10 Men With the Capacity to Change the World

A look at 10 powerful men who have grown to become better people who in turn, better our lives.

We continue to seek leaders among movers and shakers capable of making a difference. Who is out there, we ask, in these bleak times to govern, protect and prosper? Here is a look at some men who have proven able to rise to challenging tasks, become better people with stances of substance, and capable of changing our world in a myriad number of positive ways.

1. Steve Jobs

We can’t help but think of Apple founder Steve Jobs, the single most important figure to date to spring from Silicon Valley, who leaves behind an enormous legacy after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer at 56. Likened to titans Ford and Edison by The Globe and Mail, he lives on in downloaded songs, finger swipes and sleek white headphones – “a man whose vision ended up disrupting almost every creative and commercial industry on Earth” thereby changing the earth as we know it. While cynics have said there is a special place in hell for technology peddlers who insure gadgets are readily replaced, Jobs gave us the convenience factor which made it easier to do what we do most: cyber speak.

It appeared everything he touched turned to gold, from the Macintosh and mouse to the iPad and Pixar. True, he changed the world with his visionary acumen but also the world changed him as he confronted his mortality, telling a graduating class of Stanford University grads that the notion of dying was the biggest catapult in following his heart. “It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

He also cited his firing from Apple at age 30 after taking the company from a fledgling computer brainstorm built in a garage to a $2 billion giant with over 4,000 employees as the best thing that ever happened to him. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. ”

2. Louis Rossetto

The co-founder of  Wired Magazine  has been called a Fair Trade Willie Wonka for his success of adapting Silicon Valley start up tools to the chocolate industry. Rossetto became the first investor and then CEO of TCHO, launched in 2005 on the premise that chocolate should be measured by flavor and not percentage of cacao content, using the Flavor Wheel approach established by NASA contractor Timothy Childs and chocolate industry veteran Karl Bittong.

Shifting the focus to taste and flavor labs and cutting out notorious slave labor practices on plantations in the Ivory Coast and elsewhere, TCHO collaborates with growers and co-ops in cacao-producing countries like Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, teaching growers how to improve methods and secure better prices. “It’s the lowest-cost, most-efficient technology to get the job done,” Rossetto says about the labs, adding it’s not unlike grape growing in Napa Valley where growers can either sell commodity table grapes or get top dollar for premium wine grapes for really good wineries.

The producers now sell from 75 cents up to $8 and margins, boasting big customers like Whole Foods and Starbucks. Across the globe, the chocolate is sold at famous restaurants like Mario Batali’s chain and at Paul Young in London and Fresh and Fresh in Japan. It’s also sold on its website. In 2010, sales were up eight percent across the spectrum and expected to reach double-digit millions and beyond by 2012. First revenues for TCHO started below $1 million in 2009 and tripled last year – demonstrating that fair trade and organic is viable if well supported by believers. Rossetto got friends and family to invest. Today, TCHO produces 10 to 20 tons of chocolate every few weeks from its factory in the heart of San Francisco.

3. Blake Mycoskie

Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes was a kid kicking around in Argentina when the light went off – footwear is a basic need like water and air, and many are without the coverage to protect their feet from harsh environs. He not only launched a fashion movement (the new must-have uniform of school girls) but a charitable movement – distributing over 600,000 pairs of new shoes in 2010 to kids in need through giving partners around the globe.

What changed in him in 2006? Prior to that he demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit starting five businesses before TOMS including a national campus laundry service. Most visionaries see a  hole needing filling, but with TOMS, he changed the way much of the industry sees its role – the ability not to just churn out profits but also to help children around the world. As a result, others are following suit with programs like the Good Shoe Project introduced by Payless ShoeSource and World Vision and the Shoes2Spare project.

The bottom line for the man behind the little shoe that could? Stuff doesn’t make you happy. “When I started distributing shoes in Ethiopia, South Africa, and South America, I saw that the people had so little, yet seemed to worry so much less than my friends and family back home,” he says. “Instead of stressing over gadgets, they were talking around the campfire.”

 4. Michael Moore

Clearly not everyone’s cup of tea –  Michael Moore can rub audiences and subjects the wrong way with his overwrought hubris, and that is entirely the point. But as he ages, he is learning to be a less obnoxious man of the people, something that has overshadowed supporters and detractors alike as his provocations drew attention away from the filmmaker with a focus on the film character. As one of his fellow filmmakers sees it: “Moore is a genius, who created an entire genre of documentary film making using the reflexive mode, and I view him as a pamphleteer, say a modern Thomas Paine, who says provocative things that aren’t always meant to be taken literally.”

