2. Bill Gates
2. Bill Gates
Gates in 1983: Changed the world twice in a lifetime -- so far
Company: Microsoft
Sales: $69.9 billion
Market Value: $273.5 billion
Employees: 90,000
Advice: Find very smart people and create small teams.

Bill Gates is one of the very few extraordinary entrepreneurs who have had the opportunity to change the world twice in one lifetime: First, as the world's most influential geek, he helped usher in the personal computer revolution. Now he is tackling the stubbornly difficult challenges of global health and public education as the world's most generous philanthropist.

If there is a similarity between how he led Microsoft and how he is leading the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as its co-chair, it's a focus on hiring very smart people and putting them to work in small teams to solve big issues. "There is no way of getting around that," he has said. "In terms of IQ, you've got to be very elitist in picking the people who deserve to write software."

Once asked what his best business decision was, Gates replied without hesitation that it came down to picking people. "Deciding to go into business with Paul Allen is probably at the top of the list, and subsequently hiring a friend, Steve Ballmer [Gates' successor as CEO at Microsoft]. It's important to have someone who you totally trust, who is totally committed, who shares your vision, yet who has a little bit different set of skills and who also acts as something of a check on you."

Says the 56-year-old Gates about Ballmer: "Some of the ideas you run by him, you know he's going to say, `Hey, wait a minute. Have you thought about this or that?' The benefit of speaking off somebody who's got that kind of brilliance is that it not only makes business more fun, but it really leads to a lot of success."


By John A. Byrne, contributor @FortuneMagazine - Last updated April 09 2012: 4:27 PM ET
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