No one would call Vladimir Putin a good guy. In 2014 he strong-armed his way into possession of Crimea and waged an ugly proxy war in neighboring Ukraine, during which an almost certainly Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile downed a civilian jetliner.
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But as the undisputed, unpredictable and unaccountable head of an energy-rich, nuclear-tipped state, no one would ever call him weak.
So who’s more powerful: the omnipotent head of a feisty former superpower or the handcuffed head of the most dominant country in the world? For the second year running, our votes went with the Russian president as the world’s most powerful person, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Our annual ranking of the World’s 72 Most Powerful People (one for every 100 million people on the planet) is based on voting by a panel of FORBES editors, who consider things like financial resources, scope and use of power, and the number of people they impact. (See full methodology here.) This is not a lineup of the most influential or an anointing of the new establishment. It is an evaluation of hard power. We insist the people on our list wield the kind of power that shapes and bends the world, and moves people, markets, armies and minds. All of this, of course, is open to debate, and we welcome it. Join the conversation and leave your comments below.
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This year’s list features 17 heads of state who run nations with a combined GDP of some $48 trillion. The 39 CEOs and chairs here control over $3.6 trillion in annual revenues. Among them are 14 founders, including the newcomer billionaires to the list, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent’s Ma Huateng. Speaking of, this year’s class has 29 billionaires with a cumulative personal net worth valued in excess of $790 billion.
Here, a quick peek at the Most Powerful People in the World 2014:
Top 10: This is the second year in a row that Putin carries the crown. Obama had previously been on the top of the list for every year with the exception of 2010, when Hu Jintao, the former political and military leader of China, was No. 1. The top five remain the same as 2013 — Pope Francis at No. 4 and the world’s most powerful woman German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Fed chief Janet Yellen moves into No. 6, followed by Bill Gates and European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron slides up to No. 10. The most powerful people in business are Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin at No. 9.
Newcomers: This year there are 12 newcomers, including two recently elected heads of state, Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, and Egypt President Abdel el-Sisi. Alibiba founder—and China’s richest man — Jack Ma also makes a first appearance after his record-breaking $25 billion initial public offering in September, as does Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the bloodthirsty Islamic State. Alexey Miller, CEO of Russian gas giant Gazprom, makes a return appearance after dropping of the list in years past. Miller is one of a few of Putin’s inner circle who was not placed on the U.S. and Western economic sanctions list.
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Women Moving Up: For the first time two women, Merkel and Yellen, reach the top 10. This year there are nine women on the list, representing 12% of the world’s most powerful — in stark contrast to being 50% of the world’s population. While the same number as last year, the inaugural list from 2009 included only three women leaders. Recently re-elected Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and South Korea President Park Geun-Hye join the world’s most important NGOs run by women – Christine Lagarde and Margaret Chan — and business leaders Ginni Rometty, Mary Barra and Gina Rinehart.
Billionaires: Worth a cumulative $790 billion. Sure they’re rich but many of these billionaires deserve special attention for their philanthropic work, including the world’s richest man Gates, as well as Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim Helu, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, Charles and David Koch, and Li-Ka-shing.
Entrepreneurs Represent: There are 14 in total. As expected, many are headquartered on the West Coast: Google’s Page and Brin, Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, to name a few. Global entrepreneurial spirit spans from Japan’s Masayoshi Son and Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote to China’s Robin Li.
Asian Authority: While there are 26 Most Powerful from the U.S., Asia Pacific makes a strong showing this year with 19 from the region. There are many different paths to power. While Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea and Margaret Chan of Hong Kong are NGO heavyweights, leading the U.N. and W.H.O., respectively, others are the products of a career in politics, including Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and Premier Li Keqiang of China. Making a big impression this year are the self-made entrepreneurs: Li Ka Shing, Jack Ma, Masayoshi Son, Robin Li, Ma Huateng and Terry Gou.
Year-over-year growth: The FORBES Most Powerful started in 2009, seeking to answer a straight yet complex question: What is the true nature of power and can we really compare and rank heads of state with religious figures and outlaws? We try. The premise has always been to select one person for every 100 million on the planet. The first list had 67 slots. This year we are up to 72. At this sixth edition, it’s notable that many of the leaders who made the top 10 on the inaugural list are still on today: Obama, Putin, Gates, the King of Saudi Arabia, billionaire Helu, Page and Brin, and Rupert Murdoch.