A small number of people have an outsize influence on the balance of your bank account, the fortunes of your investment portfolio, how you communicate and what you buy. They're not necessarily masters of the universe, but their thoughts, actions, and even their whims impact your bottom line. They also make up the Power 30 -- our annual list of the folks shifting and shaping economic currents in the U.S. and around the world.
Financial clout doesn't have a scorecard. No formula or algorithm determines what groups or individuals most have their fingers on the pulse of American pocketbooks or their thumbs on the scales. So our reporters and editors consulted with experts and analysts to assemble this year's list, which includes the man trusted with steering the nation's economic recovery, the woman who just became the youngest Fortune 500 CEO, the driving force behind the web's answer to WalMart and the entrepreneur who's trying to transition Detroit from a "muscle economy" to a "brain economy." The roll call may not be scientific or comprehensive, but it highlights the thinkers and decision-makers worth paying close attention to in the coming year.
In this story:
- Top Tech Innovators
- Consumer Game Changers
- Economic Stimulators
- Financial Forces
- Global Influencers
- Health-Care Honchos
The Top Tech Innovators
- President and CEO, Yahoo (YHOO)
Analysts worry the 37-year-old's qualifications -- among many other accomplishments, she was Google's first female engineer -- won't be enough to successfully reinvent the flagging Yahoo. "It's not necessarily about the jockey when you're riding an aging horse," says Rick Summer, a senior equity analyst for Morningstar. "We're of the opinion the odds are against her." Key to Mayer's success: "flawless execution" of the mobile and social strategies she's pursuing, and a solid connection with employees to generate ideas. "We'll know really over the course of the next 18 months how successful Marissa has been in firming up what Yahoo is and what Yahoo wants to be," he says. Committed to this cause, after the birth of her baby boy on Sept. 30, Mayer indicated she would take just a few weeks of maternity leave -- and she's scheduled to participate in the company's Oct. 22 earnings call. (A Yahoo spokeswoman said Mayer was not available for comment.)
- Chief Operating Officer, Facebook (FB)
Given that the company's stock has fallen over 40% since May's IPO, Sandberg faces a Herculean task in 2013: convincing the world that Facebook was worth every cent of its $38 offer price and could be worth even more than that in the years ahead. Sandberg will also have to tread a fine line: generate more advertising revenue from Facebook without incurring the wrath of privacy advocates or upsetting its 1 billion users. "There was tremendous excitement when she rose to prominence and some of that has waned in recent months due to Facebook's faltering IPO," says social media analyst Jennifer P. Brown. In the months ahead, Brown says, Sandberg will also have to keep morale high within the company as nearly two billion more shares become eligible for sale within in the next year.
- CEO of LinkedIn (LNKD)
In 2009, Weiner became CEO of the site and succeeded where competitors like Facebook have failed: navigating a successful IPO. "He has consistently been underestimated since coming to Silicon Valley," says Erick Jackson, founder of fund Ironfire Capital. In sharp contrast to Facebook, LinkedIn's stock has more than doubled since its IPO in May 2011. Of course, LinkedIn is still a minnow compared to Facebook -- 160 million members to Facebook's 1 billion -- and is far less addictive, experts say. In 2013, Weiner needs to simplify LinkedIn's premium features, give users more reasons to engage with the site on a daily basis and bring something to the table Facebook already has in spades: the cool factor.
- Founder and CEO, Amazon.com (AMZN)
These disparate expansions are a reflection of Bezos, 48, whose personal side projects include a spaceship company and an elaborate grandfather clock designed with sequences for major milestones over the next 10,000 years. "In the vein of Steve Jobs, Amazon is a very patriarchal organization" -- he's likely had substantial influence over each of Amazon's projects, says Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green. What's next is anyone's guess, and experts say some of the launches are bound to sputter out. But Amazon's ultimate goal is building loyalty, and when they hit, it tends to be a game-changer, says Jakob Nielsen, principal of consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group. "It's rare for people to have the level of loyalty they do with Amazon," he says. "Building that up is pretty much priceless." (An Amazon spokeswoman said Bezos was not available for comment.)
