This is the second part list of the top entrepreneurs of all time
“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
11-RICHARD SEARS (SEARS) | BIOGRAPHY
Born on December 7, 1863 in Minnesota, Richard Sears started working at seventeen years old following the death of his father. In addition to his railroad job, Richard was looking for additional income to support his widowed mother and sisters. One day, at the young age of twenty-three, he seized up an opportunity that shaped the rest of his business life.
After a Jeweler refused a shipment of watches, he asked the manufacturer if he could sell the watches himself. Using his connection in the railroad industry, Richard Sears asked the network of stations’ agents around the country via letter if they would be interested in buying the watches at a discounted price. He was able to sell them all and make a good profit of $5,000.
With this capital in his hands, young Richard Sears embarked into the mail order business selling watches. Within a couple of months, he was able to quit his railroad job and focus solely on his business. After selling the business for $100,000 dollars, Sears switched careers shortly before realizing that the mail-order business was his best chance to make a fortune.
In 1893, he established Sears and Co., headquartered in Chicago. “The catalog had reached 507 pages, and Sears himself wrote nearly every word of it”. By the time Richard Sears retired in 1908, Sears averaged $40 million dollars revenue yearly.
12– JACK MA (ALIBABA) | BIOGRAPHY
Alibaba, the conglomerate giant is one of the most talked about companies in the world today. Alibaba set a record in 2014 as the world’s biggest IPO on the New York Stock exchange. Yun “Jack” Ma, founder and chairman of the Alibaba group, was born in the Zhejiang province of China on September 10 in 1964.
From an early age, Jack Ma started to study English and practiced by conversing with foreigners. After a rough transition through the education system, failing numerous times at entrance exams, then being rejected from thirty jobs, Jack realized in the mid-nineties the potential of the Internet.
After learning from friends in the USA how the Internet worked, he began to build websites for clients in China. He was able to make over $800,000 dollars in three years. In 1999, now well experienced in the web industry, Jack Ma founded Alibaba with the goal of exposing and connecting small to medium sized businesses to the international market.
From 2000 and beyond, the Alibaba group expanded their portfolio with companies such as Alipay, a payment platform; Ali Express, an online retail service or Ali cloud, an online storage company. Today, Jack Ma continues to be a force in the global market with a net worth of $36 billion dollar, while Alibaba is valued at $403 billion (NYSE: BABA).
13-PHIL KNIGHT (NIKE)| BIOGRAPHY
Phil Knight, born and raised in Oregon, is the founder of Nike, the most iconic and successful sports brand in the last 30 years. Phil was involved in sports from an early age, from working at the local newspaper in the sports section, as he was running track in high school. Similarly, in college, he was a sports reporter while on the running team.
During his grad school year at Stanford University, Phil Knight wrote as an assignment a business plan on an area he knew most, sports. His idea was to create a sports shoes company to compete with Adidas by cutting costs using Japanese workers. He took on this business idea and contacted manufacturers in Asia to construct a running shoe.
After receiving samples, Phil Knight partnered with his former track coach Bill Bowerman in 1964 on this venture. Following some early success, they officially adopted the name Nike from the recommendation of an employee, and designed the logo for $35. From the start, Phil’s marketing angle was to advertise his brand using known athletes instead of the common marketing route used at the time.
Endorsements of athletes such as tennis star John McEnroe in the 1970s to Michael Jordan in the mid-80s lead Nike to reach more than 100 million dollars in revenue to arrive at $1 billion in sales in 1986, surpassing rival Adidas. Today, Nike is valued at $96 billion (NYSE: NKE) and Phil Knight’s net worth is estimated at around $24 billion.
14- JAMES CASH PENNEY (J.C PENNEY) | BIOGRAPHY
James Cash Penney, commonly referred as JC Penney, was born on September 16, 1875 in Missouri. Given that he had twelve brothers and sisters, his childhood was difficult. By the age of eight, JC Penney was forced to start working to afford his own clothing. This instilled in him a work ethic and discipline that became the foundation of his entrepreneurial journey. His efforts were rewarded when the store owners he was working for offered him a share in their business. JC Penney acquired one third in a store they wanted him to open in Wyoming.
From there on, JC Penney helped open two more stores before buying out his partners in 1907. After renaming the company using his own name, he began to expand it from 34 to 120 stores in 1920. By 1930, there was 1,000 JC Penney stores in the whole United States.
One of the reason the JC Penney stores stayed ahead of the competition and maintain good management was because Mr. Penney gave part ownership of each stores to the managers. The core of his business strategy was to have a chain of good men running the JC Penney stores. He understood the importance human capital plays in successful organizations. Beside his business acumen, Mr. Penney donated part of his fortune during his life to many causes he cared about and created the James C. Penney Foundation in 1954.
