As an investor, I often find myself digging beyond the numbers and examining corporate management teams. In the technology sector, that job is often made a little more entertaining because the industry offers a truly interesting cast of characters. These aren't your average corporate suits.

No, not the one in Omaha
(Nasdaq: ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison is into competitive yacht racing and samurai culture. The unforgiving seas and the bushido code could teach anybody a few lessons about life and business, and Larry seems to have absorbed them all.

"It is not sufficient that I succeed," said Mongol emperor Genghis Khan. "Everyone else must fail." Ellison likes to quote him, and runs Oracle along those lines. If Ellison can't simply beat you bloody in the marketplace, he'll buy your company to get rid of the competition. Because, you know, that's what Khan would do if he were a modern businessman.

Retiring IBM (NYSE: IBM) CEO Sam Palmisano was more of a blue-collar CEO. He learned something about blocking and tackling as a star football player in high school and college. Sam wasn't a pampered QB or me-first wide receiver, though -- offensive linemen are all guts and no glory. He bought his first car with $1,000 earned playing the saxophone with The Temptations. Most of us would happily settle into a life of music or pro football after a youth like that -- Palmisano was offered a tryout for the Oakland Raiders -- but Sam instead worked his way up from salesman to CEO at IBM. And once at the top, he still had the team spirit that was instilled by football: In 2003, half his bonus was taken away and given to 20 other IBM executives.

And Micron Technology (Nasdaq: MU) CEO Steve Appleton attended college on a tennis scholarship and then went on to race off-road down the Mexican Baja peninsula when he's not skydiving, flying fighter jets, or pumping iron. These gung-ho hobbies prepare him for running his risky business: "I don't know what could be worse than being in the memory business for risk-taking," he told USA Today in 2006, just before winning one of those cross-country car races. "If we were in some stable, monopolistic business, I'd probably get objections from my executive staff about doing this, but they're all dying to go."

Fresh fruit
The next man on my list really needs no introduction: the vegetarian, Buddhist, visionary taskmaster Steve Jobs of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL). Before his untimely passing, Jobs built the world's largest company (briefly, by market cap) on fantastic industrial design and brilliant marketing. Some of the concepts were learned while sitting in on calligraphy classes as a college dropout. Jobs even gave credit to LSD trips for opening his mind to fresh ideas. His relentless attention to detail was inspired by how John Lennon honed every Beatles song to perfection.

Steve could be warmly personal, as when responding in person to random iPhone users' antenna gripes. He could also be brutally vindictive -- Jobs never wanted money out of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) for allegedly stealing his iPhone idea to build Android. He just wanted to stop them from doing it. Will far less inspirational replacement Tim Cook harbor the same fiery resentment? I doubt it.

Steve even had a great last name. Given the times that we live in, I've often done a double take over "Jobs Report" headlines -- are they talking about Steve or the economy?

But wait -- there's more!
I could fill books with these rich characters. There'd be many chapters about "giant-brained alien" Jeff Bezos of (Nasdaq: AMZN), who needs to be intellectually challenged lest he get bored and fire you. I'd write about Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) founder Jerry Yang, the official Chief Yahoo who wanted venture investors with more soul than money. And how could I pass over British billionaire Richard Branson? Based on a Virgin Records fortune seeded with Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, Branson now runs airlines and mobile networks, not to mention the Virgin Galactic suborbital space-flight service.

Each and every one of them comes into business with a strategy all his own, based on unique backgrounds and interests. And they're all proven success stories.

Maybe the book will come when I retire, independently rich. Until then, these mind-boggling and entertaining characters will continue to inspire me and the next generation of great business leaders.