- Tech entrepreneur
Thiel made his name -- and much of his money -- as the tech titan who co-founded PayPal and who invested in Facebook when it was still a fledgling company. But these days, he's equally known for his controversial views on everything from higher education (he's not convinced that college is for everyone) to "seasteading" (he imagines a future in homesteading on the ocean). As for investing, Thiel's track record has been challenged of late: His Clarium Capital hedge fund suffered dramatic declines in recent years. And his decision to sell most of his Facebook shares after the company went public raised some eyebrows. But if nothing else, Thiel has shown he's always looking for the next big thing: This past year, he launched Mithril Capital Management, a venture capital firm focused on startups.
- Late Apple (AAPL) founder and former CEO
By some accounts that's because the Apple of 2012 is still very much a company rooted in a "What would Steve do?" spirit of innovation when it comes to product design and marketing alike. Will the ride continue? Many say it's the next few years that will be the real test, as Apple's leadership, including CEO Tim Cook, bring next-generation products to the market rather than just updated versions of ones created during Jobs' lifetime. In particular, they point to the future launch of a long-awaited Apple TV set. It's "the game changer" that the late Apple founder "dreamt about," says Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman of CTPartners, an executive search firm that focuses on technology and new media. "If Apple is able to pull this off, we can all rest assured that Steve Jobs will live forever."
Consumer Game Changers
- President, LoyaltyOne
In the three decades since the first frequent-flier programs were introduced, consumers have turned accumulating loyalty rewards into a kind of obsession -- not just through airlines, but also credit cards, hotels, even the corner drugstore. Bryan Pearson is the behind-the-scenes marketing whiz responsible for much of the boom: As president of LoyaltyOne, he advises companies worldwide on how to build effective loyalty programs. And he gathers key data on the loyalty "industry" through Colloquy, the research arm of the firm.
The stats tell the story: Since 2000, the number of memberships in loyalty programs has more than doubled in the U.S. to 2 billion-plus, according to LoyaltyOne. But Pearson is convinced that this is just the beginning: New technology is allowing companies to gather more data about their regular customers -- and, in turn, to make more targeted and timely offers to those shoppers, especially via mobile phones. "The early loyalty programs were about points. Today, it's about the exchange of information," says Pearson, whose recent book, "The Loyalty Leap," provides a road map to forging this next-generation connection with consumers. Privacy advocates, however, have expressed concerns about how this consumer data is used, shared or sold.
But while Pearson is talking about how companies can take advantage of the opportunities that await, he's already done quite well for himself. LoyaltyOne, which is part of the global information giant Alliance Data, has seen its annual revenue grow by 80% over the past five years to nearly $1 billion, Pearson says.
- Director, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
In the year since his new federal agency was formed, Cordray has already succeeded in rattling many of the biggest banks. In July, the CFPB ordered Capital One to pay $210 million in penalties and refunds to 2 million credit-card customers over deceptive marketing claims for payment-protection and credit-monitoring services. Since then, other major card issuers, including Bank of America and American Express, have begun winding down similar programs.
And in an unprecedented move, the CFPB started monitoring the largest credit bureaus, which maintain credit reports on some 200 million consumers, and often determine whether they can get credit, a job or an apartment. "No one has had supervisory authority -- the kind that we will now be able to exercise," says Cordray, 53. "[We] will have every right to collect and amass information and to get the true story of what goes on in these institutions -- that's been a real question mark for many people."
Next up on the CFPB's to-do list are bank overdraft fees, prepaid cards and payday loans, he says. "We understand the need for short-term credit but want to make sure they don't turn into long-term debt traps," he says. Next year, the CFPB will announce new mortgage rules, including requirements that mortgage servicers work with troubled borrowers to avoid foreclosure and the removal of incentives for lenders to place borrowers in expensive mortgages. Of course, given that Cordray and his agency have faced tremendous opposition from Republicans, his fate -- and that of the CFPB -- likely depends on the outcome of November's election.
