argentina from a loss to a tidy profit. If he can do the same at Mazda, don't be surprised to find him at another automotive hot spot down the road. --Alex Taylor III

Martha Lane Fox, 28 Lastminute.com BRITAIN

Martha Lane Fox talks so quickly, each idea tumbling out so rapidly, that you get the impression she does everything at the last minute. But that's only appropriate, considering she runs an Internet company called Lastminute.com, which not only sells travel and entertainment to people who buy at the last minute but also floated on the stock exchange on March 14, 2000, four days after the Nasdaq peaked and probably the very last day any company with dot-com in its name could have attracted big money.

Lastminute.com raised $200 million, $80 million more than originally targeted. Since then the stock has tanked as investors have fled anything that sells goods and services to consumers over the Web. In late March shares of the London-based e-commerce firm were trading at less than 60 cents, 90% below the offer price.

But Fox's company will likely emerge as one of the survivors of Europe's version of the Great Internet Shakeout. Lastminute has enough cash to take it through 2002, when it expects to generate more money than it spends. "They timed the IPO perfectly," says Heidi Fitzpatrick, an analyst in London for Lehman Brothers.

With her long blond hair, good looks, and willowy figure, Fox became the poster girl for Britain's with-it Internet generation. She grabbed the opportunity with both fists, enduring lots of sexist publicity to build the brand, which is the second-best-known in Europe after Amazon.

With Internet euphoria now a distant memory, Fox is focused on building the business. Lastminute has over 9,000 suppliers of air tickets, hotel rooms, package holidays, and other entertainment. It buys services from these firms at fixed prices and adds a profit margin, so it controls its own commissions. Most bookings are sold only a week in advance. It is Lastminute's "push" technology that distinguishes it from Priceline. "You come to the site and say, 'What shall I do?'" explains Fox. "You will be pushed products" from weekend getaways to opera tickets.

As for Fox's own future, she isn't pushing. "I have no ambition to be the most powerful businessperson in Europe," she says. Whatever she does next, she'll probably take it up at the very last minute. --Janet Guyon

Oki Matsumoto, 37 Monex JAPAN

If Woody Allen were to do a Japanese version of Zelig, Oki Matsumoto would be perfect for the lead. Matsumoto has consistently found himself in the thick of the action. When Japan was riding high, he was a bond trader at Salomon Brothers. When equities took over, he was a big gun at Goldman Sachs. And when the Internet took off, so did he.

Three years ago Matsumoto made a bet with himself--that he could change Japan's investment habits and make a fortune in the process. With financial deregulation right around the corner, he believed people would shift some of their assets away from low-interest postal savings accounts into the equity markets. He wanted to get as big a piece of that action as possible. And he wanted to get it online.

More famous outfits such as Nomura, Matsui, Nikko, and E*Trade had the same idea. But Matsumoto's Monex has outstripped them all since it opened for business in 1999. After a deal to acquire Saison Securities goes through, it will have about 150,000 accounts (10% of the market), compared with 34,000 at the end of 1999. In February, even as the Nikkei reeled, Monex had its best month, with a record 26,000 orders a day.

Another consistent Matsumoto trait, notes Natsumu Tsujino, an analyst at J.P. Morgan, is that "he seems to meet the right people at the right time." He was a protege of John Meriwether, the legendary Salomon bond trader, and he met Sony's Nobuyuki Idei the day he left Goldman to start Monex. Sony was happy to place some chips on Matsumoto's bet; so did George Soros and Goldman Sachs. In label-conscious Japan, the seal of approval bestowed by such prestigious names made punters willing to try this upstart. Its IPO in August 2000 was a hit, though the share price has fallen since.

