Finding the next Zuckerberg who will change the world

Imagine a world without Google or Starbucks, or a world without Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. It's inconceivable.

So what will be the next Facebook? Who will be the next Jack Welch or Sandy Weill?

Amid the day-to-day gyrations of the markets, it's sometimes difficult to take the long view. Earlier this year, in celebration of our silver anniversary, we unveiled the rebels, icons and leaders who have most influenced the world of business and, on occasion, our lives for the past 25 years in our CNBC First 25 list.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg
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Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg

Prognosticating the next 25 years is tough, and choosing a contingent of people who will have the greatest influence between now and 2039 is even tougher. So let's state at the outset that this is an inherently subjective act, and as such, there is bound to be debate and disappointment with those who didn't make the list—and perhaps even with those who did.

We cast a wide net, and our criteria were fairly broad. We aimed to include the people we expected to have the greatest impact 25 years from now; we sought to think globally so you'll notice names that reflect the great diversity of the planet, and we wanted to make sure we didn't just include individuals in the technology industry, because so many other sectors are innovating in ways that will change our future.

We had one other requirement: If an individual already appeared on our CNBC First 25 list—that's you, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg—we're not including them on the Next 100. We're grandfathering them on the list as ex officio members.

CNBC NEXT LIST:Rebels, leaders, innovators for the next 25 years

Fortunately, we had the counsel of a terrific advisory board—Rob Nail, CEO, Singularity University; Ron Parker, president and CEO, The Executive Leadership Council; Linda Rottenberg, co-founder and CEO, Endeavor; Eric Schurenberg, president and editor-in-chief of Inc. and Kara Swisher, co-executive editor, Re/code—who helped us sift through different names and nominations from our own staff and from members of the CNBC First 25 list. It will come as no surprise that there was some vigorous debate as we voted for different people from different backgrounds, with changes being made at the last minute.

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The result is a group of trailblazers—roughly a third women. The industries they represent are as varied as their backgrounds. They range from health and finance to energy, e-commerce and transportation.

There were a couple of easy picks: Elon Musk, the serial entrepreneur behind Tesla, the electric car company, and SpaceX, the spaceflight business. It's unclear whether each business will reach their full potential or flame out, but whatever the outcome, his work over the next decade is likely to influence and continue to disrupt the industries he is in for years to come. And who knows, at the rate he's going, he might start another company.

Similarly, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, was also an early vote-getter. Ma's Alibaba is China's version of Amazon, eBay and a little bit of Google all rolled into one. Its evolution will impact billions of Chinese citizens, and the way Ma is talking, U.S. and European consumers may soon be using Alibaba, too. Already, Alibaba is giving small businesses from all over the globe access to the Chinese market. If there was any hesitation about putting Ma on this list, it is his own words: At age 49, he gave up his CEO title, setting up a transition to a younger generation that he said "understand(s) the future better than us, and then have a better chance of seizing the future."

"It's impossible to tell if all the understudies to some of today's biggest names will innovate as much as their mentors. But we are betting on a few who will."

Culling the talent pool

Undoubtedly, we will get our fair share of carping for including a crop of current chief executives. "How can you include GM's Mary Barra or Apple's Tim Cook?" asked one of our ilk. "People are going to laugh at our Next list because they aren't next; they are now."

Our response: How can one ignore leaders who are in the very early innings of their tenure at iconic companies. Cook has been CEO for just three years, and as Apple's recent moves into mobile payments and fitness show, the company unquestionably has a profound effect on business and our lives. Besides, when you look at our First list, some of the best-known figures—Rupert Murdoch or Li Ka-Shing—started to have some of their greatest influence when they were well into their 50s, 60s and beyond.

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It's impossible to tell if all the understudies to some of today's biggest names will innovate as much as their mentors. But we are betting on a few who will. One who is already doing so is Jonathan Gray, a real estate whiz and partner at Blackstone Group. While Blackstone is known as Steven Schwarzman's empire, Gray played a huge role in propelling its success over the past decade as the investors behind some its most profitable deals, including its $26 billion LBO of Hilton, the most profitable private equity deal in history. Gray is expected to one day take over the firm, and we are gambling the name Gray will be among the Wall Street greats: Dimon, Kravis, Blankfein, Weill, Paulson, etc.

Even though baseball legend Casey Stengel warned: "Never make predictions, especially about the future," we have plowed ahead. Unlike with the CNBC First 25 list, which we narrowed down to 25 people, we are sticking with more than 100 because of the staggering scope of talent we had to choose from.

Consider these individuals our markers on the entrepreneurs, dreamers, financiers and corporate executives who are starting to influence what the world will look like in 2039. Who would be on your list? Make your suggestions in the comments below.

CNBC NEXT LIST:Rebels, leaders, innovators for the next 25 years