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Top 10 Business Leaders to Watch Out for in 2019

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The world of business is highly competitive; it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd, and make an impact. A business leader in this environment has to meet expectations as well as lead their teams.  

The sole purpose of any business is not just making profits, but making positive changes in people’s lives while practicing sustainable production. Leadership requires flexibility and awareness of the changing world.

The following leaders have made a name for themselves; some have built empires from the ground up while others have brought back dead giants to profitability. They have created company cultures that have inspired employees to commit to producing results. They are the top leaders to watch out for in 2019.

10. Brittany Merill Underwood

Founder and CEO of Akola project, Brittany Merill Underwood, has devoted her life to creating a brand that focuses on empowering women economically and holistically.

The Akola project provides job opportunities with a dependable income to over 500 women in Uganda and Dallas through Akola Jewelry. The women have then transformed the lives of over 4000 children who are under their care.

The Akola elevated jewelry line launched in Neiman Marcus became the first Full-Impact Brand to be sold in the luxury space. Merill has also opened a store at Deep Ellum, an arts and fashion Dallas neighborhood.

When it comes to millennial run businesses that seek to impact the world, Merill has set the bar high. She reinvests 100% of the profits from the jewelry business back to helping women in poverty.

She is a real example of servant-leadership coupled with philanthropy. She dedicates herself to the Akola jewelry brand, not for profit but to touch lives.

9. Jane Lu

“Work hard, play hard, more wine, less whine.” Jane Lu, founder, and CEO of Showpo lives by this motto.

She quits her job to venture into business. In 2010, she started Showpo, an online fashion brand, in her parent’s garage which has grown into an online global empire. They boast of a social media following that goes over 3.5 million.

Jane Lu Quote
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The free spirit and fun lifestyle Lu flaunts on social media reflects in her products. She describes her brand as fun, lively, and colorful.

In May 2018, Lu admitted in public to her company undergoing some hard times. She used her own experience to remind entrepreneurs that it’s not always easy when it comes to business. Her honesty gained positive response from business owners and her customers.

Despite the setback, she never wavered in her vision. She believes when you do something you love, you never have to work again, and this explains the name on her social handles “thelazyCEO.”

The business stands at $30 million in annual sales and Lu aims to have it at $100 million by 2020.

8. Brian Chesky

When Brian Chesky and his friends introduced a platform that encouraged home-owners to provide their home to visitors at a fee, few had faith in it. However, the idea has grown into a giant profitable company. It currently lists over 800,000 properties across 90 different countries.

Co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, Chesky has brought the company to profitability only ten years after its birth. The company has remained profitable for two years in a row and private investors value it at $31 billion.

Brian Chesky quote
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The things that have made Chesky successful as a CEO in spite of having no prior business experience are his humility, a strong instinct that he trusts, and taking the brand as a passion, and not just a job.

“Never assume you can’t do something. Push yourself to redefine the boundaries” – Brian Chesky

7. Stewart Butterfield

Founder and CEO of the $7billion company Slack, a business messaging service, has not always had it easy. He has lived in a log cabin in British Columbia with his parents where they had no electricity or running water.

Despite trying out an online game which failed, and Flickr which they sold barely a year later to Yahoo, Butterfield did not give up. He says Slack is evolving into a “corporate nervous system” for businesses, and it is growing fast. Butterfield plans to provide a solution that can automate trivial office tasks and make Slack a necessity for every business.

Stewart Butterfield Quote
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The one quality that makes Butterfield stands out is that he strongly believes in empathy. You cannot effectively lead or help your employees improve if you do not understand them, and you cannot satisfy your customers’ needs if you cannot relate to them.

“Life is too short to do mediocre work, and it is too short to build shitty things” – Stewart Butterfield.

6. Dan Springer

Two years ago, Dan Springer was a stay-at-home dad. Having been out of the business world for four years, Dan returned with a bang as CEO of DocuSign.

Under his leadership, DocuSign successfully went public. Although they had an IPO of $29, that price rose by 37% within the first day of trading. The company reported year-over-year growth of 37% in their quarter ending October 2018.

When asked about his extended leave, Springer did not regret it, but he missed the opportunity to help people build their careers. That is the reason why he made it a practice and authorized an increased parental leave for DocuSign’s employees, making it six months for the primary caregiver.

He believes in creating a work environment that is each employee’s best place they’ve ever worked in. He took third place in the 2018 Glassdoor’s list of the best CEOs. It’s easy to see why.

5. Dan Price

I never want to make screw-you money like the rest of the financial services industry” – Dan Price

When it comes to unpredictable game-changing CEOs, Dan Price is one of them. CEO and Founder of Gravity Payments, he believes in doing what is right even when it’s not popular. He created a culture of honesty, transparency, and responsibility at Gravity.

