Who Will Be the Next Steve Jobs?

These ten tech leaders have the vision, and they’ve shown that they have the drive--but do they have what it takes to spearhead the next great sea change in technology?

The Men Who Could Be Jobs

In the wake of Steve Jobs's resignation as CEO of Apple, pundits are asking: "Who could possibly replace Apple’s visionary founder?" Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO, is by all accounts the right man to lead Apple into the future, but who can take on Jobs's mantle as the tech universe’s great innovator?

Obviously Jobs is a one-of-a-kind visionary. After much thought, however, we pulled together a list of ten tech leaders--well-known figures and a few emerging stars--who might be able to provide the leadership and influence that Silicon Valley (and the entire tech universe) came to expect from Steve Jobs.

Reed Hastings, Cofounder and CEO, Netflix

It’s hard to think of companies that are considered as innovative as Apple in the tech industry, but Netflix is a strong contender. The rental-by-mail/streaming-video service is an innovation in the field--and as its CEO, Hastings is often credited with much of that originality. In the process, he has created an entertainment business that even Apple has trouble competing with.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and Chairman of SolarCity

Elon Musk wants to be the Steve Jobs of the electric car, and he has an impressive history. Musk was a multimillionaire by the time he was 28, and he has created several successful startups, namely consumer solar-power provider SolarCity, SpaceX--the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft--and the troubled but still standing Tesla Motors. Earlier this month, Merrill Lynch analyst Steve Milunovich directly called Musk “the next Steve Jobs.”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder, The Virgin Group

Richard Branson is probably the closest thing the business world has to another Steve Jobs. He's an ambitious innovator who always tries new things and demands the very best from his employees. Of course, so far Branson has largely steered clear of the personal-technology world--but given his history of expanding into new fields, it’s not hard to imagine a Virgin tablet.

Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, Apple

Who better to step up to the plate now than the man who has helped design some of Apple’s most iconic products? Ive, who has worked at Apple since 1992, helped to shape most of the dazzling tech hardware that Apple has produced since Jobs’s return to the company in 1997. Those products include the iMac, the iPod, and the iPad 2. If Tim Cook is the heir apparent to Jobs's canny business sense, then Ive is clearly Jobs’s choice to carry on his legacy of creating innovative products. And who better to choose the next Jobs than Jobs himself?

Image: Courtesy of Apple

Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon

For a multibillionaire who started the largest online retailer in the world, Jeff Bezos keeps a relatively low profile as a tech innovator--but you don’t create a site like Amazon just by having an idea. Bezos is a proven leader who has also stayed one step ahead of his competition, stunning the market with the launch of the Kindle reader and creating the ebook industry.

Larry Page, Cofounder and CEO, Google

As our own Jason Cross noted in his story about Apple without Steve Jobs, Google has made a reputation more as a company that does things better than as a company that does new things. Even so, no company is better positioned to be the “next Apple.” The search giant rules the Web, and with the Android operating system it has produced the stiffest competition yet to the iPhone and iPad. Page is often framed as the tech-junkie of Google’s founders, but his recent move to Google’s CEO position has shown him to be a great decision maker and a capable leader.

Bre Pettis, Cofounder, Makerbot

Steve Jobs was able to see what computing would become before almost anyone else did, and as a result Apple got in on the ground floor of the personal-computing revolution. Maybe the next Jobs is a similar outsider working on a product that hasn’t yet hit the big time. We nominate Bre Pettis and the other founders of 3D printing company Makerbot. The company wants to let everyone print their own objects as easily as they print documents, and just this week it announced $10 million in new funding to make that dream a reality.

Mark Zuckerberg, Cofounder and CEO, Facebook

This list isn’t the first time Zuckerberg has been compared to Jobs, and there’s a reason for that. Zuckerberg is in many ways the Jobs of his generation: a young, ambitious tech enthusiast who managed to parlay his sense of where things were going into a multibillion-dollar company. The real question for Zuckerberg is whether he can match Jobs in the long term by creating a string of innovative products and services as time goes on.

Jack Dorsey, Cofounder of Twitter and CEO of Square

Like Jobs, Jack Dorsey isn’t content to rest after a single innovation. Dorsey made a name for himself as a founder of the microblogging behemoth Twitter. Then, rather than coast on that success, he moved on to another successful project, becoming the founder and CEO of Square, Inc. The new company lets your mobile phone accept debit and credit cards via a small, inexpensive card reader that attaches to your handset's headphone jack. The Square device and service have been a godsend for vendors who have no permanent storefront, such as food trucks and farmers-market stands.

Ben Huh, Founder of Cheezburger Network

One of Steve Jobs’s defining characteristics during his Apple tenure was his ability to give people what they wanted before they even knew they wanted it. As the founder of the Cheezburger Network, Ben Huh shares that quality: He recognized that what people didn’t know they wanted was photos and videos of cats. Huh built his site stuffed with kitty-cat images, I Can Has Cheezburger, into a media empire that spans almost every aspect of Internet culture. In the process Huh became the chief innovator of Internet memes. So far, though, his career may not be quite as impressive as Jobs's.

Do you have your own suggestions on who could replace Steve Jobs? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook.

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