1. Home
  2. business
  3. Management & Leadership
  4. The top 10 most powerful brand leaders

The top 10 most powerful brand leaders

Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella and Jensen Huang aren’t just among the highest paid CEOs in tech, they’ve also made the 2024 Brand Guardianship Index. This indicates that brand leaders at the top of their game also drive significant growth for the businesses they lead.

Tencent, for instance, has come to dominate China’s technological landscape, while solidifying its reputation as one of the most financially valuable companies on the planet. Under Huateng Ma’s leadership, the company introduced a range of online lifestyle services all under one roof.

California-based NVIDIA, which ranked third in the index, recently joined the trillion-dollar club, thanks to Huang’s investment into powering the AI revolution.

Whether success boils down to the right strategy, financial expertise or a knack for being able to solve complex problems, the world’s top brand leaders have demonstrated that driving long-term value and impact doesn’t necessarily entail a one-size-fits-all approach.

Chanel CEO Leena Nair came in at 10th position overall and was the highest-ranking female CEO in the index. As only the second female CEO in the 100-plus year history of the French luxury retailer, Nair’s appointment and success demonstrates that there is clearly a shift toward embracing leaders who imbue established companies with a fresh perspective, coupled with a proven track record for driving excellence.

In the world of tech, however, brand leaders are not only diversifying their revenue streams, but thinking creatively about how to capitalize on the digital transformation wave through cloud-based subscriptions and comprehensive services.

The world’s most powerful brand leaders

1. Huateng Ma

Company: Tencent
Sector: Media
Country: China

With a net worth of US$37.5 billion, Ma is the fourth-wealthiest person in China and the 33rd wealthiest person in the world. Headquartered in Shenzhen in China, Tencent is one of the world’s largest internet companies that has had a noticeable impact on the Chinese market. Since the company was founded in 1998, the tech titan has surpassed the US$500 billion valuation mark – the first company in China to reach this milestone. The company’s expansive offering includes instant messaging, ecommerce sites, online media outlets, interactive entertainment and social networking.

2. Mukesh Ambani

Company: Reliance Group
Sector: Oil and Gas
Country: India

As the Chairman and Managing Director of India’s largest public company and exporter, Mukesh Ambani leads a diverse portfolio comprising oil and gas, retail, telecommunications and textiles. According to Forbes, Ambani has a net worth of US$112.2 billion as well as being named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019 within the Titans category. He is recognized for rolling out large-scale projects, including a new commerce platform that Ambani believes will significantly increase the size of Reliance by 2025.

3. Jensen Huang

Company: NVIDIA
Sector: Tech
Country: United States

NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang co-founded the California-based business in the early 1990s. However, since its inception, it has transformed from a manufacturer of computer processors to a leader in AI. With a recorded revenue of US$27 billion last year, NVIDIA is doing particularly well, thanks to increasing demand for graphics processing units (GPUs) that are required to train AI models. NVIDIA also develops the software and hardware needed to bring ChatGPT to life.

4. Tim Cook

Company: Apple
Sector: Tech
Country: United States

Since taking over the reins of Apple as CEO in 2011, Tim Cook led Apple to become the first company in the world with a US$3 trillion valuation. Prior to this, Cook was Vice President of Corporate Materials for Compaq. His democratic style of leadership is conducive to bringing out the best work from employees and keeping them motivated. Rather than micromanage and drive innovation, Cook is known to capitalize on the company’s existing strengths and encourage consensus building. Cook has a net worth of US$1.9 billion, according to Forbes data.

5. Natarajan Chandrasekaran

Company: Tata Sons
Sector: Engineering & Construction
Country: India

Natarajan Chandrasekaran’s three-decade-long career with Tata Consultancy Services led to him rising through the ranks as CEO, Managing Director and now Chair, where he uses his influence to drive sustainability and digital outcomes. With a market cap of US$179 billion, Tata Consultancy Services has established itself as a valuable company within India as well as on the world stage. In recent years, the Group has also been strengthening its aviation presence with its four airlines: Air India, Air India Express, AIX Connect and Vistara.

6. Anish Shah

Company: Mahindra
Sector: Automobiles
Country: India

As the Managing Director of  Mahindra & Mahindra, a conglomerate worth approximately US$24 billion, and CEO of the Mahindra Group, Anish Shah oversees all the Group’s businesses, which span across 20 industries and 100-plus countries. Having previously led the transformation of GE Capital India in his role as CEO, Shah’s focus is on driving value creation and purpose. In championing Mahindra’s ‘Rise’ philosophy, Shah also plays a pivotal role in giving back to communities that need the most support. Last year, Shah was ranked among Fortune India’s Best CEOs.

7. Shantanu Narayen

Company: Adobe
Sector: Tech
Country: United States

With a net worth that exceeds US$280 billion, Adobe is one of the leading and most diversified software companies in the world, and Narayen has served as CEO since 2007. From introducing a cloud-based subscription model for its creative suite to the acquisition of Macromedia and Omniture, and being recognized as a Great Place to Work and a Most Admired Company by Fortune are just a handful of accomplishments under Narayen’s leadership. As a holder of five patents, Narayen believes in following his instincts, and is quoted as saying, "If it feels right, it should work out". Previously, he held product development roles at Apple and Silicon Graphics.

8. Sundar Pichai

Company: Google
Sector: Media
Country: United States

Since joining Google in 2004, Sundar Pichai spearheaded product management and innovation efforts for Google’s client software products, before moving up the ranks to hold the prestigious title of CEO for both Google and its holding company, Alphabet, in 2019. He’s also one of the highest-paid CEOs, earning US$226 million in 2022. More recently, Pichai has been steering the trillion-dollar company toward AI.

9. Satya Nadella

Company: Microsoft
Sector: Tech
Country: United States

Having reached the US$3 trillion milestone, Microsoft ranks as the second-most valuable company in the world after Apple. This achievement comes after Nadella made a multi-billion dollar investment in AI last year ahead of its competitors, which highlights Microsoft as a leading tech innovator. "We’re no longer just talking about innovation in the abstract; we’re seeing real product-making, deployment and productivity gains," Nadella told CNN Business in December last year.

10. Leena Nair

Company: Chanel
Sector: Apparel
Country: France

The announcement of Chanel’s first Indian-origin Global CEO in January 2022 marked a progressive milestone for the iconic luxury fashion house. With a 25-year tenure at Unilever, Nair’s perspective is informed by decades of experience in human resources and shaping company culture. Nair has been recognized as one of India’s Most Powerful Women by Fortune in 2021 while Queen Elizabeth II acknowledged Nair as one of the most accomplished Indian business leaders in Britain.

"I’ve been the first at every job I’ve done. The first woman, the first brown person, the first Asian, the first Indian – but I don’t want to be the last, and I am going to try and make it easier for those who come after me," Nair told The Wall Street Journal after her appointment.

Inspiring The Business World