10 Famous Entrepreneurs And How They Started


What is an entrepreneur? In the strictest sense of the word, an entrepreneur is someone who creates and runs a new business. These are the risk takers, the people who are willing to think outside of the proverbial box and push themselves to attain something new.

Yet a true entrepreneur is more than simply a business owner. Most entrepreneurs are born with an innate desire to do something great, to become something more or to lead others to greatness. Often, this entrepreneurial spirit is seen in the individual’s early years, yet some great entrepreneurs did not find it in themselves until their later years.

Regardless, entrepreneurs are fascinating people to study. Whether they are born with talent or just the tenacity to keep going in spite of obstacles, the world’s great entrepreneurs continue to inspire and enlighten the world, long after they have made a name for themselves.

While there are thousands of entrepreneurial minded individuals that have had an impact on modern society, a few have risen above to showcase true brilliance. In all industries, entrepreneurs have paved the way to bring new businesses, new products and new ideas to the world.

Some of these people were born with greatness and talent that showed itself at an early age. Others were born leaders, having the ability to inspire people with their charisma. Yet others were simply the go-getters, the people who inspired others by never giving up.

These 10 entrepreneurs each have a very different story. Some are rags-to-riches stories, while others are people of position who use that position to create something amazing. By reading their stories, you will be inspired to be the best you can be.

Famous Female Entrepreneurs

Mary Kay Ash

Few women have done more to help women take charge of their future, while still being the moms and wives they want to be, than Mary Kay Ash, founder of the cosmetics line that bears her name.

Many entrepreneurs stumble upon their businesses by accident, but not Ash. The empire she founded was a clear dream in her mind from its inception, and it all started with the passion to help women transform their lives. Yet her discovery of her talents in sales was quite by accident.

In the late 1930s, a door-to-door encyclopedia saleswoman knocked on Ash’s door and made her a deal. She would give Ash a free set of encyclopedias if Ash was able to sell 10 sets. She did in just a day and a half.

While this might not seem hard, 10 sets of encyclopedias was the three-month quota at the time for the most prolific salespeople working for that company. Ash suddenly realized she had found her talent. By selling encyclopedias part time, she was able to support her family.

But there was one problem with this business model. Many of her friends were not thrilled with the purchases she so skillfully wrangled them into, and they began to accuse her of selling them something they didn’t need. This sent her on a quest to find a more useful product, which brought her to Stanley Home Product, a direct-sales program offering house wares and cleaning products. She eventually became the company’s Queen of Sales

When Ash’s husband returned home from serving in World War II and left his young family for another woman, the saleswoman had to turn her part-time business into a full-time career to support her children. While she succeeded remarkably well in sales, she found that men were often promoted before she was, even when they lacked the skills she clearly had. She moved on to World Gift Co., a new direct-sales firm, and again found that her ideas were often overlooked by her male counterparts. When one of her trainees was promoted and paid double what she was paid, she decided to retire in 1963.

As Ash’s professional career shows, this was a time when the business world was dominated by men, to an even greater extent than it is now. She decided that her experiences were the fodder for a book, and began brainstorming with two lists. In one, she wrote what companies she had worked for had done well, and the other was a list of what they had done poorly. What resulted was more than just the outline of a book – it was the outline of a successful business, and one where women would not be overlooked in favor of men.

Her dream company’s goals were simple. First, everyone would be treated equally. Second, promotions would be based on merit. Finally, products were chosen based on performance and marketability, not profitability.

Mary Kay took her entire life savings, just $5,000, and set out to launch her dream. Her son, Richard Rogers, helped, and on September 13, 1963, Mary Kay Cosmetics was born.

Her first goal as a new business owner was to find a product. Because she wanted her business to cater to women, the product needed to be something women used and loved. It also had to be something that was used up, so it would have to be re-ordered over and over. She found that product in a cosmetic item she already was using.

