lpsrocks's Blog


Rockville, Maryland,
web developer, NOLA native, mom of two, concerned citizen living apparently waaaayyy too close to the Beltway, as I have become part of the "chattering classes"... just a political junkie, I guess...concerned about the environment, the wetlands, and keeping the world safe for democracy... no wonder we can't sleep at night...


JANUARY 23, 2009 1:56AM

25 Most Influential People You've (Likely) Never Heard Of

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Washington, DC is a city filled with powerful people. Tuesday’s Inaugural festivities gathered some (most? all?) of the nation’s most powerful to witness President Obama’s swearing in. To us OSers who follow politics, most of the people we saw seated on the Capitol’s West Front were recognizable, if not by sight, at least by name.


Already, we have a good idea who the Power Brokers will be in Obama’s Washington. Politicos whose names we may not have known a year or six months ago have become household names – Axelrod, Emmanuel, Holder, Pelosi, Reid, Daschle. Even government officials whose names we might rather not know, including Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, Tim Geithner, have become familiar. And, as the Obama Team continues to transition and his appointees are confirmed, more and more of his top advisors and friends will become household names – already we know Valerie Jarrett and Larry Summers.

And yet - to kinda/sorta paraphrase the old saying - behind every great Power Broker lies a great staff /team of thinkers, organizers, worker-bees making it happen.

What follows is my compilation* of the 25 people, here-to-fore unknown to most of us, who are most likely to influence policy, government, technology, and just for fun – sports & culture, during the first years of the Obama administration (and perhaps, become household names in the process).


Politics & Government

1.  Cass Susstein - one of Obama’s informal campaign advisors and a fellow Harvard Law alumnus and University of Chicago Law School professor. His expertise is in is the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and behavioral economics. He was recently named Chief of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

He was also on Salon’s recent short list for Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.

2.  Sonia Sotomayor- Another potential Supreme Court pick for Obama

After growing up in a Bronx housing project, Sotomayor has risen to become a judge on one of the most powerful courts in the land: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit [New York]. As a Hispanic woman, Sotomayor would make an attractive candidate if Obama is looking to diversify the court. There has never been a Hispanic on the Supreme Court, and there is only one woman currently on the bench, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sotomayor might also have bipartisan appeal. She is politically moderate, and President George H.W. Bush appointed her to her first judgeship.

– Justin Jouvenal, Salon.com November 19, 2008

Wikipedia lists the following among her prominent rulings:

She issued the preliminary injunction against Major League Baseball, preventing MLB from unilaterally implementing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and using replacement players, thus ending the 1994 baseball strike.

She issued an order allowing the Wall Street Journal to publish Vince Foster's suicide note.

3.  Julianna Smoot - Democratic Party fundraiser extraordinaire. If you were involved in the Obama campaign, then you already know this name. Having previously worked for Senators Daschle, Durbin, Edwards, and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Schumer, Smoot served as the Obama campaign’s national finance director. Along with Finance Chair Penny Pritzker, Smoot raised unprecedented sums for the campaign.

4.  Cassandra Butts- long-time friend and senior advisor to Obama, Ms. Butts is the incoming Deputy White House Counsel.

Another Harvard Law alum, she served as VP for Domestic Policy at the Center for American Progress. In the White House, it is Ms. Butts who gets to fight with President Obama over his Blackberry (yes, Stellaa, that damn Blackberry again) and has issued orders to staff that they are not allowed to use IM.

See: Most Powerful Man in the World Gets Most Powerful Blackberry in the World

5.  Pete Rouse - Senior White House Advisor. Rouse, who co-chaired the Transition team, is expected to serve as a legislative advisor and presumably liaison with Capitol Hill. Long-time chief of staff for Senator Daschle, he served as Obama’s chief of staff in the Senate after Daschle’s defeat. He was regarded as a critical figure in showing Senator Obama the ropes when he first came to Capitol Hill and provided key guidance to Obama in taking a long-view on key decisions as a Senator, including the vote against Chief Justice Roberts.

