10 Big Thinkers for Big Business

THOMAS MIDDELHOFF

It's not a glamorous comeback. After all, the last time Thomas Middelhoff sat in the corner office, he was one of the top dealmakers of the Internet bubble years, buying up companies for one of the world's great media conglomerates, Bertelsmann A. G. His ambitions eventually backfired when Bertelsmann's controlling Mohn family bucked his move to take the company public. In 2002, Middelhoff was ousted. And so his appointment this May as CEO of KarstadtQuelle, a large but downtrodden German retailer, came as both a comedown and a surprise, since second chances are rare in corporate Europe. Now his own re-emergence as head of a 13 billion euro giant could be taken as a sign of what he says Europe still needs in its corporate leaders: "courage."

Middelhoff, who proclaims himself "an American at heart," is referring not only to the obvious need for further macroeconomic reform in sclerotic economies like Germany and France, but also the need for European businesses to embrace new people and ideas, as well as bigger, more global visions. That process was underway in the late '90s, when outspoken young leaders like Middelhoff and Vivendi's Jean-Marie Messier shot to power, embracing the promise of the Internet and challenging old-fashioned corporate hierarchies. When the bubble burst, there was plenty of schadenfreude about the demise of the "celebrity CEOs." Yet in many ways, Middelhoff, who made English the official language of Bertelsmann and did away with stodgy titles like "Herr Docktor," was simply ahead of his time. Sure, he made some bad moves, like paying $340 million for Fast Company magazine and giving Napster a $50 million loan. Bol.com, his online bookseller, was a flop. But nobody could argue with the $7 billion he made selling the company's stake in AOL Europe at the top of the market. Meanwhile, Middelhoff says (accurately) that his vision of convergence in digital media is becoming a reality, and it's too late to do many big deals. "Is it possible for the bigger media companies today to buy eBay or iTunes? I don't think so."

The larger question for Europe is whether it should turn back to visionary leaders after a postbubble embrace of more quiet types. "The only way Europe is going to be able to compete with Asia is by breaking the rules," says Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology at Lancaster University Management School in the U. K.

That's certainly what's needed at KarstadtQuelle. The company, a 125-year-old household name in Germany, owns Europe's largest department-store chain, its second-largest mail-order group and the second-largest travel group (Thomas Cook). But sales at the dowdily middle-market deparment stores have been falling at a rate of 3 percent to 5 percent a year. The mail-order business, threatened by Internet players like eBay, is losing even more. The volume of red ink is probably one reason Middelhoff, who has no retail experience, got the job. "His appointment is an example of the new trend in Europe toward bringing in outside CEOs, especially when there's a problem," notes Alan Gemes, a vice president at Booz Allen in London.

Market reaction has been mixed, reflecting Europe's lingering fear of outsiders and Middelhoff's reputation. Some see him as the rare German executive with the brass to pull off such a turnaround. Others say his tendency to "polarize people" could be a drawback. In any case, he's got the support of Madeleine Schickedanz, the Quelle family matriarch, who's been buying up KarstadtQuelle stock fast since Middelhoff came on board.

The man whose motto is "speed, speed, speed" has already embarked on a 100-day turnaround plan that involves closing 75 stores, cutting 5,700 workers, revamping back-office operations and expanding the Internet-catalog and mail-order businesses. The remaining stores, says Middelhoff, will become "trendy, modern consumer temples." Whether Middelhoff fails again or not, the very fact that he's been given a chance to try again says something positive about corporate Europe.

MASATOSHI KUMAGAI

The moment you step into the reception area of GMO Internet, on the 11th floor of a posh Tokyo skyscraper, you're hit by the sickly sweet fumes wafting from dozens of flowerpots. They're gifts congratulating the company on its new listing on the prestigious first tier of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. This sort of bounty is a tradition in Japan, one that's usually showered upon aged CEOs who have spent decades climbing the career ladder. The man in charge of GMO, Masatoshi Kumagai, is different: a 41-year-old high-school dropout who got his start by managing one of his dad's enterprises: a pachinko parlor. "I was 17 or 18, and I had to give orders to people who were in their 30s and 40s. I learned a lot because I failed miserably," he says.