Online brokering still isn't the popular phenomenon Matsumoto banked on. Less than 10% of financial assets are in stocks in Japan, compared with more than a third in the U.S.; three-quarters of trading is done offline. So Matsumoto has not quite nailed it. But the kinds of transformations he foresaw in 1998 could still happen: Even Japan's politicians, who can make the Taliban look flexible, concede that things must change. If--okay, when--that day comes, Matsumoto's bet on himself will pay off handsomely. --C.M.

Edward Tian, 37 China NetCom Corp. CHINA

Edward Tian doesn't have especially fond memories of his childhood. He was born in 1963, and soon China would be swept into the Cultural Revolution. Tian's parents, both scientists, were dispatched from Beijing to the far west. Edward was raised by his grandparents in Shengyang province.

Smart and academically inclined, like his parents, Tian seemed headed for a career in China's ivory tower. But then he was swept up by another revolution--this one in Silicon Valley. Tian was a graduate student at Texas Tech in the mid-'80s when he got the entrepreneurial bug. He devoured books about Silicon Valley, bought his own Apple II, and quickly decided to start his own company in 1989. The decision was also driven by what was happening on the other side of the Pacific--"June 4," Tian says, referring to the Tiananmen massacre, dashed any sense of optimism about reform in China. In 1991 he and a friend started a tech company called AsiaInfo--but in Dallas, not Beijing.

Tian eventually returned to China, and AsiaInfo went public in the U.S. Then last year he got an offer he couldn't refuse. Four of China's largest telecom companies had started a broadband company, China Netcom Corp., and they wanted Tian to run it, which he does today with evangelical fervor. He insists there will be 200 million broadband customers in China within five years, with China Netcom accounting for most of them. Is he itching to leave China again? "This will be the biggest Internet market in the world," he says. "So I don't think I'm going to need to go anywhere." --B.P.

Stelios Haji-Iaonnou, 33 Easyjet GREECE

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the 33-year-old founder and chairman of British budget airline Easyjet, hates to be ignored. "When people ignore you, it's boring," he says. "It's when they pick a fight with you that life gets interesting." British Airways picked a fight with Stelios (as he's known) in 1998, launching its own low-cost carrier, Go, to battle Easyjet in Europe's brutally competitive skies. Stelios and several Easyjet confederates, clad in the airline's garish orange uniform, bought tickets for the inaugural Go flight and handed out free Easyjet tickets to startled passengers.

The son of a Greek shipping tycoon, Stelios obviously has a flair for brand building. Besides Easyjet, there's Easyeverything, Stelios' global chain of Internet cafes; Easyrentacar; Easyvalue, a dot-com that finds deals for shoppers; and, coming soon, Easymoney, a cut-rate-loans business.

The three connecting themes in the Easy portfolio are bargains, the Internet, and Richard Branson. Stelios admits that the Virgin group founder is a strong influence, but there are important differences. Where Branson had a brief, unhappy interlude when he took Virgin public, Stelios' ultimate goal is to float all of his startups. And where Branson is essentially an aloof figure, Stelios is...well, the kind of guy who will phone you out of the blue on his mobile while driving around Manhattan in a limo.

So think of Stelios as a necessary corrective to the idea that Europeans lack marketing chutzpah. Sure, he's loud, over the top, and often irritating (just ask BA). But he certainly knows how to get himself heard above the din. --R.T.

Michael Klein, 37 Citigroup U.S.

Wall Street is really a young person's game. The great majority of all those princely-paid traders and bankers are under 40. Except, that is, at the very highest ranks of the business. The truly big swinging jobs--investment-banking heads and above--are occupied by the Street's precious few graybeards, the ones who've managed to claw their way to the top of Wall Street's notoriously Darwinian order. Not surprisingly, these positions are fiercely guarded, and few Young Turks ever manage to land one. There are pragmatic reasons, too, for assigning senior bankers to the top of the pecking order. It's called seasoning. Young bankers simply haven't slogged through a sufficient number of market cycles to be considered experienced enough. All of the above is what makes Citigroup's Michael Klein, 37, now co-head of global investment banking at Salomon Smith Barney, so unusual.