Economic and Tax Policy

6.  Jason Furman - a top Obama economic advisor and key deputy to the National Economic Council. With degrees from Harvard (of course) and the London School of Economics, Furman has worked at the Brookings Institute on Robert Rubin’s Hamilton Project for policies to counter Bush policy and expand shared economic growth.

Given that Summers and Geithner are not skilled in public relations or herding politicians, the job may fall to Summers' top deputy, Jason Furman, a seasoned Washington operator....

Furman, 38, has already been tasked by Summers to dash up to Capitol Hill more than a few times to keep Democrats rowing in the same direction on Obama's economic stimulus package.

from MarketWatch – Beyond Obama’s Inner Circle


7.  Peter Orszag - head of the Office of Management and Budget. One of the few non-Harvard alumni among the inner circle, Orszag has degrees from Princeton and the LSE. He served as head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and was an advisor to President Clinton. Considered an expert on heath care issues and domestic spending, he is expected to play a key role in reforming the entitlement programs.

Business Week says Orszag has called the health-care system the “most pressing budget issue” and said a Social Security fix is doable “only through politically painful choices: tax increases and benefit reductions”. [Business Week, January 26 – February 2, 2009]

From blog.silive.com - Obama names Orszag as Budget Director

President-elect Barack Obama, flanked, by Budget Director-designate Peter Orszag, left, and Deputy Budget Director-designate Rob Nabors, speaks during a news conference in Chicago

For more information on Orszag, see Ezra Klein’s Number Cruncher in Chief in American Prospect


8.  Anil Kashyap and

9.  Raghuram Rajan - both professors at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Neither, to my knowledge, are advisors to President Obama nor have a relationship with him. However, they have both been cited in the mainstream business press for their analysis and ideas on the current fiscal crisis.

Kashyap is an expert and scholar on Japan’s banking system. Along with UCSD professor Takeo Hoshi, they spelled out the parallels of the U.S. economic/financial crisis to Japan’s recession of the 1990s. Key points are summarized in the Business Week article What the U.S. Can Learn from Japan

Kashyap and Rajan were recognized in the New York Times Magazine’s annual “Year in Ideas” [2008]

… for their work on capital insurance for banks as a way to avoid the need for future taxpayer-financed bailouts.

[from the University of Chicago Chronicle]

And finally, they were among a group of professors who co-wrote last fall’s Wall Street Journal article Fixing the Paulson Plan

There seem to already be a lot of economists around Obama’s round table, but these guys seem to have some solid ideas that may prove influential.

Health Care

We already know many of the key players in the government and political arena, including Secretary Daschle, Senators Kennedy and Baucus, and Representative Pete Stark. But, there are also a number of behind the scenes and outside players who are expected to have significant influence on the Health Care debate.

10.  Jeanne Lambrew - Deputy Director [to Daschle] of the White House Office of Health Reform, she co-authored with Daschle the book “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” She helped created the Children’s Health Insurance Program during the Clinton Administration and believes that private insurers should not have an “exclusive right” to cover Americans.

For a summary of her background and agenda, see Think Progress

11.  Wendell Primus - Senior policy advisor on Health Care to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Primus is expected to be one of the primary architects of a broad health-care bill that will be introduced to Congress. Primus has deep experience in budget and health-care issues, having worked on the Ways and Means Committee and at HHS earlier in his career. For more, see The Gatekeepers in Politics Magazine.

12.  David Cutler - one of Obama’s key economic advisors on Health Care during the campaign. It is unclear what, if any, role he will have in the administration. Dean of the Social Sciences and Economics Professor at Harvard University, he received his PhD from MIT.

He jointly authored the WSJ Opinion Piece - Why Obama’s Health Plan is Better in September.

Cutler, according to Huffpo’s Linda Bergthold, has also supported a public option for Health Care. See Bergthold’s Happy Health Care Reform New Year for a good review of the expected Obama Health Plan.

