Forget about the 1%. The 73 men and women who are featured on Forbes’ annual ranking of the World’s Most Powerful People are the 0.00000001% –the global elite whose actions move the planet. These heads of state, financiers, philanthropists and entrepreneurs truly run the world.
To compile the list, we considered hundreds of candidates from various walks of life all around the globe, and measured their power along four dimensions. First, we asked whether the candidate has power over lots of people. Pope Francis, ranked #4 on our list, is the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics. Doug McMillon (#32), CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, employs 2.2 million workers.
Next we assessed the financial resources controlled by each person. Are they relatively large compared to their peers? For heads of state we used GDP, while for CEOs, we looked at measures like their company’s assets and revenues. When candidates have a high personal net worth, like the world’s richest man, Bill Gates (#6), we also took that into consideration. In certain instances, like the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (#14), we considered other valuable resources at the candidate’s disposal –like 20% of the world’s known oil reserves.
Then we determined if the candidate is powerful in multiple spheres. There are only 73 slots on our list – one for every 100 million people on the planet – so being powerful in just one area is often not enough. Our picks project their influence in myriad ways: Elon Musk (#38) has power in the auto business through Tesla Motors, in the aerospace industry through SpaceX, because he’s a billionaire, and because he’s a highly respected tech visionary.
Lastly, we made sure that the candidates actively used their power. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (#46) has near absolute control over the lives of the 25 million people who live in his country, and is known to punish dissent with death.
To calculate the final rankings, a panel of Forbes editors ranked all of our candidates in each of these four dimensions of power, and those individual rankings were averaged into a composite score.
Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged as the world’s most powerful person for the third year running. Putin continues to prove he’s one of the few men in the world powerful enough to do what he wants –and get away with it. International sanctions set in place after he seized Crimea and waged war-by-proxy in the Ukraine have kneecapped the Ruble and driven Russia into deepening recession, but haven’t hurt Putin one bit: In June his approval ratings reached an all-time high of 89%. In October, he bombed ISIS forces in Syria and then met face-to-face with President Assad, making the U.S and NATO look weak in the region, and helping rebuild Russian influence abroad.
The second most powerful person in the world also happens to be the most powerful woman: Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, jumps up from #5 last year to take the runner-up spot on the list. Merkel is the backbone of the 28-member European Union, and her decisive actions dealing with the Syrian refugee problem and the Greek credit crisis helped bump her up the list.
U.S. President Barack Obama fell one spot on this year’s list to #3. There’s no doubt that the United States remains the world’s greatest economic, cultural, diplomatic, technological and military power. But as Obama enters the final year of his presidency, it’s clear his influence is shrinking, and it’s a bigger struggle than ever to get things done. At home, his approval ratings are perpetually stuck under 50%; abroad, he’s outshined by Merkel in Europe, and outmaneuvered by Putin in the Middle East.
New members of the list include Dell CEO Michael Dell (#59); China’s richest man,Wang Jianlin (#68); newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (#69); billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn (#70); and U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump (#72).
Any ranking of the world’s most powerful people is going to be subjective, so we don’t pretend ours is definitive. It’s meant to be the beginning of a conversation, not the final word. So tell us what you think: Is the CEO of Amazon more powerful than the CEO of Apple or Facebook? Is ex-president Bill Clinton (#64) really more powerful than the current Prime Minister of Canada? Does someone like Donald Trump belong on the list at all? Who did we miss? What did we get wrong? Join the conversation by commenting below.
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David M. Ewalt