- President and CEO, Spirit Airlines
At a time when rising fuel costs and a turbulent economy have bedeviled most airlines, Spirit's revenue has soared. After going public last year, the low-cost carrier became the nation's most profitable airline. "There's nobody within shouting distance of their revenue per mile," says Fred Lowrance, a senior research analyst at Avondale Partners. CEO Ben Baldanza,50, deserves much of the credit, experts say -- but it will also be on him to find ways to keep those numbers up.
Since taking the top spot in 2006, Baldanza has been a driving force behind the low-cost culture, even taking on cleaning tasks at headquarters. ("I have to keep the vacuum cleaner right in my office," he confesses.) Baldanza introduced fees that fliers love to hate, and that other airlines watch -- and emulate. (Spirit was the first to debut the now-ubiquitous checked-bag fee, in 2007.) The latest: raising the cost for a carry-on bag registered at the gate from a current $45, up to $100, effective Nov. 6. Baldanza says the key difference is that Spirit uses new fees to lower fares, while other airlines just tack them on. The carrier's average fare last year was $81, down from $98 in 2007 -- and that low cost appeals to budget, no-frills travelers. "I'm not going to say there's not going to be any more fees, because if we could find a way to make that $80 fare a $70 fare we'd do it," he says.
Spirit often runs just one or two scheduled flights out of a given airport each day, and carries just 1% of the nation's fliers. Baldanza says expansion is on the agenda, but analysts say maintaining Spirit's margins could be tougher as the airline moves into new markets.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa)
- Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
As head of his Senate committee, Harkin's decisions on higher education impact millions of families. He supported the temporary extension of the 3.4% rate on the popular Stafford loan, which was set to expire in July, and says he'd like to extend it for at least another year. He's also considering changes to how the subsidized loan's rate is determined and whether it should remain fixed. Also on the table: Harkin, 73, says he'd like students to receive financial counseling before signing up for college loans.
How far any of this goes will depend on the November elections. If Democrats maintain control of the Senate, Harkin will oversee the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act next year. This law controls all federal student aid, including loans and grant funding and eligibility requirements. Harkin says he plans to turn up the heat on states, many of which have cut funding to public colleges. "We can't just say states will cut support for higher education and the federal government will come in and supplant that -- the states have to have some skin the game if we're going to be supplying money," he says.
Harkin also plans to continue his push for a ban on taxpayer money being used by colleges for marketing and recruiting purposes. He's been especially tough on for-profit colleges, convening hearings focused on their low graduation rates and recruiting tactics.
Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.)
- Chairman, House Ways and Means Committee
Whether the nation gets pushed off the fiscal cliff or merely teeters on the edge may to a large extent be in the hands of one man: Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.). As chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Camp, 59, will try to prod Congress into action by the end of the year to prevent what many on both sides of the aisle contend would be a financial calamity. Failure would trigger $600 billion of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that some experts fear would drive the country into recession.
Camp is a savvy, seasoned leader who knows how to play nice with Democrats when it counts, says Patrick Griffin, academic director of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. (Case in point: he has a good relationship with Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate's Finance Committee.) Camp's role would diminish come January if Republicans lose control of the House in November. But either way, he'll be one of the main dealmakers during a lame duck session many expect to put make last year's squabbles over the debt ceiling seem like a minor hiccup. Camp's first goal, he says, will be to try to stop massive tax hikes and provide more certainty for investors and businesses. Then he plans to push for full tax reform. Said Camp, "This has the potential to be very intense."
- Founder and chairman of Quicken Loans/ CEO, Rock Ventures LLC
Chrysler's Super Bowl commercial fueled optimism for the Motor City's revival. Dan Gilbert wants to make it a reality. The founder and chairman of Quicken Loans is bringing a private-sector playbook to the task of municipal renewal at a time many cities are still struggling with the fallout from the financial crisis. Over the past few years, Gilbert, 50, acquired more than two million square feet in 11 downtown Detroit buildings. First, he relocated his own employees from the suburbs, then he started leasing space to promising tech startups and more established companies like Twitter.