Others – otherwise known as stakeholders, lobbyists, special interests

13.  Andy Stern - President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). SEIU has over 2 million members and is the largest-growing union. Stern was a key supported of Obama’s candidacy. SEIU is part of Divided We Fail – a coalition of business, labor and senior-citizens’ groups attempting to pressure the government to address the U.S. healthcare system.

For more, see Divided We Fail Tries to Stay United

14.  a. John Rother and/or b. Bill Novell - Policy director and CEO, respectively, for AARP - also part of Divided We Fail, but not unimportantly, one of the largest advocacy groups for senior citizens.

15.  Trevor Fetter - President and CEO of Tenet Healthcare Corporation. Profit-based Dallas company that runs hospitals and has broad experience negotiating with insurers and pushing its weight around.


Added note/clarification: for Technology and Culture, I'm stepping outside of politics a bit and identifying some news-makers who are sure to gain prominence over the next few years. I'm sure Obama will have a CIO and the FCC will make some key decisions, but a. the folks likely to be in these positions have been around a while and b. it is doubtful that they will have as much influence on the country as the key players in industry.

If you’re not a Technology geek, many of the key influencers are not household names, excepting, of course, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergei-whateverhisnameis-Google guy…but here are some folks who I expect will have an impact and influence – well beyond the Obama administration.

16.  Tim Cook - Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, Cook is running the company during Steve Jobs’ health-related leave of absence.

Time magazine calls Cook … a brainy and capable leader who has long helped steer Apple's ship behind the scenes.

and further quotes an Apple manager

Tim runs Apple, and he has been running Apple for a long time now. Steve is the face of the company and very involved with product development but Tim is the guy who takes all those designs and turns it into a big pile of cash.

—Michael Janes, the first general manager of Apple's online store, Wired, Jan. 14, 2009
[as quoted in the Time magazine article - Tim Cook: The New Steve Jobs?]

Cook seems confident so far in his leadership role, expressing his strategic vision and making a strong statement during Wednesday’s earnings call that Apple will go after any companies that try to copy the iPhone’s patented design.

Also check out CNNmoney.com – The Cook Doctrine at Apple and Information Week's Apple Targeting Palm for Patent Violations for more current news from Apple.

While Cook is clearly in charge now and most analysts expect him to be the natural successor to Jobs, other Apple executives whose names you will likely hear more about are…

17.  Phil Schiller and

18.  Jonathan Ive - key players in Apple’s retail and design success. Schiller is Senior VP of worldwide marketing for Apple, has been lead pitch-man alongside Jobs, and delivered the Keynote address at this year’s MacWorld. He previously was VP of product marketing for Macromedia (makers of Dreamweaver – prior to their being bought by Adobe).

Ive is considered the Design guru at Apple and is the low-key creative genius behind many of its signature products.

Ive and his team were the force behind the eye-catching industrial design of such prominent projects as the iMac, iPod, and iPhone. Given Apple's emphasis on the marriage of form and function, and the visceral reaction that its products evoke in users, Ive's hand is keenly felt in everything Apple makes, from the placement of screws to the boxes the hardware comes in.

– from PC World, Six Apple Executives You Need to Know About

and as Rachel Maddow would say, just one more thing…

remember what you read a couple of paragraphs above and a veiled reference to Palm and its new Pre phone

Apple Serves Notice: Don’t Rip Off the iPhone from CNET

In the Apple version of six degrees of separation, it turns out that Palm’s current CEO is none other than…

19.  Jon Rubinstein - Palm CEO & former Apple executive

Palm chairman Jon Rubinstein, who helped develop the iMac and the iPod at Apple before leaving in 2006, clearly has his fingerprints all over the product development of Palm’s new webOS and especially the new Palm Pre, the first smartphone running the webOS. In fact, the Palm Pre demo at CES was so compelling that Palm’s stock shot up 35% as pundits proclaimed Palm’s resurrection and wondered aloud whether this was the iPhone’s first real competitor.

from from ZDNet - Palm Pre: Can it trump the iPhone? Will it matter?

