(18 of 20)
As head of Microsoft's Interactive Media Division, Stonesifer, 40, is defining what may be the most important step in Microsoft's future: venturing beyond software for PCs into content for all media, including cd-roms, cable TV and the Internet. "We want to be the premier provider of interactive products," she says. With a $500 million 1996 budget, Stonesifer is in a position to change how millions of Americans get their news and entertainment. She has become, for Microsoft's growing ranks of media partners (a collection that ranges from nbc to Julia Child), an indispensable new-media problem solver. "There is," says Gates, "a lot to be figured out."
Stonesifer, the mother of two small children, has made a career of solving problems. After joining Microsoft in 1988, she transformed tiny Microsoft Press into a strong technical publisher and later reorganized the company's product-support department. When she arrived in 1991, customers were kept on hold for an average of 20 minutes. By the time she left, the average wait was down to 60 seconds.
Stonesifer's sense of what works and what doesn't will be critical if Microsoft is to succeed outside the personal computer industry. And the world won't have long to wait: Michael Kinsley's much anticipated Webzine, Slate, is scheduled to debut June 24, and msnbc Cable, the joint NBC-Microsoft all-news cable channel, is due this fall. If Stonesifer's track record is any gauge, both projects should draw a crowd.
ROBERT REDFORD Godfather of Independent Film
Look at an American independent film, and chances are the background trees will be in bloom. You can thank Robert Redford for that. Sundance Film Festival, the Park City, Utah, showcase he took over in 1985, is now so crucial for indie auteurs that many plan their movies around it. "They'll shoot in the spring," says Todd Solondz, whose Welcome to the Dollhouse won Sundance's top prize this year, "then edit in the summer and finish by the fall deadline so they can be shown at Sundance in January."
It is springtime for off-Hollywood film, with maverick hits like Fargo, Flirting with Disaster, The Brothers McMullen--and Pulp Fiction by that spawn of the indies, Quentin Tarantino. Redford had a fine, leathery hand in all that too. In '85 some 50 independent films were made; last year there were 700. They earned $735 million at the U.S. box office, nearly triple the gross in 1992. Redford's festival created an aura that welcomed young directors and persuaded Hollywood to do the same. Says indie producer John Pierson: "Sundance totally dominates the independent landscape."
Why would a hunky Hollywood star want to promote un-Hollywood films? "I've never been at ease with formula," says Redford, 58. "And around 1980 films were getting more formulaic, more like cartoons. Diversity was in danger. Helping independent film was a way to keep the industry broad." So in 1981 he created the Sundance Institute. It was host to powwows with indie and industry heavyweights, gave grants to some films and in February launched a Sundance cable channel. The institute has even gone global, inviting foreign talent to Utah.
Redford frets that independent film now has a "Belle Epoque fashion." But if it's lucky, it will last as long, and weather as smartly, as its most cogent cheerleader.
PHIL KNIGHT Nike's Lord of the Flyers