For around a decade, Ash had been purchasing skin softener made by the daughter of a hide tanner. Using tanning solutions as a base, the young woman had created a skin softener that worked wonderfully. With that $5,000, Ash bought the recipe for the skin softener and launched a Dallas storefront to sell it.

Like many entrepreneurs, Ash’s early days were fraught with difficulties. While she was busy training her sales force, which consisted of nine female friends, Ash’s second husband was working on the legal side of the business. This came to a grinding halt when he died of a heart attack, and her lawyer and accountant both pushed her to give up her idea. She was not swayed, however, and launched Mary Kay Cosmetics on September 13, 1963.

Mary Kay’s sales people, or consultants as she called them, used a different sales technique to peddle their wares. Rather than trying to convince women that they had to buy these cosmetics, they showed them exactly how the products could be used to improve their appearance. When the women saw the results, very little sales effort was needed to sell the products.

This innovative idea worked. In less than four months, the fledgling company had sold $34,000 in products. By the end of the year, the sales had risen to $198,000. The company’s model sparked a fire in women as well who were looking for a way to find sales success. By the end of the second year there were over 3,000 consultants selling Mary Kay Cosmetics, and sales were at the $800,000 mark.

Interestingly, Ash had little success selling her own products. People seemed skeptical because her name was on the bottle. Instead, she dedicated her efforts into motivating and training her consultants. Her enthusiasm for sales and her products was catching, and soon consultants around the world were successfully selling her stuff.

Mary Kay Cosmetics also began a rewards program that offered incentives to the best salespeople. Trips, jewelry and cars were all available to top sellers. By 1968 when the company went public, Mary Kay Ash was a self-made millionaire.

Interestingly, Mary Kay Cosmetics was one company that didn’t stay public. As the company grew and brought in even greater dividends, shareholders started to have an opinion about the way Ash ran the business. One thing they questioned was the incentives provided to consultants. They started pushing Ash to stop giving away pink Cadillacs and other high-cost incentives.

Ash refused to listen, and in 1985 the company went private again. It ended up being a good choice, as they continued to grow through the motivated sales force, becoming the largest direct seller of cosmetics in the country in 1993 when they broke the $1 billion level. The company is also the only company that has made Fortune’s “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America” list three different times. Also, Ash is the only female business leader to earn a spot in the Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time book.

Mary Kay had a dream, and she saw it through to success. In the midst of that, she brought thousands of women the opportunity to start their own dream. Through her inspiration and a lot of hard work, moms and wives today can now become entrepreneurs and have their own successful businesses, filled with pin and the promise of rewards.

Oprah Winfrey

For most entrepreneurs, the path to success is riddled with more than just failure. It’s riddled with outright rejection. Oprah Winfrey, perhaps the best-recognized name in entertainment, is a prime example of this.

Oprah’s story started in the south, where she was raised by her grandmother on a poor farmstead while her mother looked for work in northern cities. Her grandmother didn’t have much in the way of wealth, but she taught young Oprah to read and had her quote scripture and poetry at area churches, thus giving her a passion for performance. However, at the age of six she was sent to Milwaukee to live with her mother, and there she suffered abuse from male relatives and neighbors. This resulted in some promiscuous behavior from the young woman, and at age 14 she gave birth to a baby boy who died just a few weeks later.

In order to give the girl more structure, Oprah’s family sent her to live with her father. Under her father’s care and strict discipline she thrived, and soon began winning prizes for abilities in the drama department. She won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant at 17 and got her first radio position at WVOL. Her abilities earned her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts. She never finished college, however, as her career as a broadcaster took off.

In 1976 Oprah had her first foray into television broadcasting as the co-anchor of Baltimore’s WJZ-TV News. The show had very low ratings, and Oprah was fired from it, with the claim that she was “not fit for TV.” This rejection was actually beneficial for the talk show maven, as she was demoted to a morning TV spot, where she was able to find her voice.

