In a world shocked by evil terrorism, what genuinely matters? In a world moved by heart-wrenching heroism, whose contributions count? The new context of a world reframed by mass murder and covert warfare can cast a harsh light on the celebrations of creativity, innovation, grassroots leadership, and personal challenge that have been the hallmark not only of the Who's Fast issue, but also of Fast Company since its inception five years ago.
Or this new context can make the fundamental message of this magazine and this issue relevant, powerful, and inspirational. Who's Fast? The men and women in New York and Washington, DC whose lives and faces have filled television screens, newspapers, and magazines since the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What genuinely matters? The ongoing fight to build a world where each person's contribution makes a difference, where individual initiative and selfless sacrifice give birth to new ideas, new enterprises, new opportunities, and new connections.
Fast Company celebrates ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Men and women who lift us up and carry us to new levels of promise and performance — and new levels of hope and heart. We believe that there has never been a better time to recognize the presence of everyday heroes among us, men and women whose passions, ideas, interests, and experiences not only exhibit the best that they have to offer, but also remind us of the best that each of us has to offer.
This year's Who's Fast celebration presents 11 unsung heroes and rising stars — high-impact figures from all walks of life and from all kinds of companies and organizations. These are neither the most famous people in business nor the richest. These are people who matter because of the reach of their ideas and the depth of their impact — people who are shaping the future of strategy, competition, work, and change.
You'll meet senior executives who define new standards of excellence, including a fun-loving Irish grocer who has achieved breakthrough customer service and a no-nonsense IBM executive who has what may be the toughest job in the computer business. You'll meet marketers and designers who influence the look and feel of how we live, and a high-powered lawyer who uses his deal-making skills to help moderate-income people live in better places. You'll meet a Hollywood celebrity who is devoting his life to finding medical breakthroughs, and a medical researcher whose breakthrough technologies may reshape the logic of pharmaceutical research.
What unites this diverse cast of characters is not just that they are all working on big, important things. What unites them is that they all stand for ideas and values that matter — new strategies to build companies, new ways to serve customers, new technologies that change the rules of innovation, new solutions to intractable problems — and that they are all taking big risks to pursue their ambitions. We've grouped this collection of executives, entrepreneurs, designers, and activists into five "fast" categories that give shape to the changing landscape of business and to the new realities of work and strategy:
Leaders: Senior executives who create value through the power of their ideas, the depth of their commitment, and the authenticity of their character.
Change Agents: Activists at every level who are determined to challenge the status quo and to make a positive difference for the future.
Trendsetters: Marketers and designers whose sense of style and powers of persuasion change what our world looks like.
Disrupters: Scientists and engineers whose breakthrough advances transform our sense of what's possible and rewrite the rules of competition and performance in business.
Social Entrepreneurs: Dedicated innovators who are determined to tackle some of society's deepest challenges by embracing new ideas from business.
These are trying, challenging, dispiriting times. The sputtering of the economy over the past 18 months now has been overshadowed by terror and tragedy. Our goal with Who's Fast is not to put a false sense of hope on a troubled time, but to demonstrate just how much can happen, in any environment, when passionate people with big ideas and strong convictions are determined to make a difference.
We've worked hard to interpret as well as to chronicle the achievements of the people in this Who's Fast issue — to tease out lessons and principles that apply beyond their specific circumstances. We hope you will draw your own lessons from these stories — and that they will help you prepare for the challenges and opportunities ahead.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.