These days his group, the outgrowth of a multimedia communications company he founded back in 1991, is an investor darling and a paragon of Japan's new economy, albeit no giant. GMO's market capitalization of $1.5 billion puts it at No. 11 among Japanese Internet businesses. What's impressive is its 2004 operating profit of $26 million, up 33 percent from 2003; Hiroshi Naya, a senior analyst at Tokyo's Ichiyoshi Research Institute, expects a 66 percent rise in 2005. Naya says that investors like GMO because Kumagai "runs a very sound operation and realizes steady growth. It's remarkable in the Internet business, where things move in such quick cycles."

GMO has done it by focusing on providing what Kumagai calls "Internet for everyone." It's a radical departure in an industry where most companies obsess over tightly focusing their strategies. GMO, by contrast, offers customers everything from online security and settlement systems to domain registration, server rentals and Web-site design. "It isn't exactly cradle to grave, but we offer a one-stop service for everything you need to run a Web site," says Kumagai. "I don't know of anyone else in the world who has a model like ours." He estimates that GMO is now working with one third of all Japanese companies that have a presence on the Web.

Kumagai's excellent Internet adventure started 10 years ago with InterQ, a small Internet service provider. But he soon realized that he wouldn't be able to compete with cash-heavy competitors on that front, and shifted to providing the nuts and bolts that would make Web sites run, for individual users as well as companies. To make it happen, Kumagai developed an ambitious but low-conflict strategy known as "mild M&A." Unlike Japanese Web giants Rakuten or Livedoor, Kumagai doesn't take 100 percent stakes in targeted firms; he prefers to let existing management continue to hold equity ownership and delegates as much management responsibility to them as he can. His GMO group now has 22 companies under its wing. How does he pick his targets? "I'm the kind of man who concentrates on one thing through and through. We invest in a company that helps our strategy, helps us increase the number of Web sites. That's it."

Kumagai has also forged an alternate career as a best- selling author. His first book, "With One Notebook Your Dream Will Always Come True" (March 2004), described how he used a Filofax to plan his life and business--sometimes decades in advance. (Among other things, he once decided he was 10 kilos overweight, and proceeded to slim down by two kilos a year until he reached his target.) The book has sold 126,000 copies.

On his company's future Kumagai says only that he's "interested in Internet-content business and Internet financing" and sees huge room for growth. He recently invested in eBank, an online bank, and Nippon Shinko Bank, which lends unsecured loans to small businesses. "Do you know how many Japanese businesses have their own Web sites?" asks Kumagai. "Only one in six--1 million out of the total of 6.35 million." His mission, he says, is "to help them all."

JUAN JOSE GUTIERREZ

Juan Jose Gutierrez has never set foot in China or Indonesia. But that didn't stop the president of the fast-food chain Pollo Campero ("Country-Style Chicken") from announcing plans earlier this month to move into those Asian markets. The first of as many as 500 China stores is due to open in Shanghai by the end of this year. China has become a "mecca" for businesses all over the world, says Gutierrez, 47. "As Latin American businessmen we asked ourselves, 'Why not us?' "

Not many businessmen from small Latin nations have ever asked that question. Pollo Campero hails from tiny Guatemala, yet is the most ambitious international restaurant chain from any Latin nation, large or small. While some Mexican chains and Venezuela's Churromania have entered the U.S. market, Gutierrez reckons he is the first to target Asia. Highly successful in Guatemala and neighboring Latin markets, Pollo Campero followed its Central American customers along immigration routes to U.S. cities like Houston, Dallas and New York. It now has 196 stores in nine countries, employing nearly 7,000 people and generating annual revenue of $300 million. But Asia is Gutierrez's first move outside Central America and its diaspora, and represents a quantum leap in ambition and risk. Bob Sandelman, the head of a southern California consumer-research firm, says Pollo Campero "does seem a bit like a fish out of water with no Latin American population in China."

A balding, diminutive father of four, Gutierrez and his executives cite several reasons to expect a smooth swim in Asia. One is the worldwide fascination with Latino culture, food and celebrities, for which U.S. franchise operations chief Rodolfo Jimenez sees an unmet demand in Asia. Another reason: that killer chicken recipe. Pollo Campero didn't even have to sell itself in Indonesia: a major Indonesia restaurant company badgered it for franchise rights for two years. In China, Kentucky Fried Chicken has set up 1,200 stores since arriving in 1987, proving there's a huge market for fried chicken. And Pollo Campero has gone head to head with the American giant before: KFC tried to crack the Guatemalan market shortly after Pollo Campero was founded by Gutierrez's father in 1971, and couldn't.

