The League of Extraordinary Young Executives
By Michael v. Copeland

(Business 2.0) – We searched every corner of the business world for rising young powerhouses who possess superhuman strength—in management, that is. These 10 tyros are shooting up the corporate ladder faster than a speeding bullet. They can launch hit products with a single bound and drive profits more powerfully than a locomotive. Best of all, they're just getting started.

H

THE HEADHUNTER

BETH AXELROD, 42, SENIOR VP, HUMAN RESOURCES, EBAY

BORN: New London, CT

EDUCATION: BS, University of Pennsylvania; master's in public and private management, Yale University

SUPERPOWERS: Can see through office walls to find competitors' top talent.

FEATS: In 1989, Axelrod got her start at McKinsey & Co., literally co-writing the book on attracting and managing employees, The War for Talent, which has sold more than 50,000 copies. In 2002 she became chief talent officer at WPP—the 70,000-person advertising conglomerate that owns Ogilvy PR and J. Walter Thompson—where she had a reputation for poaching second bananas from rivals. In March, Axelrod was named eBay's top HR exec, responsible for recruiting and training one of the fastest-growing workforces around. Over the past two years, the company has added 4,600 new faces, and its headcount continues to skyrocket.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: eBay auctions. Most recently she's been hunting for turtle paperweights and a vintage Mr. Potato Head. — N.J.

C

CAPTAIN COOL

RALPH GILLES, 35, DIRECTOR, INTERIOR/EXTERIOR PRODUCT DESIGN AND SPECIALTY VEHICLES, CHRYSLER

BORN: New York

EDUCATION: BS, College for Creative Studies, Detroit; MBA, Michigan State University

SUPERPOWERS: Able to design best-selling American cars with a flourish of his pencil. Renowned for preserving unorthodox aesthetics as vehicles move from prototype to production.

FEATS: In 1987, Gilles was a college dropout living in his parents' basement. Only after his brother reminded him that Gilles's car sketches had impressed a Chrysler executive did he enroll in design school. Since starting as an entry-level designer 13 years ago, Gilles has risen to become one of Chrysler's six design directors. He created a race-car-style dashboard for the 2003 Dodge Viper, which helped increase the sports car's sales 52 percent. His claim to fame: designing the brawny exterior of the Chrysler 300, released in April 2004. With more than 150,000 of the sedans on the road, the car is almost singly responsible for resuscitating Chrysler's sales.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: Car racing. Put Gilles near a track and he'll drive anything—from a Neon to his own Viper. — A.T.

M

MIGHTY MITE

MARC FLEURY, 36, FOUNDER AND CEO, JBOSS

BORN: Paris

EDUCATION: BS and Ph.D., Ecole Polytechnique, Paris

SUPERPOWERS: Beats the big dogs in the increasingly hot field of open-source software.

FEATS: Fleury served as a paratrooper in the French army before finishing his doctoral thesis on X-ray lasers. After school he took an engineering job at Sun Microsystems, toiling on a Java-based middleware project that became the JBoss application server. Since 2001, JBoss has used open-source to best BEA and IBM in the market for application-server software—the underlying operating system for Web apps like Travelocity's online booking engine. With the profitable private company's revenue approaching $25 million, Fleury now wants to take on Big Blue's WebSphere middleware. As more enterprise software moves toward open-source, JBoss and Fleury will likely be targets for takeover by Computer Associates and others.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: Electronica. Known as DJ Marc in college, Fleury still mans the turntables as a hobby. — M.C.

e

THE EXTERMINATOR

EVA CHEN, 46, CEO, TREND MICRO

BORN: Taipei, Taiwan

EDUCATION: BA, University of Taipei; MS, University of Texas at Dallas

SUPERPOWERS: An uncanny ability to spot and contain cyber-danger before it becomes a full-blown threat.

FEATS: After working as a magazine editor and dabbling in science fiction, Chen discovered a love of computers in graduate school and returned to Taipei to work for Acer. She quit to help launch Trend Micro, then a maker of copyright protection software. After Chen found a bug on a customer's PC, Trend Micro branched into antivirus software and in 1988 ditched the old business altogether. As CTO from 1996 to 2004, Chen spearheaded the first server- and gateway-based virus protection technology, a business that now brings in 49 percent of the company's $587 million in annual sales. Since becoming CEO in November, Chen has grown profits by 45 percent and brokered a major deal to provide security to MSN's Hotmail users.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: Painting. Chen took an art class to spend time with her daughter, who soon lost interest, but mom still churns out landscapes. — E.E.

B

THE TWO-ARMED BANDIT

T.J. MATTHEWS, 39, CEO, IGT

BORN: Indianapolis

EDUCATION: BS, University of Southern California

SUPERPOWERS: Using innovation to make billions by serving the folks who make billions more in the legal gambling world.

