1 Richard Branson and Fred Reid: Branson, the flamboyant British billionaire behind Virgin Atlantic airlines, Virgin Records and the Virgin Megastores, conceived Virgin America, the Burlingame-based budget airline that launched at San Francisco International Airport on Aug. 8. But Virgin America’s real engineer was CEO Fred Reid, a former president of Delta Airlines and president and COO of the German airline Lufthansa.
U.S. Department of Transportation worries about foreign ownership delayed approval and created a corporate structure keeping just 25 percent of control in Virgin Group’s hands. Though Reid was born in San Francisco and educated at UC Berkeley, regulatory agreements required he step aside. On Dec. 10, David Cush became Virgin America’s CEO.
From left: Larry Ellison, Don Fisher, Richard Kovacevic, Martin Ebernard and Elon Musk
2 Larry Ellison: The Oracle Corp. (ORCL) CEO and founder continued his acquisition spree this year, purchasing seven companies between March and December and making a failed $17-per-share bid for BEA Systems Inc. (BEAS). His yacht-racing team lost another America’s Cup bid, while his San Mateo-based software firm NetSuite Inc. (N) debuted on the NYSE on Dec. 20 with a $161.2 million IPO.
3 Don Fisher: The Gap Inc. (GPS) founder and retired chairman was a principal backer of Proposition H, which called for increased parking in downtown SanFrancisco. The measure failed in November, but Fisher returned almost immediately in December with a proposal for a Presidio museum to house his collection of modern art — a trove larger than that held by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
4 Richard Kovacevic: The Wells Fargo (WFC) chairman stepped aside as CEO this summer after making the San Francisco bank among the nimblest in the nation with an emphasis on sales. In a year when many lenders stumbled due to deteriorating home loans, Wells Fargo remained relatively steady. Analysts say its diversity and reputation should help keep it stable.
5 Martin Eberhard and Elon Musk: San Carlos-based Tesla Motors delayed the release of its $100,000 electric sports car until 2008 but opened a dealership in Menlo Park and attracted a wait list for the Roadster. Co-founder Eberhard, below left, was named a top innovator by Fortune magazine this year, but in November was removed as CEO. PayPal founder Musk, a major financial backer, remains chairman.