Gilbert says he's boosting Detroit's transition from the "muscle economy" of its manufacturing heyday to today's "brain economy." "In three, four, five years, we would hope that Detroit would be looked on as a miracle turnaround," says Gilbert, a third-generation Motor City native. He has also made big investments in Cleveland. Gilbert's strategy might not work in other cities, says Avis C. Vidal, professor of urban planning at Wayne State University in Detroit; few other places have the rock-bottom real estate prices of Detroit and Cleveland, which enable large-scale purchases with a good likelihood of financial success. Still, she noted, others should pay attention to what Gilbert's doing: "It's quite audacious."
- Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
Chief Justice John Roberts surprised both conservatives and liberals when he led the court in a 5-4 ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. Roberts, 55, split with his conservative colleagues in supporting the measure, but also had the backing of liberal counterparts in ruling that the law violated states' rights by coercing them into expanding Medicaid eligibility, says Ronald Rotunda, a law professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. It was the first time since the New Deal in the 1930s that the court found that commerce authority wasn't enough to support a federal social-welfare program.
Roberts's move has some political pundits wondering if he will feel more comfortable striking down other liberal initiatives the court may face in the near future. Indeed, the chief justice may once be the deciding vote on other blockbuster cases that are likely to hit the docket this year, including affirmative action in college admissions and gay marriage rights.
- President, Americans for Tax Reform
For a man who holds no public office and heads no corporation, Grover Norquist wields enormous power over America's financial future. After all, he convinced 41 current U.S. Senators and 238 House members to sign a pledge committing to oppose all tax increases. The goal is to require Congress to reduce yearly budget deficits by slashing spending. Lawmakers who violate the pledge risk being reminded of it come re-election time.
Experts say this anti-tax commitment could impact the nation's economy for years to come. This month, U.S. debt reached grew to 73% of the nation's gross domestic product, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's the highest level since 1950, and if current policies continue, debt will top 90% in a decade, the agency says. Beyond that critical threshold, debt can sap long-term growth and create financial instability, according to research by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.
Norquist's opponents say federal tax receipts will be 16% of GDP this year, below the historical average of over 18%, and that debt-reduction measures should include a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, lest cuts to important government programs run too deep. Norquist's position: "There are no exceptions to the Pledge." Assuming pledge-signers remain loyal, political experts say he may do more than the upcoming Presidential election to decide the role of government in coming years.
- Chairman, Federal Reserve Board
On average over the past half century, $1 million of retirement savings invested in 10-year Treasury notes generated more than $60,000 a year in income. Recently it produced less than $18,000. For better or worse, experts say no one is more responsible for that state of affairs than Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Under his direction, the Fed has kept its core "Fed funds" interest rate near zero since late 2008, and has used bond purchases to drive down rates on mortgages and longer-term Treasurys. The moves are designed to spur economic growth by making it cheaper for businesses to borrow and invest.
The Fed chairman's critics point out that unemployment remains stubbornly high, and say meager bond yields have chased investors into stocks, fueling a massive rally but also stretching valuations. Supporters argue the economy would have been worse off without low rates and that the stock gains are a sign of recovery. Whatever one's view on Mr. Bernanke's performance, few people hold more sway over short-term changes in the value of investment portfolios.
- CEO and co-CIO of Pimco
Some say he's the heir apparent to Bill Gross, and indeed Pimco's Mohamed El-Erian's omnipresence as a talking head rivals that of the bond king. Yet El-Erian, 54, Pimco's CEO and co-chief investment officer with Gross, 68, waves off the notion that there's any baton passing in the works at the Newport Beach, Calif., firm. "Bill has no intention to retire," El-Erian said in an email. He did, however, add that the firm takes leadership continuity very seriously.
As well it should, industry observers say. El-Erian, the cosmopolitan son of an Egyptian diplomat who briefly managed Harvard's endowment, is respected more as a big-picture thinker than as a skilled trader. He faces two big challenges at Pimco's helm, says Larry Glazer, managing partner of Mayflower Advisors: He has to position the firm for its eventual post-Gross future, and for the end of the 30-year bond bull market. (While the firm launched stock and alternative funds in recent years, the majority of its $1.8 trillion of assets remain in bonds.) "It's not clear they've been able to do either of those things yet," says Glazer.
