CNBC25: Rebels, Icons and Leaders

Who did it better: Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos?


As part of its 25th anniversary, CNBC is creating a definitive list of people who have had the greatest influence in business over the past quarter century. Determining who belongs on this list—and who should rank higher—has led to some spirited debates. Today, we pit Elon Musk against Jeff Bezos. After reading, cast your vote.

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk
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Elon Musk

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has done something few have done since Henry Ford started mass production of automobiles almost 100 years ago: He is fundamentally changing the auto industry.

That alone should put him on the list of 25 most influential business leaders of the last 25 years.

When Musk introduced Tesla's first car the Roadster in 2008, its modest success made his company a quaint story. A decade later Tesla is rapidly becoming a mainstream automaker with sales growing in the U.S., Europe and soon in China.

But what is truly impressive is how Musk and Tesla are rewriting the rules in the auto business. Despite numerous legal fights, Tesla is growing through direct sales and not through auto dealers. The company is also creating a nationwide network of recharging stations so those with electric cars can truly take road trips.

Perhaps the biggest indication of Musk's impact on the auto industry can be seen in the offices of other major auto companies around the world. All are watching Tesla and trying to figure out how Musk is making it work.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos did more than turn the book business upside down when he founded in 1994, the same year the web browser was born. He began reshaping the way the world shops for just about everything.

Yes, Amazon posted $233 billion in sales in 2013. The reason? Bezos's towering ambition. In the early innings of the Internet, it seemed like eBay was the better play—it offered a wider selection, and didn't have to deal with the pesky problem of delivering physical goods. Bezos turned that minus into a plus, by building out a warehouse and logistics operation that makes shopping on Amazon nearly as reliable as going to a store.

Of course, that's not all -- Bezos was a pioneer in big data and in cloud. Now he's gone retro, buying the Washington Post last year for a quarter billion dollars. If he can save the newspaper business, he'll be a shoo-in 25 years from now for the CNBC 50.