Soon, her fame as a morning talk show host spread, and she was invited to Chicago to host AM Chicago, which she quickly turned from a faltering morning program to one of the most popular in the city. Soon she was given a full hour, and in 1985 the show was re-named the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”

The Oprah Winfrey Show became the stuff of legend. Winning multiple Emmy awards and earning Oprah the “Broadcaster of the Year” award from the International Radio and Television Society, Oprah’s show was the foundation of her success. During her time as a talk show host she also starred in several key roles on screen, such as playing Sofia in Spielberg’s The Color Purple, and another role in Native Son. In 1986 Oprah took her name, spelled it backwards, and launched Harpo Productions, her own production company. Harpo Productions bought The Oprah Winfrey Show from ABC in 1998, produced several television programs and launched O Magazine.

Through The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah was able to give out millions to worthy causes throughout the world, helped start the careers of entertainers like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, and even endorse, and probably push to a win, President Barak Obama. In 2010 she announced on the Larry King that she was going to end The Oprah Winfrey Show, focusing her efforts on the Oprah Winfrey Network, her joint broadcasting venture made with the Discovery Health Channel. While no longer a presence on the television every afternoon, Oprah remains a driving philanthropic force in the country, and continues to support causes that are near to her heart.

Had Oprah allowed her first rejection to get her down, we would not have had the joy of watching Tom Cruise jump on a couch or see the reclusive Michael Jackson interviewed on television. Oprah’s charismatic personality and drive for success has created a media empire, and from that she has done good in many areas of the world.

Famous Entrepreneurs List

Colonel Sanders

When you think of an entrepreneur, the image that pops into your mind is likely one of a young, successful business person, but Colonel Harland Sanders did not fit this mold at all. In fact, the successful entrepreneurial-minded Colonel didn’t begin marketing his world-famous chicken until the age of 65. Learning his story will inspire you to believe that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Colonel Harland Sanders was born on September 8, 1890. His early life didn’t forecast his future success. He was just six years old when his father passed away, forcing his mom to return to work and leaving him, as the oldest, to take care of his siblings. By default, he learned to cook.

Colonel Sanders got his first job as a young boy at the age of 10. Throughout his youth he held many different positions, including his work as a soldier, working as a streetcar conductor, selling tires and even working as a fireman on the railroad. It was not until he turned 40 and was the owner of a collection of service stations that his true talent, the talent to cook, emerged.

He began by offering his hungry customers some food to eat while they were visiting his service station. Soon, people were lining up out the door of the service station to sample his faire. He realized that he could no longer feed them in the small dining area of his station, and he moved across the street to a restaurant that seated 142 people. At this location, he spent nine years perfecting a blend of spices that would become the secret recipe of his “Finger Lickin’ Chicken.”

Soon, the reputation for his food began to grow. In 1935, in recognition of all Sanders had done to improve the reputation of dining in Kentucky, Governor Ruby Laffoon made him an honorary Kentucky Colonel, and his iconic name, Colonel Sanders, came into being.

But in spite of this honor, the state took an action that could have ended his success. In the early 1950s, the state planned an interstate highway. Corbin, the town where the Colonel’s restaurant sat, would be bypassed, drawing away the hundreds of guests that frequented the establishment and enjoyed the Colonel’s food. Instead of allowing his restaurant to meet a slow death, the Colonel sold his operations and lived on his $105 he received each month from Social Security.

At his age, this would sound like a failure, yet the Colonel didn’t give up. He knew is chicken could sell, and in 1952 he started a fried chicken business. Traveling from restaurant to restaurant, he gave samples of his chicken to the owners and their employees. Restaurants that liked the food could sell it to their customers in return for a nickel for each piece they sold. Soon, the Colonel was racking up franchised outlets for his chicken.

While a nickel a piece doesn’t sound like much, the Colonel was able to sell enough chicken that by 1964 he was able to sell his franchises for $2 million. Kentucky Fried Chicken, as it was soon called, began to grow rapidly, going public in 1966 and growing to over 3,500 restaurants by 1971. Throughout this time, the Colonel continued to benefit from his creation, serving as the public spokesman for the company, and becoming one of the most recognizable celebrities of his time.

