Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The pecking order of power

The annual Forbes list of the world's most powerful people is a key benchmark of global clout

Sourav Majumdar
Published: Nov 27, 2015 06:25:36 AM IST
Updated: Nov 24, 2015 05:23:39 PM IST

Power has many dimensions. It is a difficult word to define, more so when one has to consider people from across geographies and from various disciplines—politics and government, business, finance, philanthropy, religion and even crime. That is why the annual Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people is a key benchmark of global clout, listing some of the most important political leaders, industrialists and influencers of our times.

The pecking order of power
To arrive at this year’s list of 73 of the world’s most powerful, Forbes considered hundreds of potential candidates and measured them across four key parameters: How many people they have power over, how much money they control, whether their power extends across multiple regions, industries or aspects of life, and how actively they wield that power. These candidates are then voted upon by a panel of Forbes editors to reach the final list. Not surprisingly, this year’s power list comprises many who routinely grab international headlines, control vast sums of money or wield enormous influence on people. It’s a fascinating set. Russian President Vladimir Putin emerges as the world’s most powerful person for the third time in a row, followed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who’s up three spots from last year to No. 2. Merkel topples US President Barack Obama, who slips one place to No. 3.

From India’s standpoint, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who continues to receive rockstar receptions around the world, is in the top 10 at No. 9. Despite political challenges at home, Modi’s power and influence as a political figure of global stature is on the rise, and his position in this year’s list is evidence of that clout. The only other Indian in this list of 73 is Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, at No. 36.

Jack Ma, the subject of our cover story and the boss of the $200 billion Alibaba empire, is at No. 22. Ma’s is a fairytale rise, from being a schoolteacher to becoming one of the most powerful internet billionaires in the world. But even as his empire grows, he has battles to fight: His Taobao online marketplace is also home to thousands of entrepreneurs who sell counterfeits of some of the best-known brands in the world. Ma has to strike a balance between continuing to be a credible market for the world’s biggest and most respected brands and staying an icon and a hero to the several small Chinese business owners whose livelihoods depend on the market he has created. How Alibaba plays out this balancing act may well decide the fate of thousands of Chinese and also Ma’s empire.

Sourav Majumdar
Editor, Forbes India
Twitter id:@TheSouravM    

(This story appears in the 11 December, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)