Gutierrez, who was 16 when his father Dionisio died in a plane crash in 1974, took over Pollo Campero eight years later. His first move into the United States failed after a year, when the company-owned restaurant in Miami was quickly dragged down by a weak understanding of the local market and high employee turnover. The failure taught Gutierrez the advantages of franchising over direct ownership, and led to the opening of an international franchising arm in the mid-1990s.

The company's first franchises were in Central America and built on a fiercely loyal customer base. At airport stores in Guatemala City and San Salvador, U.S.-bound passengers stuffed duffel bags with Pollo Campero chicken as a treat for stateside relatives. Some even stocked up in order to resell the spicy chicken for a profit in American cities. When planes on these routes began to smell of chicken, executives of one carrier asked Pollo Campero to use scent-proof packaging. Pollo Campero declined, but the episode inspired the company to start thinking about expansion into the United States.

The frenzy that greeted its 2002 U.S. debut was worthy of a Hollywood premiere. People began lining up outside the first L.A. store nearly six hours before its scheduled opening, forcing the franchise owners to stay open until 3 in the morning the next day. Sales hit the $1 million mark on the 47th day of operations. To date, Pollo Campero has allowed word of mouth to spread the company's name in the Latino community and to the larger American market. They cite a new Virginia store where Latinos represent only 6 percent of clientele as a sign of its appeal.

Crossing over to China will be much tougher, analysts warn. Weak protection for intellectual property means Pollo Campero is bound to spawn imitators. Gutierrez says he's well aware that restaurants have the "highest mortality rate" in the business world, and of what survival entails. If Pollo Campero falters in China, it wouldn't be his first brush with failure. If it succeeds, he may embolden other Latinos to think as big as Asia.

JUDITH REGAN

Judith Regan has never played by the rules. She entered the genteel world of book publishing 18 years ago, a Vassar grad fresh from her gig as a reporter for The National Enquirer, and brought her nose for the sensational with her. She has offended the tony tastes of her peers ever since, and she's made a fortune doing it. So far this year, four books bearing her ReganBooks imprint have hit No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list (three related to the Scott Peterson trial, one by former baseball star Jose Canseco). An equal-opportunity provocateur, she has published Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore, Howard Stern and Eminem, porn star Jenna Jameson and Gen. Tommy Franks. She's responsible for last year's hot erotic memoir "The Surrender" and the "Wizard of Oz"-inspired novel "Wicked." ReganBooks generates a reported $120 million in revenue per year for its parent company, HarperCollins. But Regan's still not sated. "I'm like the rogue warrior of publishing," she says, laughing. A warrior with plans to become the queen of all media? "Well, princess of all media," she says.

In April, Regan announced that she plans to move her company, including about half her 40-person staff, from New York to Los Angeles before the end of the year, and is expanding into television and film. "Who reads?" Regan asks. "The biggest book-buying audience is over the age of 50. I've been screaming to the publishing community about this for years. I mean, hello , this industry is going to have to change !" Raising a son and daughter helped her see the future. "Anyone who has watched children grow up in the last 20 years knows they don't go to bookstores," she says. "Technology is allowing people to get their information in a variety of ways, so why would I limit myself to just books?"

In some ways, it's surprising Regan didn't make this move sooner. She's probably one of the most profitable publishers ever, yet she's been thinking like a movie producer for years, and has long asked colleagues why she should slave away developing stories so "movie people" can exploit them. Regan currently has eight movies in development, including "The Day the World Came to Town," about a small town's response to 9/11, and "The Dive," about a deep-sea diving couple, which she's co-producing with "Titanic" director James Cameron. Her brash style has earned her enemies, but she chalks most of that up to envy. "You're not supposed to be the valedictorian and have cleavage," she says.

On a personal level, she's sure to fit in more on the Left Coast than on the Right. "Wherever there's money or glamour, you're going to get some crazy people," she says. "At least in L.A., the crazy people are creative." For her NEWSWEEK photo, Regan suggested that she slip on a ball gown and pose atop one of the famed lion statues in front of the New York Public Library. The library nixed that idea. As if she needed more proof that she's too big for that town.

PIERRE OMIDYAR

There's a reason Silicon Valley was known during its go-go years as a place of "deep pockets and short arms." Most Internet lottery winners spent more on outlandish excess than philanthropy, and of the young millionaires who did set up charities, many have since run out of money--or lost interest. Pierre Omidyar is an exception. At 37, the man who built the online auction house eBay plans to devote the rest of his life to making sure that his $10 billion fortune goes to helping others "discover their power to make good things happen."