Not the academic ilk of a Kevin Burns nor the inconspicuous diplomacy of Michael Apted, Moore has changed in the way he doesn’t so much get in your face and slap it silly but continues to rock the boat like no other documentary film maker, not exposing tainted meat and animal cruelty as much as exposing our inexcusable apathy in accepting corporate crime, insurance fraud, imperialism via drummed up invasions and tolerance of school bullies.

Is it any wonder he joined protesters staging Occupy Wall Street? Coming to their aid, he said “What you see here, and what you’re seeing across the country, are millions of people who’ve had it.” Moore promised to donate proceeds from his book, Here Comes Trouble, to their effort and to deliver wi-fi to the park and to other demonstrations being held across the nation. “I’ll do what I can do,” he offered, “because these bankers overplayed their hand. They were already rich, but filthy rich wasn’t enough. They are trying to turn our democracy from a democracy into a kleptocracy.”

The Flint native and so-called poster boy for the working class does boast nearly 900,000 Twitter followers who have been stirred and shaken by his bawdy cocktails like Stupid White Men and Fahrenheit 911. And while critics have tried to expose Moore as a hypocrite for owning a million-dollar apartment or sending his child to private school,  Moore remains a bigger than life figure who gets us to think.

 5. Dr. Mehmet Oz

“Who is the new great and powerful Oz?” asked the New York Post about the heart surgeon in scrubs who has taken over Oprah’s time slot and the health-bound viewing audience by storm. Described as a genuine medical folk hero in the making by turning genital warts and controversial diets like HCG into entertainment, the TV doc goes further than Dr. Phil by bypassing tabloid tactics in favor of a bare bones anatomy lecture. Like most successful physicians, he started out wanting a good career without fame, but has become the ear for a world obsessed with dieting, aging, longevity and stress, spending 40 minutes answering studio audience questions which many other arrogant doctors would dismiss out of hand or tell patients they don’t need to know the answers.

“Folks are desperate to have a relationship with their healer,” he says. “Marcus Welby is dead today, and they want a regular doctor who they can have a dialogue with and get truthful answers from. I reach a whole lot of people this way.”

As close to a regular guy as a rock star TV celeb can get, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and four kids and considers himself a hermit who shaves rarely, plays basketball with friends and meditates.  One of his assets is his listening skills – which shouldn’t be undermined as most of us are starved for listeners to our complaints and concerns. A big sign of his ability to change us – patients quoting his advice when visiting their own internists. If Dr. Oz thinks something is kosher, then it probably is kosher.

6. Douglas Holtz-Eakins

Who doesn’t love a conservative who changes his course when needed? Among the new directions in the sails of the conservative economist, praising the once debunked American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as a stimulus that operated exactly as intended, growing the economy and spawning millions of jobs. The former Congressional Budget Office director and former chief economic advisor to Sen John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, pledged in August to throw support behind the bill.

Meantime, while the Tea Party elements insist global warming is a science fiction concept, Holtz-Eakin is now working with the New Hampshire-based Clean Air-Cool planet, addressing the economic benefits of addressing the very real issue. One proposal that entices him is tax-swapping, imposing a levy on carbon emissions while eliminating the payroll tax.

“We have watched with foreboding as powerful forces in the Republican Party want to close down this debate and reject the idea that this is a problem that needs to be solved,” says Brooks Yeager of the climate policy advocacy group. “Our interest in working with someone like Douglas, who has enormous credibility in conservative ranks and economists and agrees with our fundamental position that needs to be solved, is that he is exceptionally well positioned to reopen this debate.”

7. John Stewart

First, he changed his name from John Leibowitz, then he changed his game from his breakthrough comedy role on The Larry Sanders show to the serious business of changing mainstream media. The Daily Show with John Stewart is highly respected for its moxie in telling it like it is while everyone else tiptoes through the tulips and kisses the backsides of corporate sponsors. Or, as aptly put by Hub Brown of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University: “The stock-in-trade of The Daily Show is hypocrisy exposing hypocrisy and nobody else has the guts to do it. They really know how to crystallize an issue on all sides, see the silliness everywhere.” A prime example was second guessing the war in Iraq while mainstream press was towing the line of national leaders. Stewart decided to take them to task, lampooning Bush policies.