As you might imagine, Klein has earned his stripes. The latest and biggest feather in his cap: smoothly melding the old-line British investment-banking firm Schroeders into Salomon last year. It was tricky stuff, a job that would have daunted many a young New York banker, but not Klein, who worked his way up through the ranks at Salomon Brothers in that firm's private-equity group and then helped sew together Solly and Smith Barney.

Investment Dealers' Digest recently named Klein its investment banker of the year. "I don't consider him an up-and-comer," says Howie Lipson, a senior managing director at Blackstone, a major client of Klein's. "He's already up and come. Michael has been able to take on very significant management responsibilities and stay close to clients and deals." With Citigroup's investment-banking practice still a work in progress--the bank has yet to fully integrate Citi, Salomon Smith Barney, and Schroeders--Klein is praised as someone who easily navigates through all parts of the empire, including the office of CEO Sandy Weill. So what's the real secret of Klein's success? "I don't think Michael sleeps that much," says Lipson. Ah, Wall Street. --Andy Serwer

Raymond Chang, 30 GigaMedia TAIWAN

With a Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard, Raymond Chang is really more a wonk than a nerd. Yet Chang, 30, is one of the biggest players in Taiwan's emerging broadband industry, which may be about to follow South Korea as the next explosive market for big pipes in Asia. As co-founder and CEO of GigaMedia, the island's dominant broadband provider, he is well placed to capitalize not only on that possibility but also, more breathtakingly, on the chance that Chinese-language media companies have to reach the vast (1.3 billion population) Chinese-speaking markets of East Asia.

Not being a geek probably helps. Chang got interested in broadband as a consumer--during his Harvard days he was frustrated by the slowness of dial-up Internet access. When he got back to Taiwan, he persuaded the powerful Koo family, for whom he had worked before graduate school, to set up GigaMedia in late 1998.

GigaMedia's plan is to sell neither pipes nor content but instead to offer digitization, distribution, customer-management, and billing services to both providers and customers. Chang aims to generate revenues from sophisticated interactive advertising, monthly subscriptions, and metered fees for attractions like games and karaoke. One thing that helps in Taiwan is exclusive long-term contracts with the Koo family's 29 cable companies.

Regionally Chang is forging alliances with Rupert Murdoch's Star TV (whose strategic view of where the money lies in broadband is strikingly similar to Chang's) and with Yahoo. The stock market doesn't yet agree--Nasdaq-listed GigaMedia is trading dismally low--but the Koos are not about to sell. And if Chang can break into China itself, that early investor pessimism will be soon forgotten. --Jim Rohwer

Kurt Kammerer, 38 Living Systems GERMANY

Not so long ago, Kurt Kammerer's stinginess seemed like something from another era. But frugality is in again, and it no longer sounds funny when Kammerer, 38, talks about his 330-employee, privately held German software company, Living Systems, as a serious rival to once highflying American B2B stars Commerce One and Ariba. "The 500-pound gorillas are all now lying in the cemetery," says Kammerer. "Now it's not 500-pound gorillas and little Living Systems; it's eight apes and Living Systems."

The core of his business is software that uses intelligent agents to arrange business transactions online. Software agents have been a topic of research and gee-whiz speculation for decades; Living Systems has actually come up with real-world uses for them. One of the first was eBay's German auction site, which Living Systems designed. Since then the firm has put together online marketplaces for metals, plastics, reinsurance, advertising, logistics, and telecom capacity--and Kammerer figures that's just the beginning. "We will see a liquid economy," he says. "We will see many things tradable that we couldn't believe at present would be tradable."