Warren Buffett's Successor
The Oracle of Omaha does not predict his own demise -- at least not in the short term. Warren Buffett says he is in good health, having completed treatments for prostate cancer, and he promises shareholders he is not going anywhere anytime soon. But he did let slip earlier this year that he has a successor in mind -- and even a few good backups.
Stepping into those shoes will be no small feat. But while it will be tough to match Buffett's investing smarts, the next CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's holding company, may not have to, says longtime Berkshire investor David Rolfe, chief investment officer of Wedgewood Partners. Rolfe, says most of the investing responsibilities have already been handed over to Berkshire's portfolio managers Todd Combs and Ted Weschler. And many of the subsidiary companies owned by Berkshire, like Geico Auto Insurance and BNSF Railway, are autonomous and unlikely to need much guidance from the new CEO, whoever it is. "He has made it so that his replacement doesn't need to have some kind of superman type of qualities to get the job done," he says. One trait the new Buffett will need: thick skin. Everything he does -- Buffett has confirmed the possible successors he has in mind are men -- "will inevitably be compared to Warren Buffett," says Rolfe. "And that's hard."
- Assistant secretary of the Labor Department
At a time when many Washington regulators seem to be struggling to write new rules just look at the SEC's attempts to reform money market funds -- small investors have gotten a big assist from one power player who's not necessarily a household name among the CNBC crowd: Labor Department Assistant Secretary Phyllis Borzi. In 2012, Borzi, who oversees Labor's employee benefits arm, rolled out a new set of 401(k) disclosure rules that many insiders credit with helping boost transparency and squeeze the plan costs ultimately borne by retirement savers. Borzi has had her share of defeats, however: An attempt to push more advisers to adopt tougher ethical standards stalled after industry lobbyists rallied lawmakers against the change. (A parallel effort by the SEC is also mired in the doldrums.) Borzi recently said she plans to try again in 2013.
- CEO of JPMorgan Chase
We picked Jamie Dimon as a member of its Power 30 last year for steering JPMorgan adeptly through the financial crisis. His blunt voice, as much as any other, also shaped the slew of regulatory reforms emanating from Washington. A year later Dimon's star is somewhat diminished. The public was treated to the rare spectacle of a mea culpa from the Great Man after a mysterious trader known as the 'London Whale' lost billions this spring. In October, the company was hit with a lawsuit over alleged investment fraud committed by Bear Stearns before its collapse during the financial crisis. (No contrition this time: Dimon was quoted saying he did regulators "a favor" by buying the investment bank in 2008.) Despite these misadventures, it would be hard to leave Dimon off any list of power players. After all, Washington is still struggling to implement complex new reforms like the Volcker rule, and banks are again making ungodly sums of money. Dimon's bank made nearly $6 billion in the third quarter.
- Director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America
When it comes to financial regulation, the devil is in the details. That's a big problem for Main Street investors because the nitty-gritty of financial rules is almost always the exclusive terrain of industry "experts" -- consultants, lawyers and trade groups all vying to create fine print and loopholes that benefit their clients' interests. That's what makes the (often lonely) voice of Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, so important. Roper doesn't win them all or even most of them. She made headlines this year when she abandoned her long-standing opposition to letting investment advisers regulate themselves. "We were being realistic," she says. But when it comes to public opinion, Roper has scored some big victories too, like helping gradually build support for the notion that stock brokers should act in clients' best interests, a principal now embraced even by organizations like the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, Wall Street's main trade group. "It's an issue that I've been working on for 25 years," she says. "I am taking the long view."
