In the clash of the consumer titans, a few stand out
On any given day, peoples' lives are touched by many consumer brands, but some companies stand out for their significant contributions, and some of the titans behind those brands have fundamentally changed the way we consume everyday items—such as a cup of coffee.
That accomplishment involves innovative products, persuasive advertising, creative marketing and the leadership to envision what consumers want and need, and how it all fits together. These are not just CEOs but corporate icons that have transformed how we live.
CNBC assembled a list of 200 executives across all sectors, and is asking its reporters and readers to decide who has made the biggest impact over the past 25 years.
(Read more: Vote: Who mattered? Who didn't?)
Among the 200 people on the list, here are my picks for who should rank among the most influential in the consumer space.
Under Phil Knight, Nike defined what brand marketing could be and transformed sports as a business.
He famously created the shoe company Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, renaming it Nike in 1972 and growing it into a multibillion-dollar athletic apparel company. Under his leadership, which spanned more than 30 years, Nike broke ground on many fronts—from developing new shoe styles and sporting equipment and apparel, to creating what is arguably the world's most successful and innovative marketing machine.
(Read more: Who mattered & who didn't over 25 years)
Nike pioneered celebrity athlete endorsements and set the bar for effective brand marketing. Whether it was the "Just Do It" slogan or huge endorsement deals, such as signing Michael Jordan in 1984 and branding Air Jordan sneakers, Knight made "the swoosh" one of the most recognizable symbols on earth.
Howard Schultz is single-handedly responsible for the world's modern coffee culture—the way we consume and experience coffee. Before Schultz, we made the beverage from a can of Folgers in our cupboards.
He joined Starbucks Coffee in 1982, eventually buying the Seattle company for $4 million and, inspired by a European trip, turning it into a concept based on Italian caffe. Expanding Starbucks from 45 stores to more than 19,000 today, he created a global juggernaut.
The company struggled after Schultz stepped down as CEO in 2000, so he re-emerged in 2008 to turn it around.
Through a series of cost cuts, investments in innovation and store redesigns, along with introductions such as VIA instant coffee and Pike Place Roast, he put Starbucks back on sound footing. He continued to expand globally and eventually into categories such as juice, yogurt, pastries and tea. He's now increasingly focused on digital media and mobile payments.
Overlooked: Roberto Goizueta
One person not on the list who should be is Roberto Goizueta, widely recognized as one of the great executives.
Under his 16-year leadership of Coca-Cola, the Cuban immigrant transformed it from a conservative company into the world's most powerful brand. When Goizueta took over as CEO in 1981, after climbing the ranks internally, Coke's market cap was $4 billion. When he died in 1997, it was $145 billion.
(Read more: The names that are shaping retail's revolution)
Under his watch, Coke launched Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Coke Enterprises and the legendary "Always" campaign. It re-entered internationals markets such as India and Vietnam, strengthened the distribution system, bought and sold Columbia Pictures, and became the world's most powerful brand. Emory University named its business school after Goizueta.
But his biggest claim to fame was perhaps his top priority as CEO: shareholder value. Total return on the stock was over 7,100 percent during his tenure. Goizueta's shares in the company were worth more than $1 billion.
Happy shareholders included Warren Buffett, who has called Goizueta "the ultimate strategic thinker. Once he devised the proper strategy, he knew how to make it work and insisted on making it work promptly."
—By CNBC's Sara Eisen; follow her on Twitter @SaraEisen.