This vision isn't unique to Kammerer. But his company appears to have some pretty cool technology--cool enough to lure Internet guru Esther Dyson onto the company's board last fall. Equally important in these uncertain times, it's not about to run out of money. The company was profitable from its founding in 1996 until late last year, when it took $10 million from two venture capital firms to pay for a more aggressive international expansion. It's now running "a little below breakeven," according to Kammerer, but the focus on low overhead remains: Living Systems spends nothing on advertising, its headquarters is a former Digital Equipment training center in the Black Forest town of Donaueschingen that it bought cheap, and when Kammerer rushes between business meetings in London, he takes the Tube. --J.F.

Charles Zhang, 38 Sohu CHINA

The dot-com bubble has ballooned and burst on both sides of the Pacific, and in truth, the fate of the company Charles Zhang founded is not at all clear. Sohu, the most popular portal in the world's most populous country, was floated on the Nasdaq less than a year ago, reaching a peak of nearly $14 a share. But its share price has since plunged to about $1, and the company could yet be delisted.

Never mind. In the event that Sohu.com doesn't make it, the 38-year-old Zhang will still be one of the smartest--and richest--people around pushing China into the Internet Age. Born in Xian, Zhang attended a prestigious Beijing University and won a physics scholarship to do graduate work at MIT. But to study physics at MIT you need to learn a whole lot about computers. Zhang did, and the rest is Chinese business history.

Backed by, among others, Media Lab founder and tech guru Nicholas Negroponte, Zhang started Sohu in 1998 just as Internet mania was about to enter its most intense phase. Sohu is the Chinese equivalent of Yahoo--so much so that Jerry Yang, in search of a China strategy, came calling and tried to persuade Zhang to merge. "I listened to his idea and just kind of never got back to him," Zhang says. He wanted to bring the Internet to China's masses himself, and has made a pretty fair start of it. Sohu.com attracts an average of 79 million Netizens a day. The Internet is a hugely powerful force in what is still a police state. And in China at the dawn of the 21st century, Zhang is to the Web here what Gates is to software in the U.S. So make no mistake: He will be a big part of wherever the Net takes his country for a very long time to come. --B.P.

Ben Horowitz, 39 Loudcloud U.S.

What ever happened to Marc Andreessen, the guy who developed the first popular Web browser and helped start Netscape? He's off running a tiny Internet company somewhere in Silicon Valley, right? Actually, no. Andreessen is smart and clever and all that, but he has neither the temperament nor the inclination to run a company himself. And so when he quit his day job at Netscape to start a brand-new venture called Loudcloud, Andreessen made himself chairman but tapped a fast-rising young colleague to serve as its CEO: an engineer-turned-salesman-turned-manager named Ben Horowitz.

"Ben is one of the rarest commodities in the Valley," says Andreessen. "He's an actual manager." High-tech companies, he complains, are overrun with MBAs with no practical experience. "Hiring them is like hiring ball players who went to baseball school and watched movies of guys swinging bats."

After AOL bought Netscape, Horowitz and Andreessen watched an all-too-common occurrence: A company would arrange to have its Website prominently displayed on AOL, and shortly after the site appeared, it would be overwhelmed by traffic and then crash. "It was stupid and frustrating," says Horowitz, who, with Andreessen and a dozen other Netscapees, decided to start a company that would use software to automate the construction and management of other people's Websites.

The biggest problem facing Loudcloud at the moment is an investment community unbedazzled by money-losing startups. The company lost $107 million on $6 million in revenues in the nine months before its recent IPO. The March public offering was a dud: Loudcloud originally planned to issue shares at $10 to $12, then said it was cutting prices to around $9, but they opened at a mere $5.75. Nonetheless, Horowitz insists that prospects are good. Loudcloud is managing Websites for Nike, Britannica, and Ford Motor, and has signed long-term contracts valued at $120 million. His famous colleague is willing to let him keep running the ship. "I can do customer calls and be a sounding board for him," says Andreessen. "But rule No. 1 is that he is the CEO, and I'm not. People can't appeal to me if Ben does something they don't like." And if he succeeds, maybe someday people will scratch their heads and ask, "Who was that Internet guy who used to work with Horowitz?" --Brian O'Reilly

Anne Asensio, 38 General Motors FRANCE, U.S.