- President of Fidelity Financial Services
There's a good chance she has more influence over the health of your retirement nest egg than any single person other than you. At the same time, she's heiress to one of the largest fortunes in America, making it highly unlikely she herself has ever worried about how much she contributes to her 401(k). Her name is Abigail Johnson, and in August Fidelity -- which oversees roughly $900 billion in retirement assets, three times that of its nearest rivals promoted her to a post just one rung below that held by her father, Chief Executive Ned Johnson. She is notoriously press-shy, so don't expect to see her making pronouncements about the state of America's retirement system on television. She also has her work cut out for her. Experts say that while Fidelity was early to champion some 401(k) improvements like target-date funds, it has long resisted moves that could hurt its bottom line, such as emphasizing low-cost index funds and ETFs. Johnson will have to find a way to cope with these trends if she wants to build a legacy to match her father's.
- U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York
Many people looked at the financial crisis and thought, "How on earth did nobody take the blame for this?" Jed Rakoff had the same thought. The difference between Rakoff and everyone else: He sits on the federal bench in Southern District of New York Grand Central for financial shenanigans. Rakoff has already overseen high-profile cases involving WorldCom and Bernard Madoff, among others. But one recent ruling has the potential to reshape the way Washington cops like the Securities and Exchange Commission police Wall Street, legal experts say. At issue: Whether companies can continue to settle charges by coughing up a fine but not actually acknowledging they did anything wrong. The formula, which typically involves a statement that the accused "neither admits nor denies the allegations," is popular with regulators that don't want to waste precious resources on costly and difficult court fights. But Rakoff, who rejected the approach in a surprise 2011 ruling involving Citigroup, argues it allows big-name companies to view regulatory dust ups as "a cost of doing business." Rakoff's ruling is currently being appealed. But even if he's overturned, the dustup could mean tougher policing in the future, according to Wake Forest law professor Alan Palmiter. "The SEC's lawyers will think twice" from now on, he says. "Nobody wants to expose a settlement to this kind of criticism."
- Acting director, Federal Housing Finance Agency
As head of the FHFA, the federal regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, DeMarco holds one of a small number of positions that directly impact the housing recovery. Last October, his agency revamped a refinancing program geared toward borrowers who owe more on their home than it's worth. This year, it announced new guidelines to make it easier for homeowners to sell their home in a short sale -- and thereby avoid foreclosure.
Some housing experts question DeMarco's decisions. Stuart Gabriel, director of the Ziman Center for Real Estate at the University of California, Los Angeles, says the agency delayed actions and struck down debt relief programs that could have helped many homeowners. In July, DeMarco announced that the FHFA would not permit principal reductions for borrowers who owed more than the value of the home. An agency spokeswoman says fewer than 250,000 borrowers would have been eligible, implementation would have taken at least a year, and the costs of this program would have been passed on to taxpayers. The FHFA has helped more than 2.4 million borrowers avoid foreclosure in total and more than 1.6 million refinance through HARP, she says.
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande
- Chancellor of Germany; President of France
Merkel and the newly-elected Hollande are at odds over the best way to rescue the euro zone -- and the face-off between the two is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the global economy. Hollande, 58, wants pro-growth stimulus measures, while Merkel, also 58, favors austerity. Some investors say the leaders must learn to work together as they move toward resolving the debt crisis. Still, they each face issues within their own borders: France is under close scrutiny from investors after its sovereign debt was downgraded by Standard & Poor's from Triple-A to double-A plus in January, and other ratings giants have hinted they may follow suit. The French president also recently unveiled a budget that would increase the overall tax rate to 75% for some of the country's wealthiest individuals. Merkel, who has higher approval ratings now than she did after her 2009 re-election, may still face a serious election challenge next year from former Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck, who has criticized Merkel for not doing enough to unite the euro-zone and aid struggling members like Greece.
- President of the European Central Bank
In his first year as the head of the central bank for the euro, Draghi, 65, managed to ease some investors' concerns over the debt crisis on the Continent, but skepticism remains. Draghi's pledge in late July to do "whatever it takes" to keep the euro zone intact reverberated through the financial markets and lifted stocks worldwide, says Sameer Samana, international strategist for Wells Fargo Advisors. That first hint, followed by the official announcement in September of an unlimited bond buying program from the ECB, also helped bring Spanish and Italian bond yields down from the euro-era highs of more than 7% this summer to about 3%. But bond yields have inched up again since then, as investors start to question whether Draghi will keep his promise to buy as many bonds as necessary to lower borrowing costs for countries that apply for aid. Many are waiting to see if the aid will reach the countries that need it most.