The Comedy Central staple has scored nine consecutive Emmy awards  validating that yes, perhaps the industry has a liberal slant, but also that the truth hurts less than we think when it comes to bashing the Tea Party or even criticizing our leaders, including President Obama’s failure to make inroads with a ridiculously stubborn congress. “Conditions are what they are and Obama is president,” says the host. “You are judged by how well you negotiate those conditions, not by how excusable the shitty end result is based on that it’s difficult.”

 8. Brad Pitt

While some of our moms refuse to forgive him for what he did to Jen, Pitt has revamped his image from willing victim of a home wrecker to determined home repairer in New Orleans. There has been much banter of him there switching to politics, as he rubs shoulders with Nancy Pelosi and the Chief on the New Orleans Housing Project while his better half works for UNICEF.

It’s an accepted fact no one wields more clout than celebs like Pitt who have huge followings among all age groups and tremendous visibility. While Dave Eggers’ poignant prose draws attention to the flood aftermath in Zeitoun, Pitt is allegedly considered a great mayoral candidate of the city – but it is one of many causes he embraces which led Newsweek Magazine to list him as one of 15 People Who Make America Great. Among his contributions is shedding light on neglected causes in Africa as cameras follow him wherever he and his extended family travel. This was the thinking when he and Jolie say they sold the first picture of their daughter, Shiloh, to People magazine for a reported $4million saying all proceeds would go to charity.

“Knowing that someone was going to hound us for that first photo — and was going to profit immensely for doing it — I just couldn’t live with it,” Pitt told the magazine. “We were able to turn that around and collect millions for people who are really going to need it.” Now as he makes the round to plug his film Moneyball, interviews on NPR and elsewhere highlight the intellectual Pitt – whose sensitivity emerges in the film, just as it did in Benjamin Button illustrating old dogs can learn new tricks at any time.

9. Warren Buffett

Read his lips: Yes, new taxes!!! And please let my rich friends step up to the plate. Billionaire Buffett- who inspired Obama’s millionaires’ tax – challenged owner of Fox News Rupert Murdoch to make his own federal tax returns public, after admitting he pays a lower rate than his secretary and the government should stop coddling the super rich “as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species.” A recent CBS news poll showed most Americans agree with Buffett including many who have taken to those Wall Street protests. Militant conservatives are up in arms about it – no doubt viewing Buffett more of a trader than hero, but hero he is for more ways than one.

His stock went way up when joining forces with Bill Gates to urge the wealthy to join the campaign Giving Pledge and to give away at least half of their fortunes during their lifetimes or after their deaths. The 80-year-old Berkshire Hathaway CEO who wants to work past age 100 is famous for maintaining a frugal lifestyle – living in the same home he bought in Omaha in 1958. But his change has come in the way of being much more bold and out there, so to speak, despite how he might be viewed by fellow rich guys and their heirs. As a philanthropist he has set the bar and in seeking more revenues to fund programs, he shows not all billionaires are out for personal gain.

 10. Van Jones

There were such high hopes when Jones became the top green man in the White House – only succumbing to a malicious Tea Party campaign and resigning. “It has been a tough couple of years,” Jones  confessed. “We went from hope to heartbreak in about a minute…We have the wrong theory of the presidency.”

So he is a changed man for the better in terms of seeing bureaucracy only muddles progress. He is now the leading evangelist of the American Dream Movement in partnership with his own organization, Rebuild the Dream – something he told Alternet was for real progressives in 2012 with the goal to train a million new leaders.

“We’re just glad that the volcano is starting to erupt,” he shares. ” We just want to fight. And there are some pre-existing grassroots assets that need to be re-aligned or redeployed; we’re trying to do that here.” The plan calls for house meetings (with real leadership) as well as protests, networking leaders online and locating dream candidates.  Jones sees his new mission as a social battle like no other in history.

“This is thrilling stuff! The dream-killers on Wall Street — who are so disgusting and so despicable; they are ingrates who are sitting up there laughing at us. I mean, every other bloc of capital that has this much weight, they try to do something to make you like them. Even the polluters, they say, ‘We’ll get clean coal.’ They try to do something. But these people on Wall Street – they just don’t care. So it’s just going to be an epic battle now between the worst people in America, the most selfish people in America, and the most selfless. And that’s going to be amazing.”

Images: Acaben; TCHO; Kwaku Alston; Shankbone; Nayrb7; Atlantic; The jointsstaff; Giving; Tedizen; Americanprogressaction, gadgetdude

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.