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Big Wheels Turning
Capitalism not only won, it turned into a marvelous machine of prosperity, led by people who could take an idea and turn it into an industry

With those words, this magazine's co-founder joined Calvin Coolidge ("The chief business of the American people is business"), former General Motors president Charles E. Wilson ("What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country") and, alas, Wall Street's Gordon Gekko ("Greed ... is good. Greed is right. Greed works") in defining and defending the 20th century as the century of business.

This issue, TIME's third in a series of five that chronicles the 100 most influential people of the century, is devoted to the 20 remarkable builders and titans who most embody capitalism and its triumphs. It also creates the occasion for this writer, who has covered business for more than three of this century's decades, to make a few observations and bestow a few honors of his own.

From Henry Ford at one end of the century to Bill Gates at the other, these 20 people influenced lives far beyond the business world. Indeed, TIME defines the business realm broadly, including anyone who works for a living, and our list extends to the world of sports and the National Football League's Pete Rozelle, organized labor and the United Auto Workers' Walter Reuther, and even organized crime's Lucky Luciano, whose syndicate was certainly better managed than was Al Capone's.

It is no accident that our list is almost entirely American. It does include Sony's Akio Morita, and it arguably could include a handful of other leaders from abroad, notably Japan's Soichiro Honda and Eiji Toyoda (Toyota), Italy's Giovanni Agnelli (Fiat) and Australia's Rupert Murdoch (now a U.S. citizen). But if the 20th century was, as Luce also said, the American Century, it was largely because our system, espousing freedom of markets and freedom of the individual, rewarding talent instead of class and pedigree, bred a group of leaders whose single-minded fixation on getting rich--and creating great products in the process--led to unheard-of levels of productivity and prosperity. It was America's industrial might that enabled it to win wars and rebuild continents. Other countries may have had the capital, the natural resources or the skilled workers needed to industrialize, but their economic and political systems usually favored consensus management and faceless bureaucrats while denigrating the kind of individual initiative required to take an idea and turn it into an industry. The 21st century will no doubt include a larger number of great business leaders from outside the U.S. as more nations embrace capitalism and come to understand the importance of rewarding individual initiative.

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Visit the TIME 100 site: 20 top Builders and Titans


December 7, 1998

Capitalism not only won, it turned into a marvelous machine of prosperity, led by people who could take an idea and turn it into an industry

America's kindly uncle ruthlessly redrew the world

He didn't dream up the future, but he took advantage of it

Sony's chairman made "Made in Japan" a proud label

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL LIST's special report on 20 top tycoons and innovators

This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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