FEATS: Matthews proved his management chops at age 24, launching a game developer called Global Gaming Distributors that was acquired by slotmaker Anchor Gaming in 1994 for $16 million. At Anchor in 1995, Matthews co-created the Wheel of Fortune slot machine, still the highest-grossing U.S. casino game. Ascending to CEO, he turned $55 million Anchor into a $550 million cash cow. In 2001 it was acquired by $2.7 billion behemoth IGT—the world's largest maker of slot machines—and Matthews was named COO. Operating income has since soared 68 percent, and Matthews rose to the CEO job in 2003.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: His high school sweetheart. He met his wife in a teenage production of Guys and Dolls. — S.H.

j

THE JUGGLER

CARLA HARRIS, 42, MANAGING DIRECTOR, GLOBAL CAPITAL MARKETS, MORGAN STANLEY

BORN: Jacksonville, FL

EDUCATION: AB and MBA, Harvard University

SUPERPOWERS: Balances the wildly different objectives of investors, bankers, and salespeople involved in big-time IPOs.

FEATS: Harris joined Morgan Stanley out of business school as an associate in mergers and acquisitions. In October 1999 she managed Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's public offering, in which the share price leaped 95 percent on day one. Later that year Harris hit a career milestone by handling the UPS IPO, then the largest in U.S. history. Shares jumped 36 percent the first day, landing Harris the managing director job. She also heads the equity private placement group in New York, which since 2001 has raised about $2 billion to fund private and public companies.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: Gospel music. She just released her second CD, Joy Is Waiting, and will donate the proceeds to two parochial schools. — N.J.

i

THE INCUBATOR

MARISSA MAYER, 30, DIRECTOR, CONSUMER WEB PRODUCTS, GOOGLE

BORN: Wausau, WI

EDUCATION: BS and MS, Stanford University

SUPERPOWERS: Transforms engineers' ideas into killer products that keep Google users coming back.

FEATS: A former valedictorian and pom-pom squad captain, Mayer was considering post-grad-school job offers from such corporate heavyweights as Toyota and McKinsey until she opened an e-mail from Google, one of hundreds of dotcoms flooding her inbox with job listings. Familiar with the startup from her time at Stanford, Mayer was hired as one of Google's first software engineers in June 1999. In 2000 she led much of the user-interface design, poring over psychology books to work out details, such as which font would be best for search results. During the past three years, she has overseen the launches of Google News, Froogle, and Google Desktop Search, among others.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: Kites. Mayer can often be found flying one of her three parafoils over San Francisco's Marina Green. — E.E.

CEO

THE INVISIBLE CEO

MICHAEL RUBIN, 33, CEO, GSI COMMERCE

BORN: Lafayette Hill, PA

EDUCATION: One semester, Villanova University

SUPERPOWERS: Stealthily building an e-commerce giant that's giving Amazon a run for its money.

FEATS: At age 13, Rubin started a ski-tuning business in his basement. By the end of high school, Mike's Ski Shop was a five-store, $2 million enterprise. He dropped out of college to focus on his retail career and soon built a $100 million venture selling excess sports inventory. Rubin started GSI Commerce in 1999 to do everything from designing websites to managing inventory for big brands. GSI has since morphed into a profitable $335 million enterprise that secretly handles online retail for the likes of Linens n' Things and Timberland. This year he's signed six new partners, including Adidas and RadioShack, and sales are expected to rise as much as 25 percent.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: Sports. Rubin plays basketball and obsesses over the Philadelphia Eagles. — E.E.

A

THE ALCHEMIST

JAGDEEP SINGH, 38, CEO, INFINERA

BORN: New Delhi, India

EDUCATION: BS, University of Maryland; MS, Stanford University; MBA, University of California at Berkeley

SUPERPOWERS: Launches telecom startups as easily as mere mortals change jobs, and then sells them off for millions at blazing speed.

FEATS: The son of an Indian diplomat, Singh spent his formative years in Sierra Leone, Jamaica, and Washington, D.C. After jobs at Sun and Hewlett-Packard, he launched a networking software firm called Airsoft, which he sold to Shiva for $65 million in 1997. Two years later he sold his second startup, Lightera, to Ciena for $550 million and launched OnFiber, an optical-network operator that recently became one of the fastest-growing companies in Texas. Infinera came to life in 2001 and has developed the first commercially viable photonic chip, a sort of holy grail in telecom for its ability to shrink the size and cost of components.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: Textbooks. Singh has been known to read physics and integral-calculus primers for fun. —O.M.

M

LAURA DESMOND, 40, CEO, MEDIAVEST

BORN: Chicago

EDUCATION: BBA, University of Iowa

SUPERPOWERS: Helping clients fight off TiVo with new advertising tactics such as product placement in reality shows.

FEATS: In college Desmond had to choose a brand and argue whether or not it was beneficial to society. She was the only student who sided with a corporation, positing that without Crest, no one would know the benefits of fluoride. Figuring she was destined for marketing, she got her first job in 1987 as a media associate at ad agency Leo Burnett. From 2000 to 2002, she ran Starcom MediaVest Group's Latin American division, where she doubled revenue. Since she took over as MediaVest's CEO in 2003, she has helped the media-services agency win or defend more than $3.6 billion in billings and launched an entertainment division that incorporates brands like Clairol's Herbal Essences into television scripts.

SECRET VULNERABILITY: Cleaning the fridge. Desmond delights in finding and chucking the moldy-oldies. — E.E.