Last year Omidyar shook up the philanthropic world by converting the foundation he and his wife, Pam, established in 1998 into the Omidyar Network, which will direct money not only to traditional nonprofits, but to profitmaking businesses as well. Omidyar says he was inspired by the lessons of eBay, which "taught 150 million people that they can trust a complete stranger," and also by his work on the board of Meetup.com, the online service that allows members to connect over some shared interest. "It occurred to me that there's a type of business that can only be financially successful if it helps make the world a better place," says Omidyar.

The Omidyar Network is a curious hybrid: part philanthropy, part venture capitalism. During the past year it has invested sums ranging from $75,000 to $1 million in for-profit ventures. They include Socialtext, software that allows users to collaborate on group documents, and Grassroots Media, a Web site to promote community journalism. On the nonprofit side, it's made grants to support organizations that promote greater openness in government, voting rights and campaign-finance reform. The size of the investments will increase as ventures prove to be profitable, says Omidyar Network president and COO Iqbal Paroo. "At that point, we will open the fire hose," he says. The network will spend $400 million over the next five years.

Omidyar has made his largest investments so far in the field of microfinance, which grants loans as small as $50 to poor people who want to become entrepreneurs. Lenders not only profit from interest payments but also build a base of small-business owners who will continue to bank with them. The Omidyar Network recently made a $4 million grant to the nonprofit Grameen Foundation USA, which underwrites more than a million loans in developing countries. Later this year, says one of Omidyar's advisers, the Network will disburse "a significantly larger" amount, intended to be the largest private investment ever in microfinance. Grameen's Alex Counts says Omidyar is destined to "become to microcredit what Bill Gates is to global health and vaccines." It's a perfect fit for a man with deep pockets, and long arms.

STEVE CASE

It's easy to forget how pie-in-the-sky Steve Case must have sounded 20 years ago when he gushed about how consumers would someday travel the "information superhighway" with a consumer-friendly tollbooth he would call America Online. Now, two years after he was forced out of the company following AOL's disastrous merger with Time Warner, Case plans to apply his consumercentric vision to the American health-care system. It's an obsession provoked in part by tragedy: when his brother Dan was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2002, Case and his family couldn't find a specialist who could save him. But Case's everyday frustrations as a parent also play a role. "Why is it that if your kid is sick over the weekend, you have to either go to the emergency room or wait until 7:31 on Monday morning to call the doctor, when it's harder than getting through to Ticketmaster for seats to a U2 concert?" he asks. "It's because consumers are in the back seat."

Case aims to change that. Two months ago, he launched Revolution, a venture designed to provide consumer-friendly health-care services, both online and retail. Case, now 46, has invested $500 million to buy controlling interests in companies that cater to the holistic tastes of boomers: Wisdom Media Group, Inc., a cable and radio outlet focusing on "wellness"; Miraval, an upscale Arizona spa, and Exclusive Resorts, a high-end second-home membership club. As consumers come to control more of their health-care dollars through tools such as health-care savings accounts, they may choose to pay for "wellness" services like nutrition advice and exercise, Case says. There are plenty of naysayers, but Case says he's undaunted. He says Revolution isn't his attempt to "prove something" after his travails at AOL. "It's about trying to make a difference." If he succeeds, Case will have done both.

WILLIAM A. HASELTINE

William Haseltine helped spark the race to catalog and commercialize the human genome as founder and CEO of Human Genome Sciences. "I believe in doing things in a catalytic way," says Haseltine. "If you can show it works, others will follow." Now Haseltine is embarking on an equally audacious scheme, this time to outrun Big Pharma in the race to find new drugs.

Haseltine argues that the industry, which spends well over $1 billion to develop each new drug, is too fat. Decision making is so heavily layered that opportunities are squandered and creativity is stifled. Costs are so high companies can afford to pursue only drugs that promise a huge payoff. "Something has gone disastrously wrong," says Haseltine. "We have splendid tools for pharmaceutical discovery, but the translation into patient medicine is in jeopardy."

His solution: virtual companies built around small, nimble groups of scientists who make a discovery: a protein in a cell, for example, that appears to play a role in a particular disease. They would secure the intellectual property, hire just a handful of financial pros and doctors and outsource everything else, from early screening of compounds to clinical trials to manufacturing.