Detroit is many things. But Paris it ain't. Just ask Anne Asensio, who gave up her post as a top designer at Renault in the City of Light last fall for a gig at General Motors in Motor City. "Paris is a beautiful city, and it is my inspiration," she beams, "but I wanted the opportunity to become more cross-cultural."

As for GM, it needs all the inspiration it can get. Once a design leader, the world's largest carmaker has grown increasingly conservative and hesitant in recent years. As director of GM's corporate brand studios, Asensio, 38, will have to create coherent themes for five of the company's car and truck lines plus try to generate some buzz in the marketplace.

The latter shouldn't be a problem. If designers are the auto industry's rock stars, Asensio is its Britney Spears. She made her reputation at Renault by creating one of the very first "lifestyle" vehicles. Called the Scenic, it combined the driving characteristics of a conventional sedan with the packaging of a smart-looking minivan. Designing it from the inside out, she developed a passenger compartment with maximum seating comfort and then wrapped it in a stylish elliptical skin.

At GM, Asensio says success will come from harnessing the inherent talent of its stylists and getting their work into the showroom more quickly. "Our challenge is how fast we can put our ideas on the road," she says. There are plenty of other challenges, such as trying to make Cadillac into a global brand or just understanding something as quintessentially American as a pickup. She drove all the GM trucks in her first four months on the job, and wants to make them more daring and luxurious. "I feel comfortable here," she says. And besides, she'll always have Paris. --A.T.

Jeffrey Hedberg, 39 Deutsche Telekom GERMANY

Jeffrey Hedberg gave up a lot when he joined Deutsche Telekom in 1999. In his previous job as head of international operations for Switzerland's national phone company, Hedberg had a "beautiful lifestyle," right down to the farmhouse he used as his family retreat--"the traditional one that you see in the Heidi films," he recalls nostalgically. But when Ron Sommer, Deutsche Telekom's CEO, offered him the equivalent job with the German phone giant, Hedberg didn't hesitate. "From a professional perspective, moving from Swisscom to Deutsche Telekom was like moving from the second division to the major leagues," he says.

It's obvious why Deutsche Telekom felt it needed to lure this accomplished 39-year-old U.S. expatriate away from his farmhouse. Two years ago Deutsche Telekom's international strategy was in tatters, following Sommer's failed attempt to buy Telecom Italia and the collapse of the group's alliance with France Telecom. Fluent in German and with more than a decade's experience in Europe's telecom jungle, Hedberg is charged with giving Deutsche Telekom a presence in the U.S. and rebuilding its position in Europe.

The jury's still out on whether this revamped strategy can succeed. In Europe, Deutsche Telekom ended last year with about $53 billion in debt, chiefly due to the cost of buying a slew of national third-generation network mobile phone licenses. In the U.S., Deutsche Telekom's proposed acquisition of wireless operator VoiceStream is proving difficult to execute, due to the German company's sagging stock price and problems with American regulators. But while the beleaguered Sommer is now fighting to keep his job, Hedberg's reputation has continued to grow. In the end, that may not be enough to prevent Deutsche Telekom's global ambitions from being dashed for a second time. But Hedberg's own future--as one of the few senior European telecom executives who can plausibly claim to be a "world citizen"--seems assured. --R.T.

Hanson Cheah, 36 AsiaTech Ventures HONG KONG

Until recently, if you asked about the state of VC in Asia, folks might have assumed you were making a crude reference to wartime Vietnam. That's because, with the exception of Taiwan, the region has pretty much been a venture-capital-free zone. Hong Kong-based Hanson Cheah, a 36-year-old Malaysian Chinese, is among those trying to change all that.

Cheah started AsiaTech Ventures four years ago, and the firm now manages about $220 million spread among seven funds. He and his four partners each have hands-on experience in the Internet and communications industries, which is where they place their money. Despite the global dot-com meltdown, only two of the 50 firms they've backed have gone bust.

