As part of our ‘15 Things’ series we decided to list the 15 most influential entrepreneurs (in our opinion) that have influenced the world. We define these people as successful role models to everyone, and they all share in the fact that they worked incredibly hard and were justifiably rewarded in the end for their efforts. The following list is in no particular order, let us know if we’ve missed anyone!
Mark Zuckerberg (Co-founder of Facebook)
Mark Zuckerberg is the man who changed the face of what a billion dollar CEO should be. The shy, unassuming introvert stumbled upon the biggest digital goldmine of this generation with his concept of Facebook and it has grown into the massive, time draining behemoth it has become today. More than just a social network, it has become a cultural phenomenon and is the reason many of us sit with our faces buried in our phones for hours at a time. Zuckerberg is a participant in Bill Gates’ ‘The Giving Pledge’ where he has agreed to give away at least half of his wealth over the course of his life, and has been involved in various philanthropic causes over the course of the past 13 years.
Henry Ford (Founder of Ford Motor Company)
One of the original entrepreneurs and the man who single handedly revolutionised the automobile industry. Henry Ford was one of the men who built the American economy into the world leading light it would become in the modern day. As well as being one of the leading minds in the engineering field, Ford was a strong labour man who championed the 5 day work week at a time when workers rights did not exist. He also pushed through the ‘5 dollar a day wage’, which is equivalent to around 120 dollars today.
Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Media Group)
One of Britain’s most recognisable faces, Branson was knighted for services to entrepreneurship in 2000 and has continued to expand his service line ever since. Branson started with a humble record store in the early seventies, and over time his portfolio has grown to cover air travel, telecommunications, digital TV, health clubs and gyms as well as holidays. With Virgin Galactic set to launch in 2018, Branson’s vision shows no signs of slowing down and you can fully expect to be booking trips to Mars via Virgin in the year 2030!
Jeff Bezos (Founder of Amazon)
The owner of Amazon and recently crowned ‘Worlds Richest Man’. Like most entrepreneurs, Bezos was actually wealthy before he founded Amazon having worked for a well-known New York hedge fund. However the growing use of the internet in the early 90’s combined with his aptitude for computers led him to start his own business via the internet. Initially, Amazon just sold books (remember those?) and over time added more and more stock to their portfolio to establish the Amazon Empire we see today. As well as owning their own Film and TV studio, Amazon have stakes in AirBnB, Whole Foods and various other billion dollar internet based businesses.
Oprah Winfrey was born into absolute poverty, and struggled to find a job as a TV reporter at a Baltimore TV station. Eventually, she was fired from this job because she became ‘too emotionally invested in her stories’, this turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her. She was instead offered a role on her own talk show that nobody thought would be successful (it was) and the Oprah Winfrey show ran for over 25 seasons. Winfrey went on to become the first black female billionaire ever while building her own media empire. She has consistently been voted the most powerful woman in the world and has championed for racial equality, gender equality as well as LGBT rights.
Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft)
Bill Gates is essentially the analogue Mark Zuckerberg – their stories are remarkably similar during their early years. Another shy, unassuming introvert who dropped out of Harvard to start his own company – one that would become the biggest company in the world and still hold relevance today – almost 45 years later. Gates held the title of the World’s Richest Man for nearly 20 years and is known as one of the most philanthropic billionaire’s ever – having been a co-founder of the Giving Pledge we mentioned earlier, and to date he and his wife have given away over £40 billion to charitable causes. That’s billion, with a b, incase you misread that.
Larry Page & Sergey Brin (Founders of Google)
Technically I’m cheating with this one, but you can’t have one Google co-founder without the other. Larry and Sergey created Google when they were just PhD students at Stanford University. Incidentally, the name came from the misspelling of ‘googol’, which signifies the number 1 with 100 zeroes after it. Who knew this would grow into the largest search engine on the web and the word Google would itself become a recognised verb! Over the past few years Google has been leading the way on cutting edge technology such as VR, driverless cars, digital payment gateways and artificial intelligence.
Steve Jobs (Founder of Apple)
One of the most beloved visionaries of the modern age, and a man whose technology genuinely changed the world. Jobs was the man who revolutionized micro computers and made Apple one of the biggest companies in the world – he would return to Apple in the late 90’s to save the company from going bust. He did this through the introduction of first, the iPod, and later, the iPhone, cementing Apple as a giant amongst the tech industry.
Alan Sugar (Founder of AMS Group)
Sounding like the real life Del Boy in his early days, Alan Sugar sold TV aerials from the back of a van he bought for £50. Soon, he was able to expand into consumer electronics during a time when computer sales were booming, as his company doubled in size almost every year throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s. Over time, Sugar has diversified into aviation, digital marketing, investment and even television – being the host of the BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’. Every series, he donates £250,000 of his own cash to become partner in a start up business set up by the winner of the series. He also owned his boyhood club Tottenham Hotspur throughout the 90’s, and was made a Lord in the House of Commons in 2009.
Don’t bother searching this one on Instagram – you won’t find him! Although Thomas Edison died over 80 years ago, his inventions changed the world and many of which we still feel the benefit of today, such a lightbulbs & cameras. A savvy businessman, he held over 1,000 patents in his lifetime, and is responsible for the world’s first research laboratory of its kind. Edison also championed for the abolition of interest on any form of money – something we can all get on board with!
JK Rowling went through a lot before making it, and has admitted she struggled with depression while raising her daughter alone and said she was ‘as poor as you can be without being homeless’. The one thing that kept her going was an idea she had – Harry Potter, and she continued to work on this idea where she could, when she could and she did everything she could to make sure her idea came to fruition. It’s a good thing she did, Forbes estimates JK Rowling is the first person to become a billionaire by selling books. With her fortune, Rowling gives much of it away to anti-poverty and children’s warfare charities, having struggled with poverty for much of her life.
Ray Kroc (Ex McDonalds CEO)
Although Ray Kroc didn’t invent the idea of the McDonalds Restaurants, he was the one who saw the potential of what it could become. Many believe he stole the idea from original founders Richard and Maurice McDonald, the former milkshake mixer salesman saw a gap in the market for the unique business model created by the brothers. Nowadays, the likes of Burger King, KFC, Subway, Quiznos and various others have copied the franchise formula of McDonalds with similar success, but there is nothing like the original.
Ever been fired because somebody told you, you couldn’t do your job right? Don’t worry, so was Walt Disney. He was actually told he ‘lacked imagination and ideas’ – that was in 1919. Well, 98 years later Disney is worth $92 billion and has the biggest media empire on earth – so much for a lack of imagination!
Jack Ma (Founder of Ali Baba)
Another businessman who has made his fortune with the aid of the Internet, Jack Ma started out as an interested spectator, but soon realized he could help businesses launch themselves online. After making enough money from this venture he wanted to improve the e-commerce space for B2B companies and SME’s, and so he invented Ali Baba, which attracted nearly $25m of venture capitalist investment in its first year. Ma is known for extreme acts of kindness, especially for his philanthropy and contribution to disaster relief and poverty.
David and Victoria Beckham
Although you might not think of the Beckham’s as legitimate business people they have built themselves a business empire most of us could only dream of. Brushed off in their early days as an unintelligent footballer and pop singer, the Beckham’s currently have a net worth of £500m between them. This comes from Victoria Beckham’s booming fashion brand as well as David licensing his name and brand via lifestyle and production businesses. Amazingly, despite playing for Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan, Beckham earns more now than he ever did as a footballer.