The Colonel’s story is one of tenacity. Even when life threw him lemons, he found a way to turn them into something profitable. From his earliest days caring for his siblings and cooking meals at the tender young age of seven, he continued pushing for his goals. And anyone who has ever sampled a piece of original recipe has benefited from his entrepreneurial spirit.

Larry Page & Sergey Brin

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, are an interesting study in the entrepreneurial spirit. While they are two different people, their story is so closely intertwined that it’s almost impossible to discuss one without the other.

Larry Page’s interests in the computer world was likely sparked by his parents. His father, Carl Page, earned a Ph.D. in computer science in 1965, before many people even knew what computers were. His mother, Gloria, was a computer science professor. With that childhood, he had the best foundation for a life in computers, and was surrounded by computers from a very young age.

It was in his Ph.D. training at Stanford that some of the foundations for Google began. As he was searching for a dissertation idea, he wondered about exploring the mathematical properties of the Internet, and this was encouraged by his supervisor. He focused on researching the links between web pages, and how those backlinks showed the value of the page. His primary goal was to help with students who were using the Web for writing academic papers, and he gave the project the nickname of BackRub.

Sergey Brin’s story is quite different. He was born in the Soviet Union, and immigrated to the United States when he was six years old. It was his father’s desire to study science that forced the family to leave the Soviet Union, where the Communist Party was barring him from university study because he was a Jew.

It was also at Stanford that Brin’s focus on creating a search engine for the World Wide Web came into being. He met Page at an orientation for new students. At first, the two did not hit it off well and argued on many subjects, but soon they realized their dissertation projects would connect well. Brin was focusing on creating data mining systems, which complemented Page’s focus on mapping the links between Web pages. They combined their efforts in a paper entitled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.” Thus, what would eventually become the world’s most recognizable search engine, was born.

The two scientist quickly realized they had stumbled upon something epic. As they filled their dorm room with computers to test their search engine, they soon were using more bandwidth than Stanford could offer. They also decided that “BackRub” was not the right name for their project, and in 1997 they changed it to Google. Page and Brin decided they would be best off suspending their doctoral studies and focusing their efforts on perfecting their search engines.

Their professors saw the value in what they were doing, as did family and friends, as all of these began funding the new endeavors. Soon the two men purchased some servers and caught the eye of Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Bechtolsheim wrote a check for $100,000 to Google, Inc., a company that did not yet exist, in August of 1998. Brin and Page scrambled to incorporate, which they did successfully in early September. They then rented a garage in Menlo Park, where they were able to devote their time to growing their dream.

By December people were starting to notice how effective Google was. PC Magazine said, “Google has an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results.” Less than a year after the company was incorporated it was named the search engine of choice by the magazine.

Since that time, Google has grown into a multi-billion dollar empire, with Brin and Page at the helm. While they have never finished their doctoral training, Page and Brin were awarded an honorary MBA from EI Business School for the entrepreneurial spirit in 2003. They were awarded the Marconi Foundation Prize from Columbia University in 2004 for their spirit of innovation and the way they changed the world of information.

Finally, in 2009, Page received his doctorate when the University of Michigan offered him an honorary doctorate. Brin was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, which is perhaps more prestigious than a doctoral degree. Both are among the top 25 riches people in the world according to Forbes.

What began as a simple doctoral paper and the friendship of two computer geeks grew, through innovation and strategic planning, into the world’s most recognized website and powerful search engine. On the back of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin have become two of the most successful men in the 21st century.

Sam Walton

Drive through America today, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a community without a Wal-Mart. The blue and white sign is becoming an icon for affordable merchandise for your daily life throughout the country, and has sparked all sorts of parodies throughout the Web. While we love to laugh at the antics of the “People of Wal-Mart,” few can say that they’ve gone long without a trip to the retailer. All of this is possible because of the dream of one Sam Walton.

Sam Walton was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma in 1918. His first professional role was in the military, which he joined in 1942. One year later he married Helen Robson. His military career ended in 1945, at which time he moved with his wife, eventually settling in Newport, Arkansas.

