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Beyond Steve Jobs: Tech's game-changers

Thursday, 6 Feb 2014 | 1:08 PM ET

CNBC is trying to find the 25 most influential leaders, icons and rebels of the past 25 years. From a list of 200 potential candidates, which names from tech should make the final 25?

Switch74 | E+ | Getty Images

For me, it comes down to a few key factors: Which leaders fundamentally changed the industry, shook up new markets, and had staying power?

(Read more: It comes down to this: Jobs vs. Gates)

Certainly at the top of the list is Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple, left after a boardroom coup, built Pixar from a special-effects backwater into a hit-making Hollywood powerhouse, and pushed a near-dead Apple to become the most valuable company in the world. A few factors that put him over the top: He struck gold three times (Apple, Pixar and Apple again). He engineered two turnarounds. It's as if Michael Jordan had quarterbacked a winning Super Bowl team during his retirement from basketball.

Who else belongs? Jobs' good friend Larry Ellison, who is one of tech's best rags-to-riches stories. What other CEO did an IPO in the 1980s and is still on top?

(Read more: From Apple to Google: Face it, you needed these guys)

Bill Gates is an obvious choice for Microsoft's dominance of the PC era through its operating system and client software. Jeff Bezos gets the nod for changing the way we look at commerce and analytics, and for turning things we thought were hardware (tablets, servers) into services (Kindle, Amazon web services). Finally the Google triumverate should get a nod not only for changing how the world organizes information, but also for a new philosophy on acquisitions (see Android) and changing the way public company founders can keep control of their businesses.

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Who got overlooked from the list of 200? The most egregious lapse I've found is the exclusion of Hasso Plattner, the billionaire founder of SAP, who maintains an active role in innovation at the company. SAP isn't a household name, but neither is Oracle, and Plattner is certainly a peer of Gates and Ellison when it comes to enterprise software.

(Read more: The business A-List: Choose your top 25)

Others who shouldn't have been passed over? Kun-Hee Lee, pater familias at Samsung. Nothing happens there without his OK, and his ambition has fueled the mega-company's rise. Jony Ive, designer of many Apple products including the MacBook Air and iPhone, probably got overlooked because Jobs casts a big shadow; but he is to Apple what John Lasseter (director of "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life" and "Cars") is to Pixar — a driving creative force.

—By CNBC's Jonathan Fortt. Follow him on Twitter: @jonfortt

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