Provocateurs With Big Ideas

Provocateurs With Big Ideas

By OZY Editors

Bel Pesce


OZY’s about being more and seeing more.

By OZY Editors

You’ve heard it before: a rags-to-riches story, the mind-numbing, self-congratulatory tale of someone else’s success. It can be deathly to have to listen to, or even jealousy-inducing.

But what if someone else’s big idea could be your next big idea?

That could be the case with plenty more people at the top of their field than you’d guess. From biz leaders to therapists to doctors, perhaps more about success and big thoughts are transferable than we’ve let ourselves believe. These are our picks for the people who gave us the most to think about this year. 

An American Abroad

Bill McDermott is a Yank running one of the biggest, most important companies in Germany: SAP Software Solutions. The global corporation, which has been around since the 1970s, making Facebook look like a toddler, has long been run by German countrymen. But what makes McDermott an even unlikelier candidate for the job is that his background isn’t in engineering but in slick-talking sales. For years, he had a partner-in-crime, a whip-smart engineer named Jim Hagemann Snabe. Snabe’s now on the company’s advisory board, leaving McDermott in charge. OZY profiled McDermott back in July; since then the company has made a major play for the cloud and he released an autobiographical book in October.

Importing Ideas from the Third World

We heard the notion of “reverse” innovation championed in a few different places this year. The two people who best espouse it are an engineering professor and one of the world’s rising star economists. Beth Kolko, the engineering prof, runs an innovation company called Shift Labs, which takes med-tech that’s standard in the global south and adapts it for first-world needs, like cheaper ultrasounds or infusion pumps. That preps rich countries for potential disaster — and also gets top talent building and funding devices that can work for more people. 

Click on the links to read OZY’s full stories on each of these topics.

Peter sitting on chair next to window in suit and tie with sunshine flooding through to wall behind him

Peter Blair Henry, Dean of NYU’s Stern School of Business.

The economist is the alarmingly young Peter Blair Henry, the dean of NYU Stern’s Business School and the author of Turnaround: Third World Lessons for First World Growth. The former Big Ten football recruit turned econ geek says we’ve been missing some of the best sources for wisdom when it comes to financial recovery. Specifically: We bet you haven’t asked yourself what Chile and Barbados did to rebound. That’s what Henry did, and he found that some small countries that committed to fiscal discipline were able to recover better than even big ones, who should have had better resources and bigger brain trusts.

And Maybe It’s OK to Be Touchy-Feely …

If you ask Brazil’s Oprah, Bel Pesce, she’s likely to give you an inspirational squeeze and an emphatic YES! The MIT grad is one of the most classic incarnations of the new tech world — a management science major rather than an entrepreneur, she’s made her way by networking, building connections and, quite literally, inspiring. A great gig, and an example of the power of turning a cult following into a family.

Or … Throw a Party, and the Money Will Follow

Then again, maybe the handiest route to fame and fortune of all is to throw a simple party. Or, a not-so-simple one. Miami-dwelling Mike Gardner is the city of heat’s Great Gatsby: the man at the center of all the glittering nightlife, and the man who knows everyone worth knowing. Athletes. Musicians. Everyone who belongs in a limo. Check, check, check. The Heat. Michael Jordan. Mariah Carey. Jay-Z. All from being the man with the fun, vice and popped bottles in hand.