Before he began his career in the military, Walton also gained experience in the retail industry, working for the small J.C. Penney Company out of Des Moines, Iowa prior to enlisting. When he was discharged, he acted on that experience, borrowed $25,000 from his father-in-law and bought a Ben Franklin franchise in his town of Newport. As someone from a small town, he began to have a burden to bring discount stores to small town communities, and he wanted to show that doing so could be successful.

Walton spent 20 years building a small empire of stores. His first store grew to 15 during that time. One of these was the Walton’s Five and Dime in Betonville, Arkansas. However, he began to disagree with the leadership of the Ben Franklin franchises. When he wanted to expand into rural communities, and they disagreed, he took it as his cue to start his own company. Thus, in 1962, Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas. He was 4 years old at the time.

In all of his 15 stores, Walton brought innovative ideas that fueled his success. He learned to buy low by buying in bulk so he could sell at a low price but for a high profit. He moved the layout of the store to put the cash registers at the front by the exit. He kept his stores stocked with a variety of brands and products to appeal to more customers. He encouraged employees to take pride in their work by offering ownership opportunities. Each of these ideals continue to fuel Wal-Mart today, and have helped create its massive success.

Walton’s competitors believed his ideas were faulty. They didn’t feel that he could build a profitable company by focusing on low prices and great service alone. Time proved them to be wrong. In 1970 the company went public, and just six years later its shares were valued at over $167 million. This increased to over $45 billion by the early 1990s, and by 1991 Wal-Mart was the largest retailer in the country.

It was his emphasis on lower prices, something his competitors scoffed at, that actually proved to be his most successful focus. When the country faced an economic downturn in the early 1990s, it was those lower prices that helped people continue to purchase the things they needed. He actually saw growth during a time when businesses were shutting their doors.

Throughout all of this, Walton maintained a fairly simple life. In fact, when Forbes named him the wealthiest man in America in 1985, he responded by saying, “All that hullabaloo about somebody’s net worth is just stupid, and it’s made my life a lot more complex and difficult.” If you had met him on the street, you would have seen little to point to his vast wealth. He drove a 1985 Ford pickup until his death and lived in the house he bought in Bentonville, Missouri in 1959 throughout his adult life.

While he enjoyed the fruits of his success, he stayed connected to the stores, leading in a hands-on way. He could often be found in the store, interacting with customers and encouraging employees to continue providing excellent service. He was on the job at 4:30 in the morning, and he led by example.

Walton expected his people to work hard, and rewarded those who did. He was willing to make hard decisions and change personnel when he didn’t ge the results he wanted. This down-to-earth personality combined with his innovative ideas and tenacious leadership style is what pushed Wal-Mart to success.

Walton did not wake up with the dream of building his own retail empire. He followed his life one step at a time, and when he had an idea that others laughed at, he branched out on his own. This willingness to take a big step of faith combined with

Walt  Disney

“It was all started with a mouse.” This is, perhaps, one of Walt Disney’s most famous quotes. It captures the simplicity of the start of the Walt Disney empire, and shows just how humble Disney’s beginnings were. A closer look at Disney’s story, however, shows that it all started with more than a mouse – it started with one of the greatest imaginations of the 20th century.

It’s hard for today’s kids to imagine a world without Walt Disney. As a pioneer in animation and children’s entertainment, Disney brought hope and whimsy to a world that was largely tailored to adults. He built a successful entertainment empire that still stands today, decades after his death.

Walter Elias Disney’s beginnings were simple. He was born in 1901 as one of five children. Just after he was born, the family moved to Marceline, Missouri, where he spent most of his childhood.

Disney’s drawing abilities surfaced at a very young age. Instead of doing his work at school, he was often found drawing animals and nature, and at seven he was selling his sketches to neighbors.

Later, the Disney family moved to Kansas City. There, Walt’s teachers saw his talent for story telling and drawing, often inviting him to tell stories to his classmates and illustrate them at the same time. As a teenager, he frequently snuck out of the home to perform comedy routines at local theaters after dark.

