Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com
For Amazon.com Inc., the June 21 release of Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix was its biggest challenge of the year. Yet it went off without a hitch, as the No. 1 e-tailer shipped in a single day some 1.4 million copies of the blockbuster novel. Pottermania helped boost Amazon's (AMZN )second-quarter sales 37%, to $1.1 billion -- its fastest growth since late 2000.
The real magic behind Amazon's resurgence is a bold bet by 39-year-old founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey P. Bezos. He has relentlessly dropped prices on books and other products and offered free shipping on orders over $25. The recharged sales volume, expected to reach $4.8 billion this year, may produce Amazon's first annual profit. After all the doubts, Bezos has proved his empire has staying power.
And he's not limiting himself to selling Amazon's own goods. Bezos recently formed a unit to help more retailers sell to Amazon's 33 million customers, as the likes of Target and Toys 'R' Us (TOY ) already do. Some 19% of items sold on Amazon, in fact, are from other sellers. Says Bezos: "We know how to develop world-class technology to make the customer experience in e-commerce really good." If he can persuade enough merchants to join Amazon, it may finally live up to its name.