Serum Institute Chairman, President and CEO Adar Poonwalla
Serum Institute Chairman, President and CEO Adar Poonwalla
File Photo

According to the latest list by Fortune, the top 10 Greatest Leaders among 50 Greatest Leaders list are New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern; mRNA pioneers; Paypal CEO Daniel H Schulman; NBA Rescuers; Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s John Nkengasong; Ping An’s Jessica Tan among others.

The only Indian among the top 10 names is Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer (CEO) of Serum Institute of India.

Below is the list of the top 10 Greatest Leaders:

Jacinda Ardern: She tops the list for the role she played to tackle COVID-19 from spreading in New Zealand. According to Fortune, “Though there have been a few scares, her strategy largely proved successful; New Zealand, a nation of nearly 5 million people, has seen fewer than 2,700 cases and only 26 deaths." It added that Ardern and her cabinet ministers took a six-month, 20 per cent pay cut in 2020 to show solidarity with people who had lost their livelihoods owing to the pandemic.


mRNA Pioneers: COVID-19 vaccines which are largely administered today rely on mRNA. Fortune stated, “mRNA molecules were discovered in the early 1960s, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that researchers figured out how to modify the building blocks of those molecules for therapeutic purposes so that mRNA strands could safely interact with the body. Moderna, based in Cambridge, Mass., and BioNTech, based in Mainz, Germany, saw the potential in the breakthrough, and licensed the relevant discoveries.” Thus, the mRNA Pioneers made it to the list.

BioNTech, cofounders Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci collaborated in 2018 with multinational pharma giant Pfizer. Both were working together on an experimental mRNA flu vaccine. “That meant Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had the confidence to quickly commit to a partnership with BioNTech on a COVID inoculation,” stated Fortune.

Daniel H Schulman: He is an American business executive and president and CEO of PayPal. He was named the third Greatest Leader on the list. Fortune explained, “Schulman’s investment in PayPal’s own employees has been just as groundbreaking.” It went on to explain in 2019, PayPal’s leadership realised that many employees were barely getting by, even though the company paid fair market rates. He set a new goal that every employee should have “net disposable income”. An employee should have money left over after taxes, insurance premiums, and essential living expenses which should be at least 20% of total pay. “For most call center and entry-level workers, that figure at the time was well below 10%; by the end of 2020, after PayPal boosted wages and picked up a larger share of health premiums, the figure was 16% and climbing,” added Fortune.


Dr John Nkengasong: He currently serves as the first Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). He is a leading virologist with nearly 30 years of work experience in public health. Fortune praised him for his role in his fight against spread of COVID-19. It stated, “In that role, he helped to steer Africa’s 54 nations into an alliance that—thanks to measures that included closing country borders early on and instituting national curfews and mask mandates—has weathered the COVID crisis much more successfully than many far richer countries, including the United States.”


NBA Rescuers: Adam Silver NBA commissioner; Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA); and Chris Paul, a longtime star point guard and the president of the NBPA, were the key players who saved the NBA.

After the suspension of the NBA season on March 11, 2020, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the trio of Silver, Roberts, and Paul “spent weeks constructing the bubble plan”. This did cost the league but the trio still went ahead with it. “A total of 172 games were played without a single player testing positive for COVID by the time the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy in October,” added Fortune. Thus, NBA rescuers are the fifth in the list.

Jessica Tan: Tan first joined the Chinese finance insurance giant in 2013 as group CIO; she became the group's co-CEO in 2018 of the company. During COVID-19, her vision for the company and people created a new path for insurance companies. Fortune stated among the Chinese private sector it was the technology companies that were able to cushion the blow faced by China. “And none was better positioned to help than Ping An Group, an insurance giant whose “technology plus finance” strategy reflects the vision of co-CEO Jessica Tan…”

As the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading, many patients resorted to Ping An Good Doctor, the company’s telehealth app. According to Fortune, “The company says Ping An’s spinoff free online consultation service received 1.11 billion visits at the peak of the pandemic, serving as a vital first line of defense.” So, she is sixth in the list of Greatest Leaders.


Justin Welby: He is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and the most senior bishop in the Church of England. He has served in that role since 2013. He is quite outspoken and supports causes that are critical to society. Thus, he has made it to the list and is positioned seventh here. Fortune stated, “A former oil executive, Welby is now outspoken on climate change and has encouraged the Church’s investment arm to push major emitters on their climate policies. Though he’s one of Britain’s most high-profile institutional leaders, Welby has hit out at the British government on welfare reform and the implementation of Brexit.”


Stacey Abrams: She is an American politician, lawyer, and voting rights activist. A member of the Democratic Party, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, an organisation to address voter suppression in 2018. After a defeat in an election which she claimed was due to suppression of votes, she made supression of votes a national conversation. According to Fortune, “Now Abrams may very well be one of the most powerful politicians without a political office. Don’t expect that to last long. Abrams, who was floated as a possible Biden running mate and also happens to be a novelist, is widely expected to run for governor again in 2022.”


Reshorna Fitzpatrick: She is the founder and Pastor of Proceeding Word Church in Chicago, Illinois. She had been feeding the hunger in her Chicago neighborhood for years. Three years ago, she helped start a community garden in a vacant lot near the North Lawndale church on the city’s West Side where she preaches every Sunday, stated Fortune.

But what changed today is her role during COVID-19. Many people in the neighbourhood were suddenly out of work and hungry. To support them, Fitzpatrick along with the community would prepare hot meals every Monday for anyone who stopped by. Fortune quoted her saying that two hundred meals were gone in 45 minutes because people were coming out for it. Thus, her role in the community to serve all was recognised by Fortune.


Adar Poonawalla: He is the only Indian in the list of top ten. He is recognised for taking the task of bringing an end to the global pandemic by supplying COVID-19 vaccines. Poonawalla heads the Serum Institute of India (SII) which is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. Poonawalla’s company has been providing “global vaccine equity, providing low-cost vaccines to fight diseases like influenza, measles, and tetanus.” Now, “the SII has pledged to deliver up to 2 billion vaccine doses in the coming years to COVAX, a global initiative to provide vaccines to lower- and middle-income countries…”

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