1. Tim Cook, CEO, Apple - Most Powerful People in Wireless

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Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

What makes him powerful: Tim Cook heads the world's most valuable tech company--a company that derives close to two-thirds of its profits from the iPhone. Indeed, based on documents released during Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) trial with Samsung, Business Insider noted that Apple could generate $30 billion in profit from the iPhone this year. "Apple truly has become 'the iPhone' company," wrote BI's Henry Blodget.

It should come as no surprise then that Cook wields enormous power in the wireless industry. After all, the iPhone accounted for fully 77 percent of smartphone sales at AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T). And though the gadget accounted for a smaller percentage of smartphone sales at Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), it's clear the device remains a critical element of the U.S. market.

(On a worldwide basis, Samsung and Apple captured 106 percent of the handset industry's profits, according to numbers from investment firm Canaccord Genuity as reported by eWeek.)

Cook's power, as directed through the iPhone and iPad, translates into tremendous mindshare among U.S. smartphone users (Apple's iPhone launches generate nationwide headlines) and intense customer loyalty (the iPhone routinely receives top marks in customer satisfaction surveys). What this means is that Cook's every decision with the iPhone, and Apple's wireless business in general, can have an enormous impact on the market, ranging from the wireless carriers that sell Apple gadgets to the companies that supply components for the devices to companies that compete against Apple in phones and tablets.

Of course, Cook's tenure at Apple's helm isn't all smooth sailing. Just last month Cook oversaw a major shakeup in Apple's executive ranks that centered on the ouster of Scott Forstall, a longtime Apple player who was the driving force behind the company's iOS platform. Media reports indicate that Forstall's work was marked by ambition and divisiveness; iPhone designer Jony Ive reportedly refused to sit in the same room with Forstall. Thus, one of Cook's key challenges heading into 2013 will be nurturing the innovative, competitive culture created by Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Cook's main job will be to defend Apple from competitors--Samsung's profits rival those of Apple, and in the third quarter Samsung's smartphone market share was almost double that of Apple's.

At the same time though, Cook will need to continue to push through innovations across Apple's product line, starting with the company's phones and tablets. In 2012, that innovation mainly came in new screen sizes: The iPhone's screen got longer in the iPhone 5, and the iPad's screen shrunk down into the iPad mini. "Apple's innovation is sputtering," warned Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdry recently.

Does Cook have more "one last thing" tricks up his sleeve? It's a good bet he does, but he will need to remain focused to retain Apple's position.+Mike

Special Report: Top 25 Most Powerful People in U.S. Wireless 2012