15- RALPH LAUREN (RALPH LAUREN) | BIOGRAPHY
From New York to La, Paris to Tokyo, the Polo shirt is synonymous with Ralph Lauren, the mythical clothing brand symbol of the American upper class. Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz on October 1939 in New York city. From an early age, Ralph was forced to work to support his expansive fashion tastes.
Gifted with an eye for fashion and glamour, Ralph would often daydream and imagine how celebrities, movie stars and the upper class of his time lived, even though he was from a modest background; “I liked the good things and the good life. I did not want to be a phony. I just wanted more than I had.”
After a brief stint in college, Ralph started working at Two Tie companies. At his second job with Beau Brummell Cravats, he was able to sell his own ties, which were flamboyant, expensive and fancy. Ralph Lauren’s genuine passion and self-belief in his ties drew people toward his designs to the point where he attracted investors to support his venture.
In 1968, Polo fashion Inc. was launched and quickly became a success. In 1969, the department store Bloomingdale’s started carrying his men’s line and later on his women’s line. From thereon after, the Ralph Lauren brand grew to become the luxury clothing company recognized today for introducing sophisticated clothing into the American way of life. Ralph once wrote in high school that he wanted to become a millionaire, and today, his net worth is around $6 billion.
16- HOWARD HUGHES (HUGHES AIRCRAFT) | BIOGRAPHY
For those who don’t know who Howard Hughes was, the movie Aviator by Leonardo DiCaprio is a good introduction to the eccentric entrepreneur. Born on December 24, 1905 in Texas, Howard Hughes grew up in a wealthy family. His father made a fortune in the oil industry with the licensing of drilling equipment he invented.
Howard Hughes was very bright from an early age. He built the first radio transmitter in Houston by age 11, constructed a motorized bicycle and was taking flying lessons by age 14. He later went to study aeronautics at Caltech. At just 19 years of age, following the death of his parents, Howard was left with the family fortune and business.
He dropped out of college and got married before moving to Los Angeles with the plan of becoming a movie producer. This was the beginning of his business career as well. In addition to being profitable, Howard movies were successful, gaining acclaims and earning him an academy award for best director.
After a decade in producing films such as the Two Arabian nights, The Racket, Front Page, Hell’s Angels and Scarface, he transitioned in the forties to owning a major film company, RKO Pictures. Mr. Hughes also made key investments in two areas, real estate and aviation. In real estate, he focused on Las Vegas, where he became instrumental in the development of the Las Vegas of today, the worldwide capital of entertainment.
His second investing area was aviation, a passion he had developed since his teenage years. Hughes aviation started as an aerospace defense company before entering the commercial airline business in 1939. Although he was a visionary, succeeding in the hotel business and aviation industry, Howard Hughes became more and more eccentric as time went on.
He recused himself from the public life in the fifties after numerous plane accidents. He developed OCD and allodynia. By the time of his death in 1976, his net worth was around $6 billion adjusted to today’s dollars.
17- RAY KROC (MCDONALD’S) | BIOGRAPHY
You might not know Ray Kroc as well other entrepreneurs in this list, but the company he built is the most recognized in the world today. According to the book Fast Food Nation, the McDonald’s Double arch symbol is more recognizable than the Christian cross.
Unlike most entrepreneur on this list, Ray Kroc was not a founder nor started his entrepreneurial route early in his life. Born near Chicago in 1902 from Czechoslovakian immigrants, he worked for the majority of his life as a salesman. After the second World War, Ray was selling Milk Shake mixers all over the Midwest to any restaurateur he could find.
One day, he received a call from two brothers who owned a burger chain in California who passed a command for multiple milk shake mixers. He decided to drive all the way to California to meet them. Having visited more than 1,000 restaurants kitchens’, Ray Kroc was impressed by the efficiency and processes put in place by the McDonald Brothers to run their burgers chains.
In 1954, he first joined the McDonald brothers by opening a franchise he ran in Chicago and helped them expand this franchise model around the US. The agreement was that Ray, as a franchisee agent would get a share of the profits from each franchise he could sell. With an aggressive entrepreneurial mindset, he grew the business very rapidly. By 1960, there was 228 McDonald’s franchises in the US.
Ray introduced new policies and improved the management of the McDonald enterprise, from deploying strict employee dress codes to the automation of food preparations, as well as the thriftiness mindset managers and franchisee owners needed to have in order for the company to stay lean. This standardization processes ensured McDonald’s food would taste the same at each location throughout the country and later internationally.
