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Company: Netflix

Title: Founder and CEO

How he’s leading: Mortified by the $40 charge he’d incurred on a misplaced VHS tape, it was Hastings who first envisioned a world without late fees.

Lightweight DVDs, the U.S. Postal Service and an elegant supply chain made the former software exec’s dream possible.

Seven years and nearly a billion disc mailings later, most of Netflix’s 5.7 million customers pay $18 a month to watch as many movies as they want, keeping discs for as long as they want.

Hastings eyes 20 million Netflix subscribers by 2012, while rental incumbent Blockbuster continues to play catch-up. Selection has proven key to Netflix’s offer: Half of its 70,000-title catalog is in circulation on any given day.

The company has even greenlit its own Red Envelope Entertainment subsidiary to secure DVD distribution for indies that the majors deem too niche.

Plenty of Chicken Littles on Wall Street decried the death of DVD this year with the advent of movie downloading and video-on-demand. But Hastings has kept shareholders cool by focusing on the basics of growing Netflix’s customer base and revenue stream. (Nasdaq-traded Netflix closed Dec. 8 at $27.65 a share, compared to the once-mighty Blockbuster’s $5.16 on the NYSE.) The CEO says he’ll reveal the company’s digital download plans next month.

POV: For proof of Hastings’ concept, he says to look no further than Netflix’s home turf, which has an advanced broadband penetration rate: “Our growth in the Bay Area has been phenomenal,” he says. “We’re now at over 15% of households subscribing — and continuing to climb.”

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