See also Newsweek’s Palm’s New Reach

Keep an eye on this one – it will be interesting to see how the iPhone/Palm Pre battle for intellectual property shakes out. As an original Palm Pilot and first-gen Smartphone user, I’m glad to see Palm come out with a new OS and will be curious as to how it will compete with Apple and RIM, makers of the Blackberry.

and transitioning from Technology to Environmental Affairs, or crossing the divide...

Technology & Environment

20.  James Goodnight - CEO of SAS Institute. One of Forbes’ 400 Richest Americans (No. 33 in 2008) – Goodnight founded SAS, which is now America’s largest privately held company (also from Forbes). SAS, which is known for its statistical analysis software, developed new software tools that analyze the “green factor” of a company. The software, SAS for Sustainability Management, uses metrics based on Global Reporting Initiative criteria, and includes account greenhouse gas emissions, resource utilization, ethical sourcing and regulatory compliance.

See Greenbiz.com and/or Green.tmc.net.com for more details.

21.  Shai Agassi former President and presumed successor to the CEO at SAP, the large German enterprise software company, Agassi founded the company Better Place to explore and develop alternative energy solutions. He has a vision to build an electric car infrastructure and has worked with governments and environmental leaders to put the electric car back into play.

See Wired Magazine: Driven: Shai Agassi's Audacious Plan to Put Electric Cars on the Road and

Newsweek’s Switched-On Highways - Interview with Fareed Zakaria.

Miscellaneous – Some Pop Culture, Sports & just a little more Politics

To round out our list, here are just a few more influential folks, whose names you probably have heard of, if you’re into that sort of thing…but if not, you’ll probably be hearing alot more about these folks the next few months or years.

22.  Stephanie Meyer - if you don’t know who Stephanie Meyer is, you probably do NOT have a pre-adolescent daughter and you may not even have heard of, gasp, Edward Cullen. I am, of course, referring to the Twilight series of books and recent movie. Ms. Meyer is the author of the best-selling Twilight books – which, in the time-honored tradition of forbidden love - feature a teenage (human) girl falling in love with an 18 year-old/immortal vampire.

Meyer’s four books have become something of a phenomenon and USA Today asks " has the young-adult baton passed from J.K. Rowling ?"

23. Danny Boyle - critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated British director. He has been receiving lavish praise for his current film, Slumdog Millionaire, set in India. The film has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and received five Critics Choice Awards and four Golden Globes. He also directed Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, and 28 Days Later among others as well as BBC TV movies and shows.

Sarah Caden provides an interesting view of Boyle in this 2005 article The Man Who Could’ve Been Pope in the independent.ie

24.  Tony Hawk - Champion Professional Skateboarder turned Entrepreneur, Entertainer, Philanthropist. I’m a little late coming to the Tony Hawk SkateboarderTony Hawk party – only recently tuned in because of the recommendation of my 14-year-old nephew for the Xbox game and the purchase of the same skateboarding game for the Wii for my son. And, of course, all the cool kids know of this Tony Hawk - the first man ever to land the 900 [two-and-a-half rotations (900°) in air before landing on the pipe again] in competition (during the 1999 X Games). He has gone on to build an enormous franchise based on his name and likeness, including clothing, skate gear, video games, and endorsements. He is also breaking into the entertainment business and his foundation is building skate parks for underprivileged kids.

USA Today says - Hawk, like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, belongs to that rare breed of athlete-entrepreneurs whose names and brands have transcended their sports and become mainstream icons in the popular culture.

With his marketing savvy and wholesome looks, family man Hawk introduced an outlaw street sport to the suburbs and shopping malls, helping to turn skateboarding into a multibillion-dollar industry….

