Japan's Kohei Nakabo

The grandfatherly 68-year-old Kohei Nakabo doesn't look like the type who busts gangsters. But that's what Nakabo, president of the Housing Loan Administration Corp., is doing. One of the country's most respected lawyers, he's out to recover $45 billion in bad loans left by the collapse of Japan's jusen, or housing-loan companies. Since a big chunk of the dud loans went to firms with links to organized crime, Nakabo's had to meet gangsters, or yakuza, face-to-face.

Nakabo has collected $7.6 billion of the loans through lawsuits and property seizure. That's setting a precedent for handling debts plaguing the financial sector. Nakabo's a hero--and some wonder if he's prime minister material. If he can just do his job safely, that would be plenty.