After buying the McDonald’s in 1962, Ray Kroc brought in an experienced financier to help improve the capital structure of the business. By 1965, there were 700 McDonald’s franchises worldwide. Today, McDonald’s operates 36,899 locations worldwide. Ray Kroc’s personal fortune was estimated at $500 million by the time of his death. McDonald’s is value at $126 billion (NYSE: MCD).
18- HARLAND SANDERS (KFC) | BIOGRAPHY
Out of all the entrepreneurs on this list, Harland “Colonel” Sanders is the one who had been relatively poor for the majority of his life until the success of Kentucky Fried Chicken in his sixties. Born on September 9, 1890 in Indiana, Harland Sanders lost his father when he was a five-year-old.
After his mother remarried, he dropped out of seventh grade and left home the year after. After a tumultuous life of ups and down where he was discharged from the military, lost numerous jobs and failed at two businesses, Harland settled down in 1930 with managing a gas service station where he would also serve food. He eventually focused on the restauration part until 1952 when he closed.
Even though his restaurant was successful, he was dedicated to franchise his chicken business around the country. By 1964, KFC had around 600 franchises. Now in his seventies, Harland Sanders sold his interest in the company for $2 million, but stayed involved as the face of the company, traveling around the world as a brand evangelist. We included Colonel Sanders, as he was referred to, as a top entrepreneur of all time not because of the wealth he created for himself, but because of his persistency and never quit mentality.
19- GEORGE EASTMAN (KODAK) | BIOGRAPHY
We have all heard of the Kodak moment, an ephemeral moment in time that should be captured by a picture. Kodak was founded by George Eastman in 1888 and stayed at the top of the photography industry for 130 years!
George Eastman was born on July 12, 1854 in New York. At thirteen-year-old, he was forced to drop out of school to support his family after the death of his father. He started as a messenger before becoming a bookkeeper at the Rochester Saving Bank in 1877. This taught him to be frugal with money from a young age, only buying what he needed most.
He spent his savings on photography equipment to support his fascination with this emerging industry. After a bad experience taking pictures with his apparatus during a trip, he brainstormed ways to improve photography for the average hobbyist.
By 1979, he had designed an easier device to take pictures with. He was awarded a patent in 1880 that he sold shortly after to fuel his venture in the imaging business. After quitting his job, George developed a revolutionary method of taking pictures by using a roll holder device, making it possible for cameras to be much smaller and cheaper.
After being awarded another patent, Eastman incorporated his company under the name Kodak, a name he invented. Like many entrepreneurs on this list, George Eastman became rich by making goods affordable for the masses. All purchasers of his affordable and portable cameras had to do was take pictures, then send it to the Kodak factory. Next, customers would receive printed pictures and newly loaded cameras ready to shoot.
Kodak kept its leadership position in the photography industry for a 100 years with constant innovations, from the pocket Kodak, do it yourself, to the non-curling and color film in 1928, an important advancement in the movie industry. One of the motivations behind George Eastman was the vow he made to help support his mother, knowing how much pain she endured raising him and his sisters.
Adjusted today, he was worth $1.5 billion at the time of his death. Similarly, to Rockefeller, Bill Gates and Carnegie, George supported numerous social causes, such as the development of the University of Rochester, MIT, Black colleges in the south and dental clinics in Europe.
20- MICHAEL DELL (DELL)| BIOGRAPHY
Internet tycoon Michael Dell was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Born in 1965, Michael had an appreciation for business technologies from a young age. In his early teens, he started investing his savings in buying stocks. Later, while in high school, he worked as a dishwasher and sold subscription to the Houston Post in the summers.
While working at the Houston post, he noticed that a segment of his customers was similar, many having recently purchased a house or gotten married. Michael, with the help of some friends, built a database of potential customer by the size of their mortgages. This small venture earned him close to $20,000 in his first year. During his undergraduate years at the University of Texas in the early eighties, he started another small venture assembling and selling parts for personal computers.
By 1984, he betted on the potential success of selling custom made computers direct to the consumer. This would allow his business to offer cheaper prices than competitors using third parties, such as Best Buy and other electronic stores, to sell their computers. Joining the start of computer revolution with an innovative business plan and great customer service, Dell corporation made $6 million in their first year of business (1984).
By 1992, Michael Dell was the youngest CEO to be featured on Fortune’s list of the top 500 corporations. Always staying on the top of trends, Dell started selling online as early as 1996. By the new millennium, Michael Dell was a billionaire. Today, Dell is a multinational corporation, with 138,000 employees worldwide and is the third largest PC manufacturer in the world. Michael Dell took his company back to private in 2013. His net worth is estimated today at $20.8 billion.