After a short stint in the Red Cross helping in World War I, Disney decided to pursue a career in commercial art, which led to dabbling in animation. His first venture was The Alice Comedies, stories involving a real girl having adventures in a world filled with animated characters. His company, Laugh-O-Grams, was unable to become successful, and he had to file for bankruptcy before finishing The Alice Comedies. Instead of wallowing in his failure, Disney packed up and headed to Hollywood at the young age of 21.

In California, Walt joined his brother Roy and pooled their resources to finish The Alice Comedies, with the first installment, Alice in Cartoonland, finally ordered by a New York production studio.

In 1925, Walt married Lillian Bounds, and just here years later he drew a small mouse named Mortimer. Lillian encouraged him to change the name to Mickey, and the first cartoon, a silent named Plane Crazy, was created. It was never released, however, as the motion picture industry introduced sound, and Mickey made his debut in a sound feature called Steamboat Willie at New York’s Colony Theater on November 18, 1928.

Prior to the success of Steamboat Willie, Walt had his share of nay-sayers. In 1927 he brought Mickey to MGM, but they refused to distribute it. Their claim? That a giant mouse on the screen would frighten away mild manner housewives.

Disney was a pioneer in the animation world. Steamboat Willie was the first synchronized sound cartoon, and he later brought color to cartoons with Technicolor and his Silly Symphonies. He held this patent for two full years, making his the only studio that had color cartoons.

Others began to take notice, and in 1932 Flowers and Trees won an academy award. He continued to push for innovations until making animation history with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 137, the first full-length animated musical feature. The film cost nearly $1.5 million, which was unheard of at the time, and was considered to be one of the greatest feats in the industry of all time.

The next few years brought many more films. In 1940 Roy and Walt finished the Burbank Studio, which hired over 1,000 artists and other animation professionals. During World War II, Disney facilities were used to create propaganda and training films for the armed services. They also created comedies to boost morale and health-related features to be used in schools.

As the studio continued producing films, with over 100 feature films produced over they ears, Walt found another dream. He wanted to create a place where children could play and imagine in a clean, safe environment. In 1955 that dream became reality when Disneyland Park in Anaheim opened.

As most people are well aware, the theme park dream didn’t stop with Anaheim. Disney had a dream to create the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) as a place to focus on changing some of the problems of urban living. To reach this dream, he bought a huge plot of land larger than Manhattan that was useless swampland in the heart of Orlando. He started development with a Magic Kingdom Park, which opened in 1971. In 1982 EPCOT, which was more theme park and less community, opened, followed by Disney-MGM Studios in 1989.

Sadly, Walt died before any of these plans came to fruition, as he passed away in 1966, but his legacy of imagination and innovation in entertainment lives on. As a self-made success, his story shows just how far imagination and a love for fun can take someone. His work has touched the lives and childhoods of more people than just about any person in modern history, and his ideals continue to live on through his company.

Henry Ford

Perhaps few names are as closely associated with the American automotive industry than the name of Henry Ford. He didn’t invent the automobile, but he did more to put it in the driveways and garages of the American people than just about any innovator of his time.

Ford, from his earliest years, was an innovator. He had the ability to take ideas and promote them until they became part of everyday life. He was a strong leader who was willing to take risks, and the results were phenomenal.

His leadership and innovative tendencies showed themselves at an early age, when he was organizing the neighborhood kids to build wheels and steam engines. Raised by a farmer, he left the family business to become an apprentice at the Michigan Cary Company, a company that made railroad cars, in 1879. All of the jobs he held as a young man he took for their educational value, and he frequently moved on when he felt he had learned all a company could teach him.

In 1982 he returned home to the family farm again, but once again didn’t settle in to farm. He continued to pursue jobs that would teach him the things he wanted to learn, such as working as a night engineer for the Edison Electric Illuminating Company to learn about electricity. By 1896 he was the chief engineer of the company.

