2011 Businessperson of the Year

From social media IPOs to natural gas plays to cloud computing launches, it's been a tumultuous year at the summit of the business world. Top honors go to a leader who has combined record returns with political activism.

The list
The list
From the euro mess to the Occupy Wall Street movement to the U.S. unemployment crisis, 2011 was the kind of year that tests leaders. So when Fortune set out to pick a Businessperson of the Year (and 49 runners-up), great stories were easy to find. Facebook doubled its revenue the year its CEO turned 27. Jim Skinner of McDonald's boosted profitability despite rising commodity food costs. Ralph Lauren sold Chinese consumers on his vision of old-school American glamour. Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Andrew Mason of Groupon took their social networks public. But it was Howard Schultz of Starbucks who rose to the top of our list. The reasons may surprise you.

How we picked the winners: Fortune weighed numerous factors in compiling this year's Businessperson of the Year list. Financial results, including year-over-year growth in profits and revenues, figured prominently in our analysis. (Thanks to our data provider, S&P Capital IQ.) So did stock performance year to date, along with stock gains during the executive's tenure. We also considered off-balance-sheet metrics, such as market share and influence, customer base, strategic initiatives and alliances, and sheer muscle. That's how relatively small public companies like Reid Hoffman's LinkedIn landed high on the list. It's also how private companies like Facebook made the list even though they don't release financial data.
By Richard McGill Murphy, contributor - Last updated November 17 2011: 5:58 PM ET