The Emerging-Market Consumer
On a trip to China a few years back, Thomas Melendez noticed how many men never cut off the cloth tags that came with their new suits, preferring to broadcast from the patch at their wrist they were wearing Armani or some other status brand. The manager of the $2.8 billion MFS International Diversification fund (MDIDX) has positioned his portfolio to tap into that rising consumer class in China, where spending on luxury goods has more than tripled over the last five years, according to Euromonitor International, a market research firm. What's happening in the world's second-largest economy is happening to some degree across much of the developing world. Indeed, the global economy would have suffered even more than it did during the financial crisis if Chinese women hadn't bought Coach bags and African women hadn't purchased laundry detergent. Average emerging-market growth from 2008 to 2011 was 5.6%, versus zero growth for many developed economies, according to Joyce Chang, J.P. Morgan's global head of emerging markets research. Chang says emerging economies will account for 71.6% of global growth this year. It comes as no surprise then, says Justin Leverenz, manager of the $27.4 billion Oppenheimer Developing Markets fund (ODMAX) that, "every multinational on the planet has an emerging consumer strategy."
- President of Russia
The former KGB officer has maintained power for a dozen years thanks to shrewd political maneuvering and years of economic growth fueled by Russia's oil and gas production. Putin, 60, has led the former Communist state as Prime Minister twice and is currently serving his third term as President. "The large reserve funds that Putin built up during the boom years helped tide the government over during the financial crisis of 2008," says Daniel Treisman, professor of political science at the UCLA. At a summit with Asia Pacific leaders in September, Putin also expressed his plans to shift the country's attention away from Europe to build stronger economic ties with China and Asia a move that could change global economic landscape. But he faces dual challenges at home and abroad before the next presidential election, expected in 2018. In Russia, he must answer complaints from the growing middle class that he runs an autocratic regime that fails to provide adequate healthcare and education for its people. Russia's dependence on oil and its ailing infrastructure also remain potential critical weaknesses of the economy, says Steven Fish, a professor of political science at UCLA. Internationally, Putin is under intense pressure from the West to withdraw Russia's support for the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and, Fish says, to better act as bridge between China and the West. "Putin increasingly appears afraid of anything that smacks of democracy," he says. "Relations with the West are deteriorating slowly and almost imperceptibly."
- Governor of Massachusetts
Mitt Romney may have enacted Massachusetts' major health reform law, but it was left to his Democratic successor, Deval Patrick, to implement the changes.
Even though he didn't write the law, which has since become the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act, Patrick, 56, is given much of the credit -- to some degree, because Romney has distanced himself from the idea of an individual mandate to buy insurance. The law went into effect Jan. 4, 2007, which also happened to be Patrick's first day in office, posing a challenge that he says represented "a big risk" for his tenure. But he isn't shy about his own success, touting that 98% of the state is now covered and a higher proportion of employers are providing insurance than around the rest of the country. Meanwhile, the law added just 1% to the state budget. "We're healthier on a whole host of different measures," Patrick tells SmartMoney.
But Patrick knows his job is far from over. In August, he signed a health-care-cost-containment bill that he calls "Chapter 2." The new measures are designed to provide additional tools to lower costs that Patrick feels were left out of Romney's original legislation. "I see why now, because it's harder," Patrick says.
So far, his first stabs at cost containment show promise, helped along in part by the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, which gave states the prerogative to review insurance companies' proposed premium increases. Patrick used that power to direct the state insurance commissioner to reject unjustified rate hikes; at the first pass two years ago, the commissioner rejected 90% of the insurers' proposals. This year, premium increases averaged less than 1%, compared with more than 16% before the rate review, according to the Governor. "They got that I meant it, and they went back to the drawing board," Patrick says.
The bold move "started the conversation about cost containment," says Matt Selig, executive director of Massachusetts legal aid organization Health Law Advocates, which also promotes public policies that would benefit its clients. "In some ways it's why they were able to get such a big bill through. They really threw down the gauntlet," he says.