What others would have viewed as a great success, Ford walked away from. He began working to build a car, finally completing the self-propelled Quadricycle in 1896, followed by another car in 1898. These were not the first cars created, nor were they the best, but they taught Ford about making cars and leading others in the process. Soon he decided to take a big risk, gathering investors so he could create a company to manufacture and sell horseless carriages.

In spite of all of his learning, Ford had not learned how to run a business. Both his first and his second companies failed. Where others would have given up, Ford continued to learn. He had a vision to make cars affordable enough that everyday people could afford them. He wanted to see cars on every street in America. Eventually he founded the Ford Motor Company with two young men who believed in his vision and had greater business sense than he had.

Ford created several models of his car, and in 1907 his Model N, which sold for an affordable $600, became America’s best-selling car. Yet, Ford wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to make the car better and even more affordable, and he achieve this in 1908 with the introduction of the Model T.

The Model T saw instant success because it was so easy to use. Yet, Ford wasn’t satisfied. He was selling every car he could produce, but he wanted to produce more. He moved to Highland Park, Michigan and a larger facility and focused on streamlining the production process so he could make more cars.

Ford is often credited with inventing the assembly line, but this piece of lore is actually untrue. Ford did bring the assembly line to the world of automotive manufacturing, but he did not invent it. He and his team perfected the use of the assembly line for the car manufacturing process, and by 1913 it was in full use.

This worked, and cars were produced fast and cheaply, but workers found it tedious. The company saw a quick turnover because workers became bored. Ford responded to this by doubling wages. In 1914, his workers earned an astounding $5 per day. Soon, his car was the most affordable and most popular model on the road.

Ford’s story and the success of his company point to the power of strong leadership and the willingness to pursue one’s goals, in spite of failure. Ford never gave up, and in spite of opposition, he created a successful company and a product that changed the face of American transportation. The assembly line he perfected became the go-to design of production throughout the 20th century, while his high wage, low skill employment options provided work for immigrants as America grew. This legacy he left behind changed America forever, and it all started with a young man who refused to take over the family farm.

Simon Cowell

When American Idol first hit the small screen in 2002, many Americans were scratching their heads at one of the judges – Simon Cowell. Known as “the mean British judge” on the show, Cowell is actually a man with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, earning a spot on New Statesman’s “The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures” list in 2010. Who is Simon Cowell, and why is he an entrepreneur worth noting?

In and of himself, Cowell has little entertainment talent, yet he is quickly becoming one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. Early in his career, Cowell served as a talent scout for EMI Music Publishing. He eventually struck out on his own, forming Fanfare Records, an independent label, with a friend in 1985. The record label didn’t succeed, and in 1989 he had to move back in with his parents for a while. He soon took a position with BMG Records, where he climbed the corporate ladder and started signing successful acts again.

Cowell first become someone of note in the UK, where he served as producer and judge on Pop Idol, Britain’s show similar to American Idol. A year later he created and judged on American Idol, where he earned his reputation of being critical and blunt. The American Idol franchise was so successful that it made Simon a household name in both American and Great Britain. Through American Idol, Simon and was able to help discover names like Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken.

After discovering his own talent for finding talent, Cowell found his inner entrepreneur and launched a music and television show, SYCOtv in 2002. Through SYCOtv, he created America’s Got Talent, American Inventor and X-Factor. He also discovered and arranged albums for several performers, including Il Divo and Leona Lewis.

Cowell is an example of someone who turned a talent into a successful empire. While he has no specific acting talent of his own, Cowell has created a successful business out of auditioning and finding talent, and his entrepreneurial spirit and stoic, harsh personality has turned him into a rousing success.

Trip Hawkins

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Trip Hawkins, but if so, you’ve likely played one of his products. The founder of Electronic Arts (EA), Trip Hawkins is one of the leading entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Like many technology entrepreneurs, Hawkins has seen his share of failure, but was never daunted by it.

