This story appears in the May 31, 2018 issue of Forbes. Subscribe
There are nearly 7.5 billion humans on planet Earth, but these 75 men and women make the world turn. Forbes’ annual ranking of The World’s Most Powerful People identifies one person out of every 100 million whose actions mean the most.
This year’s list highlights the consolidation of power in the hands of an elite few. Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, seizes the top spot for the first time ever after China’s congress amended its constitution in March, broadening his influence and eliminating term limits. He enjoys a cult of personality not seen since Chairman Mao.
Xi’s elevation to the world’s most powerful person unseats Russian President Vladimir Putin (#2), who held the top spot for an unprecedented four consecutive years. Putin has ruled Russia since May of 2000, and this year he was re-elected to a fourth term with nearly 77 percent of the vote. That’s the largest margin of victory for any candidate for the office since the fall of the Soviet Union.
One year into his term, President Donald Trump falls to the No. 3 spot. Trump has seen limited success pushing his agenda through a Congress controlled by his own party, is under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies, and can’t shake off scandals arising from his personal and business life –but he’s still Commander in Chief of the world’s greatest economic and military power.
The fourth most powerful person in the world also happens to be the most powerful woman: Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany. The de facto leader of Europe, Merkel won a hard-fought election in 2017 and created a ‘grand coalition’ with political partners. She’ll have to hold tight to the EU rudder as it faces oncoming storms from Brexit and growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.
There are 17 new names on the list this year, including Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud (#8), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. His father remains king, but “MBS” has consolidated power beyond any doubt and taken control of the country. In November 2017, he launched an “anti-corruption campaign” that caused many prominent Saudis to be arrested and forced to turn over their fortunes. The crown prince will be the fulcrum around which the Middle Eastern geopolitics moves for the next generation. Other new members include Jerome H. Powell (#11), chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve; Darren Woods (#34), CEO of Exxon Mobil; Moon Jae-in (#54), President of South Korea; and Robert Mueller (#72), Special Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice.
To compile the ranking of The World’s Most Powerful People, we considered hundreds of candidates from various walks of life all around the globe, and measured their power along four dimensions. First, we asked whether the candidate has power over lots of people. Pope Francis, ranked #6, is the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics. Doug McMillon (#23), is the CEO of the world’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart Stores, with more than 2.3 million workers around the globe.
Next we assessed the financial resources controlled by each person. Are they relatively large compared to their peers? For heads of state we used GDP, while for CEOs, we looked at measures like their company’s assets and revenues. When candidates have a high personal net worth, like the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos (#5), we also took that into consideration. In certain instances we considered other valuable resources at the candidate’s disposal, like access to oil reserves.
Then we determined if the candidate is powerful in multiple spheres. There are only 75 slots on our list –one for approximately every 100 million people on the planet– so being powerful in just one area is often not enough. Our picks project their influence in myriad ways: Elon Musk (#25) has power in the auto business through Tesla Motors, in the aerospace industry through SpaceX, because he’s a billionaire, and because he’s a highly respected tech visionary.