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Lists for Fools

The richest people and companies — such as Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s largest companies or the world’s richest — are atleast based on measurable criteria of wealth, and even they hit and miss, because not all assets are in accessible public databases.

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Lists for Fools

Indra Nooyi, head of soft drink giant PepsiCo, outranks Sonia Gandhi, widely recognized as the real power behind Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in this year’s Forbes annual list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, which is headed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Brazil’s Pres. Dilma Rousseff.

Nooyi is no doubt a highly successful chief executive of a very prominent global company. But honestly, the idea that the head of a company that Apple CEO Steve Jobs once famously ridiculed was in the business of peddling “sugar water,” is more powerful than the power rider behind the world’s second-largest  economically-turbocharged country, is a reflection of the lopsided editorial judgment and naievete of the world’s foremost capitalist magazine.

Indeed, Forbes’ list ranks Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda Gates ahead of Gandhi too. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama ranks just behind Gandhi. Forbes’ much ballyhooed influential rankings — for that matter all such people power rankings, “Most Influential South Asians,” “Person of the Year,” etc., etc., — are unquestionably entertaining and popular, but they are neither credible nor of any journalistic reliability or value. What these rankings really are about is that they are fat cash cows for savvy media organizations to milk advertisers and sponsors in conjunction with the opportunities they afford to self-absorbed people to hobnob with other equally self-important (and frequently insecure) people.

Forbes explained its ranking methodology as being based in part on its other equally dubious lists, such as its Celebrity 100 for lifestyle and net worth from its World’s Billionaires list “for those with 10 figure bank accounts.” It also factored in “Facebook fans, Twitter followers and YouTube views” for the people it ranked. Guess who doesn’t count in such matrixes? It certainly wasn’t their social media profile that got the only two other Indians, ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar (43) and Biocon Founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (99), on the list.

The richest people and companies — such as Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s largest companies or the world’s richest — are atleast based on measurable criteria of wealth, and even they hit and miss, because not all assets are in accessible public databases.

Bottom line: Read these lists for their titillation value by all means, but don’t let any schmuck in a newsroom tell you who the most powerful or influential person in any field is. Unless you are angling for their list of fools.

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Magazine | September 2011 | Commentary | Business

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