Tripp was born William Hawkins III in 1953. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in Strategy and Applied Game Theory, going on to pursue a Stanford MBA. His first post-college job was with Apple Computers, where he served as the director of marketing and the 68th employee of the young company. It was then that he began building his ideas for Electronic Arts.

Hawkins started the company on the premise that software designers were actually artists, and their sense of art should be fostered and grown. In May of 1982 he, using his own money, founded the Electronic Arts company. Within four years it was the top software supplier in the industry. Hawkins served as the CEO and president for nine years, helping the company grow into the success it is today. Even after resigning as leader to start his second company, he continued to serve as chairman of the board until 1994.

Hawkins’ second adventure was the 3DO Company. In 1993 the company introduced a CD-based 32-bit home console, the first with multimedia capabilities. While the console was innovative for its time and changed the face of the gaming industry, it’s construction was also innovative. Instead of creating the console and living off of sales, Hawkins planned to outsource the construction and live off of commissions from the sale of software. Low production costs would allow for low royalties, in an attempt to compete with competitors who were charging high royalties.

While the idea seemed good on paper, it didn’t work well. The 1993 version of the 3DO cost around $700, and people didn’t buy it. The cost was simply too high. In 1994 they cut the price to bolster sales, but competing machines hurt the 3DO’s chances. By May of 2003, Hawkins was forced toile Chapter 11, and his company’s few assets were sold in auction.

This did not prevent Hawkins from continuing to embrace his entrepreneurial spirit. He changed gears and decided to create software for a new device, the mobile phone. In December of 2003 he launched Digital Chocolate to take advantage of this growing industry. Digital Chocolate offered pick-up-and-play casual titles that worked well for the mobile user demographic. By 2005, Hawkins had earned a place in the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame for his contributions to the gaming industry.

Like other entrepreneurs before him, Hawkins’ story shows the importance of not letting failure stop you. In spite of his lack of success with 3DO, he kept pushing forward, and today is one of the more successful people in the interactive arts industry

Steve Ells

The final entrepreneur on the list, Steve Ells, is a man who didn’t venture into his industry with a dream of building an empire. Rather, he simply wanted to give people delicious food quickly and affordably. His first Chipotle restaurant, opened in Denver, Colorado, quickly grew into a nationally-recognized chain that delivers excellent food in a fast-food style.

Ells was born in 1965 and lived a fairly ordinary life as a child and early college student. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder, he pursued culinary training in New York’s Culinary Institute of America. He got some on-the-job experience as the sous chef at Stars restaurant in San Francisco.

In 1993, Ells founded Chipotle with the vision that fast-food could be high quality. He never intended to have more than one restaurant, but two years later he opened a second and third store. In 1999 the first stores outside of Colorado opened in Minneapolis and Columbus. Over the next 19 years that one restaurant grew into a franchise with over 1,200 locations.

In 1999, Ells discovered something that saddened him. After visiting a pork supplier, he found the way animals were being raised for food in the United States went against his beliefs in ethics and the environment. In 2000, his restaurants began serving naturally-raised pork, making a full transition by 2010. In 2002 he started ordering naturally raised chicken. By 2007 the majority of the restaurant’s beef was also naturally raised. Ells even took his passion for natural food to the government, testifying before Congress about the need to eliminate the use of antibiotics in raising animals for food.

By choosing only to purchase meat and other products from farmers who grow their food in a responsible and respectful way that doesn’t exploit animals, the environment or people, Ells provided those who wanted natural food for their families with options, even while still providing food quickly. From this emphasis, he coined the term “Food with Integrity.” At Chipotle, people can eat food that is hormone-free and raised as nature intended. Today, the company has thousands of restaurants across the globe, continuing to offer fresh, natural food fast.


Each of these stories shows that one man or woman’s dream can easily become reality with a can-do spirit and the desire to persevere. The next time you think about your dreams and aspirations, consider what these people can teach you. Whether you are creating a software empire or simply helping women find a path to success, you can be the next great entrepreneur with the lessons learned from these innovators.

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