Because of the state's steps towards health reform, the continuing implementation of the national Affordable Care Act doesn't pose the same infrastructure dilemmas in Massachusetts as it does in other parts of the country, says Patrick: "It's not so scary for us because we're so far down this path already." The Massachusetts model isn't a be-all-end-all answer to health reform, he adds. But Patrick still aims to increase price transparency in health care, something he says he wishes there were more of when he had his hip replaced three years ago.
There are critics who worry that Patrick's new regulations will restrict patient access to medical treatments and put more pressure on hospitals. Selig, for one, is waiting to see whether the administration will be flexible enough to adjust policies as problems arise, such as restoring dental benefits to Medicaid members. But Patrick says his reform is a work in progress: "There were people who said the sky would fall and it didn't not just because the law was complete and we had anticipated every problem at the time it was signed. It was that we stayed on top of it and we kept refining it."
- Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services
Though it's most often referred to as Obamacare, in many ways the true face of the Affordable Care Act is not the president, but Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Indeed, the former Kansas governor and state insurance commissioner deserves some credit for helping to get the law passed in the first place, says Ron Pollack, executive director of consumer health group Families USA. And even though many reform provisions won't take effect until 2014, Sebelius can already point to increased access to health-care coverage and cost savings for consumers, such as eliminating lifetime caps on coverage, and discounts for seniors. "We've ended some of the worst insurance company abuses," Sebelius says. "Thanks to the law, we've already made tremendous strides in making the health care system work better for consumers."
Looking forward, she's hustling to get the country ready for when the rest of the Affordable Care Act kicks in, as well as educating Americans about its provisions in an effort to make the system more transparent -- for example, establishing a "nutrition facts"-style insurance benefits form that will allow consumers to more easily compare plan options. Still, major parts of the health law have yet to be implemented, such as the state insurance exchanges -- and it won't be easy, says Pollack, because Sebelius will have to ensure states accept their new responsibilities or step in to create exchanges if the states refuse. "That is quite a challenge that she appears to be navigating very well," says Pollack, adding that Sebelius has been on the ground working towards the reform rollout. "She's where the rubber hits the road."
- CEO of UnitedHealth Group
When UnitedHealth Group replaced Kraft Foods in the Dow Jones Industrial Average last month, becoming the index's first health insurer, it was a reflection of the company's increasing heft both in health care and the marketplace in general.
While the addition did not affect the company or its share price, UnitedHealth, the largest of the health insurers by market capitalization, continues to gain influence as the health reform takes effect. "Just their position as the largest provider of those services gives them a seat at the table in fixing the system," says Rouven Wool-Lewis, a health care investment analyst with T. Rowe Price.
CEO Stephen Hemsley, who joined the company 15 years ago, didn't wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Obamacare to start addressing some of the system's biggest challenges. Before the court ruling, the company announced it would allow adult children to stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26, regardless of the law's status. And in addition to growing its insurance practices by signing on new members at a steady clip, UnitedHealth has ventured into uncharted territory for an insurer with its Optum business, a pharmacy benefits manager and technology platform which aims to lower health costs while improving quality of care. The venture may also boost the company's bottom line: UnitedHealth expects to more than double the unit's earnings to $2.5 billion by 2015, according to analysts. "There's certainly a business reason" for the reform efforts, says Wool-Lewis. "I wouldn't call them completely altruistic."
Indeed, growth from Optum helped the company report a 23% increase in third-quarter profit, earning $1.56 billion. The continuing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, most of which takes effect in 2014, will bring new challenges for the company as the marketplace transforms with the creation of insurance exchanges, and UnitedHealth is preparing to use its broad scale to scoop up loads of newly insured Americans. "They've been spending preparing for this as the new normal," Wool-Lewis says. Of health insurers, T. Rowe Price's Health Sciences Fund has the largest stake in UnitedHealth.
But Hemsley has also set his sights beyond U.S. borders: the company recently announced a deal to acquire a 90% stake in a Brazilian health care company.