Xi Jinping, Taylor Swift, William McRaven: Fortune magazine’s year of turnings

This past week, Fortune magazine brought forth its annual list of the “World’s Greatest Leaders: 50 intrepid guides for a messy world.” They may not all necessarily be “leaders” in the conventional sense but rather important archetypal or representative figures; pilot fish in a world in transition and the world is always in transition. But more than Academy Awards, more than the Nobel Prizes, more than presidential races and self-appointed awards, more than academic and “elders” committees which come as Epimethean afterthoughts in hopes of forging history in hindsight, they do tend to suggest Promethean forethought, telling of what lies ahead through the glass darkly.

We wake up in the morning in one era; by afternoon a millennium has arisen. This may be that year of turning. There are no American political leaders of major national significance in any of the 50 spots of Fortune‘s listing this year. Instead, No. 3 goes to Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China. No. 5 is Narendra Modi, prime minister of India.

Fortune‘s tea-leaf readings may buttress the observation of Kishore Mahbubani of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy who wrote this month regarding China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: “Some events are epochal. The decision by Great Britain to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was one such event. It may have heralded the end of the American century and the arrival of the Asian century.”

{mosads}Pope Francis was No. 1 in 2014 and still holds as No. 4 this year. No. 2 last year was Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. “Merkel may be the most successful national leader in the world today,” they write. This year she did not make the top 50 cut at all, nor did President Obama, nor did anyone named Clinton. And Bill was No. 5 last year.

Aung San Suu Kyi, chair of the National League for Democracy, was No. 6 last year. Bono was No. 8, one ahead of the Dalai Lama. None of the three were included this year.

There were of course great hoots when Taylor Swift was named as No. 6 and first among women in Fortune‘s list this year. But there could not have been a more intuitive choice for the rising zeitgeist. Among her many credits, Swift wrote and performed “Safe & Sound,” the haunting anthem for the movie version of Suzanne Collins’s dangerous and perceptive trilogy, The Hunger Games.

Tech and new economy hold dominance this year. Tim Cook, captain of Apple, is the significant No. 1, but there might be the tendency for these groups to begin to move toward the back of the list. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, was No. 10 last year and is No. 27 this year.

There is one toward the back of the list this year who could move up: Retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, No. 35.

McRaven is chancellor of University of Texas, Austin, and was formerly commander of the United States Special Operations Command and leader of the group that took down Osama bin Laden. It had been rumored around Special Ops that he was retiring from service to run as the vice presidential candidate with Hillary Clinton, but he appears on Fortune‘s list this year and she does not.

The Democrats who may be interested in the presidency in 2016 — Hillary Clinton, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and the others (Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry) — all hover around Boston, New York, the Nantucket beaches and the Atlantic states, apparently driven by Newton’s law: Every object follows uniform motion unless compelled to change. While among Republicans there are at least five Texans or former Texans (former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Rand Paul and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina) who want to be president in 2016.

Democrats need a Texan. If they drafted McRaven for 2016, it would suddenly get interesting.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at

Tags Angela Merkel Aung San Suu Kyi Bill Clinton Bono Fortune magazine Hillary Clinton Jeff Bezos Narendra Modi Pope Francis Taylor Swift Texas Tim Cook William McRaven Xi Jinping
See all Hill.TV See all Video