May 16, 2013
The 20 Most Creative CEOs Of 2013

Twenty CEOs proved the value of visionary leadership by landing a spot on Fast Company’s list of “The 100 Most Creative People In Business 2013.” The list considers individuals from industries around the world, featuring only those who haven’t been featured in past years. For some, it’s their first shot at entrepreneurism, while others are extending their innovative legacies into new spheres.

Whether they’re on a mission to change the world, better societal norms or just create something that looks really cool, these founders and CEOs offer creative solutions for a world in constant demand of innovation.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu


Founder and CEO of soleRebels

Raised in an Ethiopian village, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu noticed, “We had lots of artisan talent, but no job opportunities.” So she created one—many, in fact, by starting soleRebels, a shoe company that pays fairly and uses local materials such as hand-spun cotton and recycled tires.

The shoes are now sold at Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods. "We don’t want to make a pity product,” says Alemu. “We want people to buy our shoes because they look good.”

Ruzwana Bashir


Cofounder and CEO of Peek

Through her one-year-old startup, Peek, Ruzwana Bashir offers a wide-ranging and fully stocked travel experience shop. “There were a lot of companies going after one small niche,” Bashir says, “There wasn’t really one comprehensive place that offered the full spectrum of activities.” 

Peek utilizes social capital such as celebrity testimonials and professional photography. Today, Peek services more than 10 cities in the U.S. and doubles in size each month.

Ayah Bdeir


Founder and CEO of littleBits

Growing up, Ayah Bdeir wanted to be an architect, while her father wanted her to learn programming.

Now she teaches kids how to do both through littleBits, Lego electronic sets that snap together magnetically to form objects like remote-controlled cars and alarm clocks. “Everyone is creative,” Bdeir explains, “and everyone is a techie.”

Jill Beraud


Cofounder and co-CEO of Living Proof

Marketing guru Jill Beraud has led campaigns for Victoria’s Secret, PepsiCo, Starbucks and a handful of other name brands.

Now she’s bringing her energy and vision to Living Proof, a hair care company that consults with MIT scientists on anti-frizz technology. Her business strategy is simple: "Our stylists experiment with products and then meet with scientists.”

Aneel Bhusri


Cofounder and co-CEO of Workday

Aneel Bhusri built his cloud-based HR software company for the consumer. To create Workday’s intuitive design and user interface, Bhusri says, “We spend a lot of time looking at the things we like: Amazon, Google, Facebook . . . What I hope is, over time, users should not have to read a training manual. They should say, ‘I totally get the Workday iPad app, because it runs the way my consumer apps run.’” 

Scott Borchetta


CEO of Big Machine Records

When Nashville music executive Scott Borchetta founded Big Machine Records in 2005, he decided it would be first and foremost a content company.

“If we don’t have great music, we’re not any company,” he says. Borchetta is also a brilliant marketer, pondering lessons from America’s largest companies to bolster his reputation as a fierce advocate for his artists, including country music stars like Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift and Martina McBride.

Tony Fadell


Founder and CEO of Nest Labs

Tony Fadell, one of the revolutionary minds behind the original iPod, is now CEO of Nest Labs, a startup specializing in sleek touchscreen thermostats.

At this year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival, Fadell said, “You can disrupt big companies if you’re fast, experienced and thoughtful about what you do. Customers will respond . . . If you can bring that to the space, whatever the space, it will resonate with people.”

Caroline Ghosn


Founder and CEO of Levo League

When newly graduated management consultant Caroline Ghosn realized her most successful colleagues were mentored along the way, Ghosn decided to build Levo League, a startup that uses technology to make the most of available mentors.

Weekly video chats and connect features give equal access to aspiring young professionals to shadow business moguls and industry leaders, all in the digital sphere.

Katelyn Gleason


Cofounder and CEO of Eligible

Actress-turned-saleswoman Katelyn Gleason dreamed up Elligble, a startup that offers a one-stop shop for online insurance verification for doctors—a process that normally takes “armies of people making phone calls,” she says.

“I looked at companies like Amazon Web Services and thought, Why isn’t someone doing this for health care?” Gleason’s claimed niche now doubles in business every month.