About a third of AsiaTech's invested funds are in Hong Kong, with another third in Silicon Valley: The MIT-trained Cheah, who once worked at Sun Microsystems and Solectron, reckons a major advantage Asia will have as its VC market develops is close ties between the large number of Asians in the Valley and their homelands across the Pacific.

Taiwan dominates the market for entrepreneurial high tech in Asia, but Cheah thinks the rest of North Asia will begin to catch up. China has the greatest strengths: well-trained, hard-working, and ferociously competitive engineers who are moving up so fast that some original technologies are already being produced there. Of course, their business and management skills need a little honing, but that's where Cheah says he will come in. --J.R.

Martin Werner, 38 Goldman Sachs MEXICO

Even on Wall Street, the newly named director general of Goldman Sachs' operations in Mexico, Martin Werner, isn't looming large on anyone's radar screen. Not yet, anyway. But mention his name in the staid world of international finance, and eyebrows pop up with approval.

In late 1994, Werner, then 31, had just been appointed assistant director of telecommunications in the new Zedillo administration. Suddenly a bungled devaluation of the peso sent the Mexican economy into a nosedive. The U.S. government and others promptly granted bailout loans of $50 billion, and Werner was summoned back to the Ministry of Finance, where he began his career, with orders to get Mexico back on its feet. He was so young looking, he confesses, "that I used to wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses so I'd appear older." Nonetheless, Werner astounded everybody by paying off the loans way ahead of schedule. "He was very adroit at restoring Mexico's access to capital markets," says Daniel Zelikow, a Deputy Assistant Undersecretary at the U.S. Treasury back then. "He understood better than anyone that Mexico would rebound quickly, and was able to communicate that effectively."

Any fantasies that Werner would ascend all the way to the presidency of Mexico were, alas, demolished at birth. Because he was born abroad (in Argentina), Mexican law says he cannot become a cabinet minister or hold higher office. By 1999 he was casting around for a new job. "Working with Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers was a fantastic time," he says. But he foresaw that a new political party might assume the presidency in the 2000 elections, so he jumped to the private sector. And if he turns out to be as good at making money as he was at managing crises, Werner will soon be as familiar on Wall Street as he is in Washington. --B.O'R.

Navin Chaddha, 30 Rivio INDIA, U.S.

Navin Chaddha doesn't build brands, not even his own. But he does build companies--lots of them. And if his name isn't exactly familiar outside Silicon Valley, his technologies certainly are. Anyone who's used Windows Media has encountered his first startup, VXtreme, which he sold to Microsoft in 1997. Fans who caught March Madness on CBS's Website had their streaming courtesy of his second creation, iBeam. And folks who use any of the small-business software offered at BellSouth's or Bank of America's sites have benefited from his latest, Rivio.

"My core strength is being a technologist," says Chaddha. "Why spend hundreds of millions building a brand?"

Chaddha, 30, might sound like an all-I-need-is-my-code geek, but he's a natural businessman--albeit one who stumbled into the business world. Growing up in Delhi, India, Chaddha was a dedicated academic, winning a fellowship to Stanford in 1992 to study electrical engineering. In three years there he earned a master's and had nearly finished a Ph.D. when the Internet revolution came along. Suddenly his expertise--moving video over networks--appeared destined for more than just academic journals. In 1995 he started VXtreme with a professor and some classmates, created a host of streaming technologies, and 19 months later sold the firm for $75 million. "I realized there was this hidden entrepreneur in me," he says.

Chaddha quickly let it out in the open. He worked at Microsoft during the week but reserved his nights and weekends for building two new companies. Streaming-media firm iBeam went public in 2000 (don't ask about the stock). But it's Rivio that has the most promise. Rivio crafts Web-based payroll, accounting, HR, and other software for small businesses. It's a huge market, but a fractured one that the big software makers find hard to tap.