- from USA Today, Executive Suite: Tony Hawk leaps to top of financial empire

25.  Bobby Jindal - current Louisiana governor and GOP wunder-kid. You may know Jindal as one of the “other governors” who were invited to Senator McCain’s ranch for a “look-over” and was passed over in favor of Sarah Palin. Or not. But, Jindal has made a name for himself in Louisiana as an ethics reformer and his name keeps coming up as a potential player in the 2012 Presidential election.

An Indian-American and the first non-white governor of Louisiana, Jindal’s real name is Piyush Jindal - he supposedly adopted the name Bobby from the Brady Bunch TV Show. He converted to Catholicism from Hindu and is quite popular in Louisiana among conservatives and moderates. He also has a record of fiscal conservatism, helping restore the state’s Medicaid program from bankruptcy, as Lousiana’s secretary of Health and Hospitals.

See Wikipedia or this New York Times Article Indian-American Elected Louisiana’s Governor for an overview or visit nola.com - the website for the N.O. Times Picayune for ongoing Louisiana news and politics.



So, those are the ones to watch in 2009 and beyond. We can check back in a few months to see how influential these folks have become. Comments, additions, corrections, backtalk are all welcome.


*Sources include: Wikipedia, Business Week, Newsweek, Fortune, Washington Post, Wired.com, and others as referenced in text
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Interesting read, Lisa, thanks - the Washington picks, especially, are a level or two deeper than I would normally hear about....
Donna - thanks for coming by this late in the evening. The question is - who, if any, of these will become household names over the next few years? Do you remember when we'd never heard of Bernanke or Palin? or even Dick Cheney - except in some remote kind of way?
Terrific, informative post. Thanks.
What is it with all the lists these days? OS is getting to sound like the David Letterman show.
Something tells me we will hear of some of these people much more over the next 8 or so years.

I'm hoping Barack can bring someone seminal in sports on board to be a REAL role model for kids on physical fitness and the perils of all that is bad. NOT Arnold Schwarzenegger. What a poor choice he was to be the face. He's an anomaly. It's like getting Kate Moss to be the poster child for young girls/ladies. Someone who really epitomizes physical fitness. I can see Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong really appealing.

Michael - thank you - you're up either very late or very early - I'm guessing late as I think you're on West Coast time. I'll be dropping by to read your piece on the NY Senator.

Jim - can I treat you to a super large, steamin' hot Caramel Macchiato with whipped cream?
greg - don't forget Mia Hamm and Lisa Leslie.
Excellent work Lisa. Thanks for the heads up. I'll be interested in your take again in a few months. Great post.
Very cool, Lisa! This is the kind of post that belongs in Big Salon. I had to laugh when I saw Tony Hawk in there, but then I thought, "Well, hmm..."
Wow, Lisa - this is really great. I appreciate how long it must have taken you to pull this together. I totally feel like an insider.
gracielou - thank you - you are too nice; your name suits you so well - so warm and gracious. I'm always a little wary of prognosticating and feeling foolish, but I guess I'm hopeful that some of these folks will have a positive influence.

rob - thanks, man. well, Tony Hawk is on there because he's one of those where my nephew was like - Tony Hawk?! you don't KNOW who Tony Hawk is? what - dude, have you been living under a rock?

and I was like - well, I've kinda heard the name, but I'm not really sure...I think he skateboards

sorry - this is how one talks when speaking with teenagers, except with fewer complete sentences, but you can see where I wanted to make sure no one else was made to feel completely old and out of it
An unbelievable array of insiders. Thanks for doing the leg work. You should be Obama's Information Officer!
Interesting and the best post I have read in a long time ;0).
I am so happy that the big brains at Apple will be influential in the administration. If it's one thing Apple does well, it's taking the needs of the public as Job One. Isn't that what we need from government?
gmg - but, then, I would be the one who had to fight with him over that damn Blackberry.

but, maybe I could replace all the White House computers, which are apparently disastrous, with Macs :-)

julie - oops, I almost missed you - thanks! the information and these names have been just floating out there in the publications and on-line sites I read, and I just felt a burning need to coalesce it into something that made sense

dorinda - THANK YOU!

ardee - I don't know that the Apple guys will have a direct influence on the administration, but I do know that Apple has a huge influence on technical innovation and the culture, at large. But, other than Steve Jobs, no one else is terribly well-known but I expect will become so over the next few years.

