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 ranges from the man trusted with steering the nation's economic recovery to the woman who just became the youngest Fortune 500 CEO. 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.
The first group up are the technology innovators changing the face of commerce and friendship. This roster includes the driving force behind the web's answer to WalMart and the entrepreneur who's redefining notions of loyalty for the digital age.
- 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."