Which is where Chaddha's business strategy comes in. As CEO, he's teamed with the companies that have the most contact with small businesses--banks, phone companies, and ISPs--to offer Rivio under their brands. How will they get subscribers? That's their problem. Chaddha is content to work in the background. --Daniel Roth

Ruben Vardanian, 33 Troika Dialog RUSSIA

A decade ago, when Russia was just tasting capitalism and Ruben Vardanian was 22, he applied for a job with Goldman Sachs, the only real investment bank in Moscow. Goldman turned him down flat. He was just a student at Moscow University, and Goldman doesn't hire students.

So Vardanian hooked up with an American named Peter Derby, who wanted to start a Russian investment bank. Today, at 33, Vardanian is president and CEO of Troika Dialog, which has become Russia's most trusted and internationally minded homegrown investment bank.

Goldman has shrunk its office in Moscow--like a lot of other Western investment banks, it closed down after the market tanked three years ago. But last year was one of Troika's best. It earned $15 million in net profit on $60 million in revenue.

Vardanian has repeatedly shown that he can take risks and win. In Troika's first year, it hired Coopers & Lybrand to audit the accounts. "Everybody asked, 'Are you a crazy guy to pay auditors to confirm you lost $25,000?'" says Vardanian. But the move showed Westerners and Russians that Troika was serious about adhering to international standards.

In 1998, when the market cratered and Westerners fled, Troika expanded. "We used the crisis to hire the best people,'' he says. "Looking back, it was the right decision." Investors, Russian and Western, are slowly coming back to the market, says Vardanian. "In Russia you never get a black-and-white picture," he says. "But the trend is very positive. It is getting more professional. More people understand that Russia won't change in one day. It will take longer." How long, no one knows. But one thing's for sure: Vardanian will still be there. --J.G.

Stacey Snider, 40 Universal Studios U.S.

It's a corporate turnaround story, with an ingenue as heroine--sorry, Julia, Stacey Snider already has the part. Three years ago Universal Studios was known for runaway budgets, box-office bombs, and huge losses. So then-owner Seagram kicked out the old guy and promoted Snider. Petite, blonde, and unproven, she meddled with scripts, reined in spending, and imposed discipline on every phase of Universal's moviemaking. Today the studio, recently acquired by French media giant Vivendi, is nipping at Disney's box-office supremacy and earning a profit. Universal also swept the Oscars, with awards for Gladiator and Erin Brockovich. Says Harvey Weinstein, who heads Miramax: "Stacey is the finest executive in the movie business right now." Really? "Well, she's the finest except for the warhorses--Joe Roth, Sherry Lansing, me," he says. "We're old already!"

Snider's story does read like a Hollywood script. Philadelphia girl goes to law school to please her attorney father. She hates practicing law. So she goes to work for $117 a week in the mailroom of Triad, an L.A. talent agency. Next she plays secretary to the film world's brashest producers--Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson--and then D-girl, developing scripts like Single White Female for Hollywood's other bad boys, Peter Guber and Jon Peters. "While these mythic producers were busy being mythic, Stacey was the quiet, really smart person who knew every detail and understood the audience," says Imagine Entertainment's Brian Grazer, who produced The Grinch, the top-grossing smash of 2000, for Snider at Universal.

Along the way, the quiet, smart girl did everything you're not supposed to do to reach the top. She passed up fancy job titles, figuring "it's better to take a menial position near power than to take a meaningful position in left field," she says. Seeking a healthier corporate culture, she moved from president of production at Sony's TriStar (where she shepherded heart-tugging hits including As Good As It Gets and Sleepless in Seattle) to co-president of production at Universal. No sooner was she promoted than she left on maternity leave (though she worked tirelessly from home). She's still conflicted about balancing her roles of mom and movie boss. But for Universal, this really is as good as it gets. --Patricia Sellers