I also think well-run and successful companies can provide influence and models for American business in general as well.

I'm sorry if the post conflated the political stuff and the technical stuff or confused anyone.
It is hardly conflated or confusing. This was a LOT of work to think about an pull together. I really appreciate it. I was one of those behind the scenes types when I was in DC. The second and third layer players are the glue that holds the teams together and makes sure that things get done. This is a very valuable resource and I will be mining it for a long time. Thanks for the effort and the way you presented it. Clarity and content are first rate.

This is the kind of post that makes one mad about how people fall off the OS front page after a short while because it's likely to gain steam only slowly and yet to be the kind of resource one wants to absorb gradually. Thanks!
Your distinction is understood. However, since new technology is likely to be one of the main drivers of the economy re-boot, Obama could do far worse than to turn to Apple for ideas.
monte & kent - thank you both. your wisdom and appreciation mean alot to me - our gentle pastor and wise sages both.

& kent - oh, btw, it took almost as long (possibly longer & certainly more cuss words) to format the darn thing as to write it - between Word mangling my tags and OS' editor quirks - it was a very good training exercise for me to hand-code inline CSS styles. thanks, again, for your refresher course and reminder that I could do that - the bullet list wasn't gonna cut it.

ardee - thanks for circling back. I added a note above, because reading/scanning quickly it wasn't absolutely clear, even to me :-)
Tremendously informative. I'm bookmarking this so I can come back and read it in depth. I really appreciate the obvious work you put into this. Between you and Stellaa, I just might get a handle on this administration.
Thanks for such a comprehensive list, Lisa. I'm now hoping that someone invites me to a party so that I can show off my new-found knowledge. :) Actually, I am going to bookmark this so that when these folks hit the news, I can look them up here to refresh my memory. Nice work!
katina - thank you - I don't know, he keeps adding people; we'll never keep up. I was just down in DC tonight and it felt so good that it is in Democratic hands again - & everybody just looked so young and ready to work (lots of business suits (& no, not really date suits) on a Sat night - WTF is that about? oh yeah, it's DC)
Lisa - well, I will certainly invite you to the next party I have. Or perhaps you need to hang out more with o'Stephanie. Or we'll have a Balt-Philly-DC-Eastern PA OSers party All I know is that you don't get to pick the restaurant :-)
Nice work here Lisa. Much appreciated. Last week's NY Times Mag did a picture feature of top Obama aides but you have done them one better.
Nice job, Lisa. Lots of work. Thank you for that. I'll be bookmarking this post as a reference for bios.
grif - thank you; that is an honor coming from you - I love reading your comments on others' blogs - you cut right through the bullshit.

m.a.h. - very cool. thanks for coming by.
This is incredibly well done!
Omigod! There is a 26th name that belongs on this list thanks to your comprehensive presentation here -- your own name.
Rated and appreciated.
Great job. I'm bookmarking this. Knew most of the names in Politics, economics, but in technology (1), pop culture (0). And as for #25, yecch, a Republican.

liz, jimmy & stephanie - thank you!

Tom - cool! if only I could influence Mr. Obama or at least the great masses or something - I would have certainly whispered in someone's ear to send Cheney down a flight of stairs or something - ok, that was mean, but...

CCC - yep, WOOF! I am totally ambivalent on Jindal - he is a Republican and too socially conservative for my tastes, but he is NOT an idiot and he has actually done some good things for Louisiana. I'm surely not promoting him, but I DO think he will be right in the mix in 2012.
I see I was possibly too generous and even-handed regarding Mr. Jindal. hmmm....

but, correct in predicting his rise (& hopefully crash & burn) to prominence in the still-looking-for-a-leader-GOP