Recently retired from Human Genome Sciences, Haseltine is both an eminent scientist with more than 50 patents to his name, and an entrepreneur who has launched seven biotech companies and played a role in 20 others as an adviser to venture capitalists. He is traveling the globe to assemble a cast of players that can be called on to execute his new "virtual pharma" model in the most productive way. He is lining up partners in India, China, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Russia. "What Bill is trying to achieve is true globalization of thought," says Greg Simon, president of FasterCures, a Washington organization dedicated to streamlining drug development. "He sees that someone who moves quickly can do in medicine what Dell did in computers."

The International Pharmaceutical Co. (still operating as Haseltine Associates, he settled on the name during his conversation with NEWSWEEK) will offer advice, provide or organize capital and perhaps eventually serve as a holding company for a group of scientist-based companies that can each retain their "inventive fire." He won't name names, but claims to have plenty of backing lined up from venture capital, hedge funds and local investors in India and China. Haseltine will announce the first five or six projects within the next few months. Key to his strategy is that these firms will hold all clinical trials and introduce all new drugs in developing countries before bringing those drugs back to the developed world. He predicts this approach will cut development time in half, and costs by 75 percent to 80 percent. But he's not the only player in this game. Preston Henske, health-care specialist at consultants Bain & Co., says he has seen a surge in private-equity firms hiring ex-pharma executives in just the past three months. "Suddenly there's a confluence of people saying there is a different way" to develop drugs. Big Pharma, and its customers, will be watching closely.

HWANG CHANG GYU

As head of Samsung Electronics' semiconductor business, Hwang Chang Gyu, 52, says technology pioneers should model themselves on Genghis Khan, the nomadic Mongolian warrior who used the superior speed and mobility of his horseback legions to conquer much of Asia in the 13th century. He's not kidding. "If you are content with today's technology and stay there like agricultural people," Hwang figures, "you will be wiped out by new technology brought by nomads."

Hwang knows a thing or two about moving fast. As early as 2000, Hwang pushed Samsung to make huge investments in flash memory chips, which maintain data even when power is lost, and are essential for mobile devices. Colleagues objected that the risks and costs were too high, but Hwang pushed on. In 2002, at a scholarly convention in San Francisco, the MIT Ph.D. proclaimed what came to be known in the industry as Hwang's Law: driven by the mobile revolution, semiconductor capacity would double every 12 months, or even faster than the 18 months Intel cofounder Gordon Moore had prophesied, correctly, in Moore's Law. Experts scoffed.

Again Hwang ran over the opposition. By last year, Samsung led the booming global market for flash memory, with a 27 percent share. The technology drives hot, new mobile products from MP3 players to digital cameras, and accounts for a quarter of Samsung's $17 billion in chip revenue. Its capacity has grown as fast as Hwang predicted, and has the potential to grow even faster, he says, waving as evidence a shiny new Samsung mobile phone equipped with a 5 megapixel camera. "For 20 years, PCs have led IT business," says Hwang at his spacious office outside Seoul. "But from now on, mobile devices equipped with flash memory will lead the digital revolution."

As a kid in the 1960s, Hwang was riveted by the space race between America and the Soviet Union, and that early fascination with technology led to his earning a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering. Hired in 1989 by Samsung Electronics, then a small-name appliance maker, Hwang soon got involved in a new national race: Samsung's effort to match the success of Japanese semiconductor makers. Five years later Samsung produced the world's first 256 megabyte dynamic RAM chips, placing Korea ahead of Japan for the first time.

As a leader of the pack, Samsung became a target. IBM, Toshiba and Siemens began working together to drive Samsung out of the chip business, says Hwang. "For the next two or three years, it was truly times of death throes" of working day and night to stay ahead of the competition. Hwang became boss of the chip division in 2000, and sounds more secure as an industry leader. Makers of devices such as cell phones and digital cameras now build on the new developments in Samsung flash memory chips, rather than the other way around, says Hwang, assuring Samsung a strong market. They key is always thinking about what techologies will be hot five to 10 years into the future. And they are? Hwang will divulge only that Samsung is working on chips based on new materials other than silicon.