John Hering


Cofounder and CEO of Lookout Mobile Security

Former hacker John Hering now uses his tech-savvy skillset to promote Lookout, a mobile malware and theft protection app used by 35 million users.

After a phone is lost, Hering can help the owner remote download his app to receive an email of the device’s location. “The greatest product I’ll ever create,” says Hering, “is this company.”

Graham Hill


Founder and CEO of LifeEdited

Graham Hill offers “tours” (you don’t actually need to move) of his minimalist yet completely sufficient Manhattan apartment, complete with sliding walls, foldout desks and room for a dinner party of 12.

His company, LifeEdited, seeks to advance Hill’s vision of a green metropolis movement. According to Hill, "One of the easiest ways to go green is to go small. I want to show people that there’s an amazing modern green future, and make it easy for them to step into it."

Stephanie Horbaczewski


President and CEO of StyleHaul

Stephanie Horbaczewski is a new breed of artist—the video stylist, in charge of curating more than 1,800 video bloggers in 41 countries for the StyleHaul YouTube channel.

Featuring videos on fashion, DIY projects and celebrity interviews, StyleHaul’s success lies mainly in individual vlogger training—teaching prospective users to create engaging content with just their at-home webcams.

Lynn Jurich


Cofounder and co-CEO of Sunrun

Lynn Jurich’s solar power systems company, Sunrun, has more than 35,000 customers and sold more than $1 billion worth of rooftop systems.

The first step to startup success, says Jurich, is to get personal by interacting with potential customers yourself: "Too many people build something and hand it off to a head of sales," she says.

Tara Lemmey


CEO of Net Power & Light

Tara Lemmey thinks online lectures are great, but she says most can’t recreate the classroom vibe that’s “all about the emotional connection.”

Under her watch, Net Power & Light brings people together in a more defined, less ethereal digital space so that, for example, hundreds of students can use videoconference technology to watch university lectures as if they’re sitting in an actual auditorium. “Interaction isn’t gaming; it’s emotional response time,” Lemmey explains. “It’s having a laugh at the same moment.”

Max Levchin


CEO of Affirm

PayPal cofounder and serial entrepreneur Max Levchin always has new business ideas up his sleeve, the latest being his new mobile-payments venture Affirm.

As he told Fast Company, “I have a massive notebook called ‘Ideas’ and another called ‘Crazy Ideas.’ I bring five whenever I meet a friend to brainstorm.”

Apoorva Mehta


CEO of Instacart

Apoorva Mehta also seeks to remedy the problem of overrun metropolis life. His startup, Instacart, runs a same-day grocery delivery service from Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Costco.

The “personal shoppers” are paid on commission as independent contractors earning between $12 and $15 per hour.

Michelle Peluso


CEO of Gilt Groupe

Michelle Peluso’s knack for digital innovation transformed businesses such as Travelocity and Citibank and landed her the top position at Gilt Groupe, an online designer fashion site.

“There are so many opportunities on the horizon,” she says, “from mobile exclusives to geo-located offers to better filtering and searching. We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with personalization.”

Hosain Rahman


Founder and CEO of Jawbone

Jawbone founder Hosain Rahman brings a strong design element to tech gadgets, including his wireless Jambox speaker system.

When it comes to being creative, Rahman believes, “A lot of people now realize that success can come from products that are considered from a design perspective. But it’s hard to do. It’s expensive; it requires a certain DNA—a certain thinking, risk taking.”

Robert Reffkin


CEO of Urban Compass

Former investment banker Robert Reffkin started Urban Compass to satisfy the need for online real estate search in metropolitan areas. His “neighborhood specialists” collect data and serve as individual consultants for public and private, commercial and non-commercial property.

On his down time, Reffkin helped found a charter school and a nonprofit that matches mentors with students who are the first in their families to attend college. 

Tina Wells


founder and CEO of Buzz Marketing Group

Tina Wells makes it her business to understand and study the millennial generation.

At Buzz Marketing Group, a marketing research provider for children, tweens, teens and young adults, Wells discovered the benefit of tactics like recruiting young influencers to test, share and endorse products on social media. "They post on Facebook, and when their friends see they have this cool job, they want to be a part of it,” says Wells.