Dan Price Quote
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Price made a bold move in 2015 by setting Gravity’s minimum wage at a crazy $70,000 and reduced his salary by 93%. Although most people expected this to bring the company under, it currently has 80% more clients than it did then.

Price does not define success by financial results but by changing people’s lives. His mission is to create a world where business leaders focus on more than just making millions, a world where value-based companies exist and are about purpose, service, and making an impact.

“For me, having more empathy is one of the most powerful things I can do to improve as a leader.” – Dan Price

4. Cheryl Bachelder

Author of the book Dare to Serve, Cheryl Bachelder believes and practices servant leadership. Her leadership style saw her turn around a sinking company, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, back to profitability.

When Bachelder took over the company in 2007, some of the store sales were negative, and the stock sales had dropped significantly. Bachelder created a work environment where everyone was respected and treated with dignity and still challenged to perform optimally.

Cheryl Bachelder Quote
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By 2014, the turnaround saw the franchisees’ satisfaction rise and they began reinvesting in the brand.

She recently became interim CEO at Pier 1 Imports in December 2018, and her proven track record is bound to bring the company into a steady growth pattern.

“The leader must have both – the courage to take the people to a daring destination and the humility to selflessly serve others on the journey” – Cheryl Bachelder

3. Eric S. Yan

“Don’t be afraid to admit you have made a mistake and start fresh. My only regret is that I didn’t found my company earlier, so I could start getting better sleep sooner!”- Eric S. Yan

Yan won the 2018 Glassdoor Top CEO award, a clear indication of his exceptional leadership skills and the strong support he has from his employees.

His innovative company offers an affordable all-in-one platform for IM and presence plus web, audio, and video conferencing. It enables collaboration in the workplace helping employees work at home. Teams are also able to work together across geographies.

Yan launched the Zoom platform in 2012, and only seven years later, they have hosted over 20 billion annualized meeting minutes. They have acquired a customer base consisting of a third of Fortune 500 and 90% of the top 200 Universities in the U.S.

He believes in hard work and has developed a culture of delivering “happiness” to the customer and each other in Zoom. There’s a happiness crew in the company headed by the Chief Happiness Officer, which is responsible for promoting the culture of happiness in the company, fantastic right?

At the fast rate that Yan is facilitating the growth of the company, there is a lot to expect from him this year.

2. Isabelle Kocher

Women too often say to themselves, ‘It’s too difficult. I’m not going to get there.’ I tell them: ‘Listen: do not question your abilities. Dare to do what you want to do and realize that you can do it.’– Isabelle Kocher.

Kocher was appointed the CEO of Engie in 2016 after the company lost billions in 2015. Bringing the energy giant back to its feet was a challenge Kocher took head-on.

Her first move was to initialize a three-year plan to reduce the company’s reliance on fossil fuels and shift it to renewable energy sources. She achieved this in 2 years.

Kocher has brought back Engie to profitability in the short period she has been there, and we can only anticipate the milestones the company is bound to undertake under her leadership.

She advocates for women empowerment and aims to have 35% of the high potential staff in Engie as women. She is currently the only woman running a CAC 40 company.

Kocher’s leadership style is direct; she is a good listener, decisive, and visionary. Having been brought up by a religious mother, spirituality and values are essential to her. She has five children, proving to all women that you can have a successful career and still make it as a parent.

1. Mary Barra

“Do every job you’re in like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life, and demonstrate that ownership of it” – Mary Barra.

Being the first woman CEO in the automotive industry, Mary Barra makes the top of the list of business leaders to watch out for this year. She advocates for women empowerment and is one of the most influential women in the business space.

As chairwoman and CEO of General Motors Company, Barra has a record of leading the exit of GM from the Russian market, pulling the Chevy brand out of Europe, and winding down Australian manufacturing project; these have all been bold moves.

Mary Barra Quote
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She facilitated the launch of ride-sharing service Maven and the all-electric Chevy Bolt, acquired Cruise Automation, and made a worthwhile investment in Lyft.

She plans to transform mobility and make GM a leader in electric vehicles and self-driving cars. The company aims at making Cadillac the company’s lead electric vehicle brand.

She uses inclusive leadership, believing each employee has a lot to offer. Such an attitude draws the best efforts from her employees.

With the recent 7% increase in stock price, the year looks bright for Barra.

These business leaders are disrupting the future of the business world with their great leadership skills and innovations. Some have taken paths no one else dares to take and made moves that appeared crazy.

But with their boldness, diligence, and exceptional leadership skills, they have made their ventures even more successful and influence the path that fresh entrepreneurs may take in the future.

The world can only sit back and anticipate their next moves.

Related: 6 Strange Facts About Inspirational Leaders