ED IACOBUCCI

Around the halls of DayJet, Ed Iacobucci is called "George"--as in George Jetson. Iacobucci, after all, wants to make the car-size jets imagined in the cartoon a reality, with an air-taxi service for short business trips that he's trying to launch next spring. Iacobucci (pronounced YAK-ah-boochee) sees a future in which people can hail one of his DayJets on short notice to go where and when they want, without the hassle of changing planes or navigating big hub airports. What will make this a reality is the expected arrival next year of a new class of aircraft called "very light jets," or VLJs. Other companies are also planning to launch air-taxi companies, but Iacobucci, the former chairman of software company Citrix Systems, says proprietary software his company is developing--called Advanced System Technology for Real-time Operations, or ASTRO (after Jetson's trusty dog)--will give him an edge over the competition. "It couldn't have been done five years ago," he says.

Iacobucci's real inspiration was the drudgery of business travel in his days as an IBM engineer. "The busier I got, the harder it was to do my job," says Iacobucci, who lives in Delray Beach, Fla. When Iacobucci made some $100 million as cofounder of Citrix Systems, which pioneered remote computer access, he bought himself a Learjet. "It was a revelation--not the luxury, but the convenience," he says. He wondered why on-call jets were only for CEOs.

There were 4 million reasons. Private jets cost at least that much. But next March, if the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approves, a new mass-produced plane called the Eclipse 500 will start zooming around the skies at 675 kilometers per hour. These lightweight jets will be cheaper to buy ($1.3 million) and to fly, since they use less fuel than heavier jets. After two years, DayJet expects to be in 35 underserved American cities, mainly in the Southeast. Eclipse also has an order for 112 planes from a Swiss firm that plans a similar service in Europe.

Since DayJets are not flying into crowded hubs, Iacobucci doesn't think air-traffic-control hang-ups will ground them. When he first met with FAA officials, however, they told him he couldn't do what he proposed. "Because we're not allowed or because it can't be done?" he asked. It can't be done, they said. "That's what I like to hear!" he says. He hopes that in the future, DayJet can do for people what Citrix did with telecommuting: help them spend more time at home with their families--or just watching "Jetsons" reruns.

MYLES KOVACS

As he cruises through his old 'hood in East L.A. in an "inferno red" Dodge Charger, Myles Kovacs marvels at all the everyday cars riding on 50cm rims known as DUBs. Once street slang for a "double dime" bag of pot, the term DUB became the name of the hip-hop car magazine Kovacs founded five years ago that has transformed car-tuner subculture into Main Street fashion. "This is not just urban culture," he says, sporting baggy jeans and a $14,000 diamond-encrusted watch. "This is pop culture."

No longer fearful of the street life DUB glamorizes, Detroit is now looking to Kovacs, 31, to pimp its rides. His stars-and-their-cars glossy has become the place automakers go for tips on the youth demographic. Kovacs has built a $50 million empire that now includes toys, rims, concerts, car shows, MTV "Whips, Rides & Dubs" specials and the hot-selling Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition videogame. That Charger he's in comes compliments of Chrysler, which hopes he'll do for it what he did for its 300C last year. Kovacs hooked up 50 Cent with a 300C, who cast it in a video, making it a monster hit. "If your car is in DUB, it has street cred," says Chrysler marketing exec B. J. Birtwell. "Myles doesn't just put any whack car on the cover."

Kovacs embodies the idea of blending different worlds. Three-quarters Japanese and one-quarter Hungarian, he grew up speaking Spanish in tough East L.A. His first brush with cars and stars came as a high-school delivery boy at a rim shop frequented by Tupac. The idea for DUB came as Kovacs watched a car auction on TV in 1999 when country singer Alan Jackson's Mercedes fetched an extraordinary price. "At first I thought, 'Who's Alan Jackson?' " he recalls. "Then I went, 'Wow, there's that much value in celebrities?' " By then Kovacs was editing an entertainment magazine. He persuaded two colleagues to jump ship and use their celebrity connections to start DUB. Unlike typical car mags, there are no critical reviews. Kobe Bryant and Mike Tyson have been cover boys, with nary a mention of their legal difficulties. "We treat people like human beings," says Kovacs, "and give them the privacy they deserve."

Kovacs is gunning to make DUB the next Playboy, a launch pad for a lifestyle. That's why he's now working with companies like Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo. He's teaching corporate America Street Cred 101, telling them it's old school to portray urban culture with ghetto imagery. Preppy is the new urban trend, so Kovacs says the next wicked whip will be the Range Rover Sport. "It's all about aspiration," he says. "Instead of chain-link fences, they need to show the Hamptons." Like Kovacs, the street is heading uptown.

10 Big Thinkers for Big Business | News