The Comeback Kids

E-biz has returned with a vengeance. Meet the 25 men and women who got things clicking

What a comeback for e-business. Few would have predicted this in the dark days of 2000, when many people started to lose faith in the promise of the Internet -- and even to doubt the payoff from technology itself. Yet take a look around, and you'll see that e-business has become a pillar of the economy. Consumers are more avid than ever to go places where only the Web can take them, and the corporations making the smartest use of the Internet outclass their brethren when it comes to operating nimbly and efficiently. Investors get it: The Dow Jones Internet index is up 119% in the past year, compared with just 18% for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.

Who's behind this amazing turnaround? Those on this year's BusinessWeek e-business 25 list. Because of their vision, tenacity, new ideas, and ability to deliver on promises, what was discredited has gained credibility again.

Some of these standouts have delivered on their original business plans. Take Jeffrey P. Bezos. The CEO of Web retailer (AMZN ) Inc. was chained to Wall Street's doghouse back in 2000 when doomsters predicted that he would soon run out of cash. Didn't happen. Analysts expect Amazon to make a profit this year on $4.8 billion in sales.

There's plenty of fresh thinking going on, too. Literally. Joe Fedele, CEO of New York online grocery startup FreshDirect, learned from the meltdown of Webvan. Instead of offering home delivery at supermarket prices, he's delivering high quality at lower prices. That's clicking with finicky Manhattan shoppers. Further out there, futurist Howard Rheingold is exploring the concept of "smart mobs" to show how people will use the Internet in powerful ways. These ad-hoc groups form on the fly, by using mobile Net connections for fun, political action, and art events.

A few years ago, many people thought the proponents of e-commerce had lost their bearings. Some had. But not these 25 men and women. They're lighting the path ahead.

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