Technology seemed especially relevant in 2010, what with The Social Network's blockbuster receipts and mass mania for Apple's iPad and iPhone 4. The newfound attention helped turned some techies into genuine stars — while lending others real worldwide infamy.
Steve Jobs, Apple: The scope of Steve Jobs' gains in 2010 is truly impressive. People bought more than 8 million iPads after the Apple CEO shipped the tablet computer in April; a device no one imagined needing in 2009 now outsells Apple's flagship Macintosh. Jobs' previous creation, the iPhone, doubled 2009 unit sales and now generates half of Apple's revenue. Apple stock is up 50 percent year over year; profits, 70 percent.
Then there's Jobs' growing influence outside of tech. In 2010 old-school media moguls had to worry if he might get them fired or publicly embarrassed as they raced to replace technologies he didn't like and submit to his bans on political cartoons, gay literature, racy fashion spreads, and other "porn."
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook: Like his counterpart at Apple, Facebook's CEO would not be slowed down by controversy and some well-earned criticism in 2010. Mark Zuckerberg's social network added its 500 millionth user, reportedly clocked about $2 billion in sales, took a $120 million investment, and was valued at $56 billion. And, oh yeah, Zuckerberg was the focus of $92 million grossing movie and was named Time's Man of the Year. Those might not be honors, exactly, but they're more than enough to make Zuckerberg the envy of Silicon Valley, if being the world's youngest billionaire wasn't already enough.
That's the context that makes Facebook's many 2010 privacy grabs look like speed bumps.
Larry Ellison, Oracle: Oracle's CEO will buy you, sue your friends, burn your bridges, promote a proven asshole to be your boss, flame mail you, and then steal your roller coaster tickets. Then he'll somehow make you apologize, in front of your future wife. This is how Larry Ellison rolls, in 2010.
Dick Costolo, Twitter: Twitter's former COO apparently wanted to be CEO so he could take the high-profile microblogging service public. He protested his disinterest in that gig up until the day he accepted it — and somehow got the guy he replaced to insist it was all his idea. Smooth.
Eric Schmidt, Google: This was supposed to be a big year for Google, which announced it would buck the recession and "invest heavily" in hiring and long-term growth. But it's looking like 2010 was a bust: The stock is flat; employees require monster, sometimes multimillion dollar bonuses to stick around; and at the end of the year it's not clear where Google is going with its staff of genius engineers and its spot at the very center of the internet. This year's crop of products don't provide much inspiration. Google Buzz launched with a privacy debacle and promptly went nowhere, while Google Wave got killed two months after launch. Google is also supposedly working on some kind of secret Facebook-killing product, but even the guy who invented Google's slogan doesn't think it will work.
Compounding these problems are CEO Eric Schmidt's creepy public statements in defense of his company, which just kept snowballing in 2010: Schmidt advised everyone to "just move" to evade his company's password-sniffing camera vans; suggested they plan for a future in which children change their names to escape his search engine; and added that people should be grateful that Google chooses not to do dangerous amazing things like predict the stock market . That Schmidt also this year demanded his mistress delete her Google blog only made these utterances all the more baffling.
His best hope for 2011 is that Google's co-founders, with whom he shares control of the company, are too busy with their jumbo jet, their young families and their side investments to breathe down his neck, or worse.
Charles Phillips, Oracle: Remember the "Charles & YaVaughnie" billboards? In January 2010, the tech world was captivated by mysterious outdoor advertisements featuring Oracle co-president Charles Phillips and a woman other than his wife named YaVaughnie Wilkins. A website advertised on the billboards revealed that the couple had carried on an affair of nearly 10 years. Phillips soon admitted to the "serious relationship" with Wiklins and said divorce proceedings with his wife Karen had been underway since 2008 (though he'd been attending events with his wife and singing her praises as recently as the prior month).
It seemed like Phillips might escape with his professional life intact. His boss was a notorious womanizer, after all. But in April he lost his Morgan Stanley board seat and in September he was replaced at Oracle.
Kevin Rose, Digg: Digg lost its mojo to Reddit in 2010, and the social news site's co-founder Kevin Rose deserves the blame. He was, after all, extremely hands on this year, taking over as CEO from Jay Adelson in April, pulling the trigger on a deeply unpopular redesign in August and then promptly handing off the CEO job to someone else just as September began. By the end of October Digg's traffic was way down, users were leaving en masse for Reddit and the Digg announced the layoff of 25 of 67 staff. Rose should hold tight to his pre-IPO Zynga and Twitter shares, because his Digg stake is worth less every day.
Honorary mention for making the best of a scandal:
Mark Hurd, Hewlett Packard/Oracle: As CEO of HP, Mark Hurd was charged with "misusing company" assets by fudging expense reports in connection with his dealings with a soft-core porn actress, who at one point accused him of sexual harrassment. This all came to light in August when Hurd publicly resigned over those issues. By September, however, Hurd was sitting on a sweet new gig as co-president of Oracle — plus between $14 million and $25 million in HP severance. Well played.