International -- European Cover Story
The Stars of Europe (int'l edition)
50 Leaders at the Forefront of Change
Byline: By John Rossant, with Bureau Reports
Let's face it, the process of building Europe has always been something of a top-down affair. Politicians meet behind closed doors in places like Maastricht or Oporto. They emerge into daylight with joint statements about common agricultural policy or military cooperation--and the Continent moves a few more hesitant steps to the goal of "ever closer union" enshrined in the Treaty of Rome back in 1957. Not to begrudge the process: It has worked remarkably well. Witness the fact that a peaceful Europe of 380 million people is the world's richest economic zone. But exciting? Forget it.
Until now. Put your finger on the European pulse today and you'll find a faster beat in the Old World. Part of it is due to the historic introduction of the euro in January, 1999. The reality of euro-denominated capital markets is fueling an unprecedented tidal wave of mergers and acquisitions that is changing the face of Europe Inc.
But there is something even broader going on, virtually a passage from one way of thinking to another. Look at the high-tech incubators in Britain and the boomtown atmosphere in central Madrid these days. Take the publishing and Web outfits springing up in the north German city of Hamburg. And the renewed spirit at big outfits once destined for the rubbish heap of industrial history, from Pirelli to Preussag. A new Europe is rising.EMBRACING RISK. With our extensive network of bureaus across the Continent, Business Week has selected 50 Europeans who personify this new dynamism. These Stars of Europe are challenging and even breaking down the old national business and political models. They are people willing to take big risks in a Continent where clubby business culture has been traditionally about as risk-averse as it gets. They are the generation that is building a Europe Inc.
In a break with the past, thinking outside the box is the key to success. In France, for example, that means graduates of the elite grandes ecoles are no longer all heading to plum government jobs but are starting their own companies. Stefan Rover, a bright young German who spent time in Silicon Valley while he was still in grade school, decided not to enter a traditional German conglomerate but to found his own software outfit. His Stuttgart-based Brokat Infosystems is now a global leader in authentication software for safe e-transactions. Italy's Marco Tronchetti Provera, CEO of Pirelli, is also using the Internet to remake an old-style Old Economy company. "The new game is based on technology and it's about speed and competitiveness," he says.
Unlike older generations, Business Week's Stars of Europe are able to operate outside their own national borders. Paulo Pereira, a 37-year-old Portuguese working for a U.S. bank in London, has been a key figure in the multibillion-dollar dealmaking in European telecommunications. Twice a week, Frenchman Philippe Camus and German Rainer Hertrich, co-CEOs of the future European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co., discuss strategy, in English. And Spanish venture capitalist Martin Velasco funds high-tech companies from Scotland to Spain from his headquarters in Geneva.
To introduce such a richly diverse group, we've created a series of categories. "Innovators," for example, includes Europeans at the cutting edge of technology like France's Marc Lassus, whose Gemplus is No. 1 globally in smart cards. Our "Agenda Setters" are redefining architecture, labor relations and--like France's farming radical Jose Bove--even the way people protest. The creation of Europe Inc. would not be possible without moneymen like Pereira and Allianz Chief Financial Officer Paul Achleitner--hence, "Dealmakers."
Reviving and remaking old-line companies is fast becoming a European forte. So our "Turnaround Artists" include restructuring prodigies like Poland's Janusz Szlanta, who has transformed Gdynia Shipyard from a state-owned dinosaur into a profit machine. And since a key feature of Europe Inc. today is the spectacular rise of new players confronting and often besting old incumbents, no list would be complete without "Challengers." They include Ireland's Michael O'Leary, whose Ryanair is giving long-established carriers such as British Airways a run for their money.
To top it off, there are the "Empire Builders." Europe is witnessing, in these first years of a new millennium, a unification process comparable in breadth to the American nation-building of the 19th century. Then, the pioneers of railroads, banking, and industry spread out across a continent. In Europe, something just as vast in scope is happening, as Britain's Chris Gent maneuvers his Vodafone AirTouch PLC into a Continentwide mobile telecommunications giant and the Frankfurt Borse's Werner G. Seifert moves to clinch a groundbreaking merger with the London Stock Exchange.
Of course, some of our stars will inevitably stumble along the way. Today's lightning-fast markets are much less forgiving of false steps than in the past. That's a lesson World Online founder Nina Brink learned the hard way following the company's much-hyped $2.9 billion IPO last March. Less-than-complete disclosure of her previous financial dealings led to a 60% collapse in the share price and her ouster from the Amsterdam-based group.
Europe as a political entity is still a work in progress. Its politicians will be laboring years from now on how to work together more effectively. But ponder these 50 stars from countries like Sweden, France, Ireland, Italy, and Turkey. You'll see that a strong, dynamic, and creative Europe is already at hand.
A number of Business Week correspondents contributed to this special report. They are: John Rossant, Stanley Reed, Jack Ewing, Gail Edmondson, Carol Matlack, David Fairlamb, Kerry Capell, Matthew Karnitschnig, Stephen Baker, Christine Tierney, William Echikson, Carole Craig, David O'Byrne, Anna Bawden, Bogdan Turek, and Christopher Condon. Rose Brady and Duane Anderson edited the report in New York.
By John Rossant, with Bureau ReportsReturn to top