The 10 Greatest Entrepreneurs

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There is a tough truth that any small business owner has to face. Even in the best of times, the vast majority of small businesses fail. Therefore, when companies are successful and business empires are grown, the entrepreneurs behind the success are often seen as larger than life and captivating. After all, when so many small businesses fail, what made their succeed?

For some, its a reliance on patience, determination, and feedback from close partners. For others, it's determination, superior knowledge, and perseverance. For almost all, it's being bold, taking risks, and trying things that have never been done.

There is no single list of greatest entrepreneurs, as so many talented businessmen and businesswomen have contributed to our economic society today. In this article, we'll look at ten entrepreneurs who not only succeeded at what they did but built vast business empires often spanning several industrie.

Key Takeaways

  • Here are ten entrepreneurs who built business empires, like John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil and steel-magnate Andrew Carnegie.
  • John Rockefeller's fortune does not surpass the rich of modern-day; however, he is still regarded as the richest man in history.
  • Thomas Edison founded General Electric (GE), while Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing, bringing cars to the masses.
  • Oprah Winfrey and John Johnson both pioneered diverse, broad entrepreneurial portfolios and spanned industries, mediums, and customer bases.
  • Tom Love, Charles Schwab, and Steve Jobs all scaled enterprises that are commonly seen and used across the country.

Who Are the 10 Greatest Entrepreneurs?

You may know many of today's entrepreneurs due to their frequent appearances in the news, but there have been famous entrepreneurs throughout the last two centuries. These businesspeople changed their industries and culture, built vast wealth, and created innovations that continue to influence our lives today.

1. John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in history by most measures. He made his fortune by squeezing out efficiencies through horizontal and vertical integrations that made Standard Oil synonymous with monopoly. However, the price of fuel dropped drastically for the everyday consumer. The government broke up Standard Oil for good in 1911.

Rockefeller's hand can still be seen in the companies like Exxon (XOM) and Conoco that profited from the R&D and infrastructure they received as their piece of the breakup. Rockefeller retired at the turn of the century and devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy. More than 80 years after his death, Rockefeller remains one of the great figures of Wall Street.

2. Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie loved efficiency. From his start in steel, Carnegie's mills were always on the leading edge of technology. Carnegie combined his superior processes with an excellent sense of timing, snapping up steel assets in every market downturn.

Like Rockefeller, Carnegie spent his golden years giving away the fortune he spent most of his life building (though not as well-remembered as some of his contemporaries, Andrew Carnegie's legacy is strong and moralistic).

3. Thomas Edison

There is no doubt that Edison was brilliant; however, it was his business sense, not his talent as an inventor, that clearly shows his intelligence. Edison took innovation and made it the process now known as research and development. He sold his services to many other companies before striking out on his own to create most of the electrical power infrastructure of the United States.

While Edison is one of the founders of General Electric (GE), many companies today owe their existence to him–Edison Electric, Con Edison, and so on. Although Edison had far more patents than he did corporate ties, it is the companies that will carry his legacy into the future.

Though Charles Richard Patterson and Frederick Douglas Patterson didn't make this top 10 list, they successful founded the first and only African American automobile company that lasted 74 years and closed in 1939. These successful businessmen undoubtedly helped shape the automotive industry known today, fueling the demand for innovation, customer service, and creative thinking when the car was created.

4. Henry Ford

Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. He was one of a group working on motorcars and, arguably, not even the best of them. However, these competitors were selling their cars for a price that made the car a luxury of the rich. Ford put America–not just the rich–on wheels, and unleashed the power of mass production. His Ford Model T was the first car to cater to most Americans.

Ford's progressive labor policies and his constant drive to make each car better, faster, and cheaper made certain that his workers and everyday Americans would think Ford (F) when they shopped for a car.

5. Oprah Winfrey

One of the richest and most influential women, Oprah Winfrey's career started as a news anchor and blossomed into a full-blown entrepreneur. Her show The Oprah Winfrey Show was syndicated nationally in 1986, becoming the highest-rated U.S. talk show and earning Oprah several Emmy Awards. Oprah has also starred in films, including in a starring role and as a voice actress in several animated films.

Oprah is a pioneer in entrepreneurial endeavors, breaking into an on-air book club in 1996 and launching O, the Oprah Magazine in 2000. She co-founded Oxygen Media, a cable television for women and debuted a channel on satellite ratio in 2006. Most notably, Oprah created Oprah's Angel Network, sponsoring charitable endeavors around the world. Not only has Oprah paved the way for many businesswomen, she consistently demonstrates how to use entrepreneurial power for good.

6. Sam Walton

Sam Walton picked a market no one wanted and then instituted a distribution system no one had tried in retail. By building warehouses between several of his Wal-Mart (WMT) stores, Walton was able to save on shipping and deliver goods to busy stores much faster. Add a state-of-the-art inventory control system, and Walton was lowering his cost margins well below his direct competitors. Rather than booking all of the savings as profits, Walton passed them on to the consumer.

By offering consistently low prices, Walton attracted more and more business to where he chose to set up shop. Eventually, Walton took Wal-Mart to the big city to match margins with the big boys–and the beast of Bentonville has never looked back.

Some question the methods of entrepreneurial success of Walmart and Sam Walton. Human Rights Watch found that while many American companies use weak US laws to stop workers from organizing, Walmart stands out for the sheer magnitude and aggressiveness of its anti-union apparatus.

7. Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab, usually known as "Chuck," took Merrill's love of the little guy and belief in volume over price into the internet age. When May Day opened the doors for negotiated fees–all broker trades had previously been the same price–Schwab was among the first to offer a discount brokerage for the individual investor. To do this, he trimmed the research staff, analysts, and advisors, and expected investors to empower themselves when making an order.

From a bare-bones base, Schwab then added services that mattered to his customers, like 24-hour service and more branch locations. Merrill brought the individual investors back to the market, but Chuck Schwab made it cheap enough for them to stay.

8. Tom Love

If you've driven along an American highway recently, chances are you saw one of the 600+ Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores scattered across 42 U.S. states. Known for its 24-hour access, restaurant offerings, and travel items, Tom Love built an empire with more than 38,000 employees working convenience stores across the country. In addition, Love employs workers at their corporate office in Oklahoma City.

A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Love and his wife Judy leased their first gas station in Watonga, Oklahoma in the 1960's. In 2019, Love was inducted into the tribe's hall of fame, noting that "the same love and qualities that define Love's Travel Stops define the Chickasaw Nation."

9. John Johnson

Born in Arkansas in 1918, John Johnson is regarded as one of the most influential African American publishers in American history. After finding success with his 1942 launch of Negro Digest, Johnson published Ebony, the most popular African American magazine in the world since its launch in 1945. Six years later, Johnson launched the largest African American news weekly Magazine Jet.

Johnson didn't stop at publishing, though. He eventually owned Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the largest black-owned cosmetics company in the world. He eventually become chairman and CEO of Supreme Life Insurance, as well. In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the nation.

10. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs co-founded Apple (AAPL), one of the only tech companies to offer a significant challenge to Microsoft's dominance. In contrast to Gates' methodical expansion, Jobs' influence on Apple was one of creative bursts. Apple was a computer company when Jobs returned to it.

Now, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad are the engines of growth that have pushed Apple past the once unassailable Microsoft. In 2010, Apple surpassed Microsoft's market cap for the first time. And in 2022, Apple CEO Time Cook announced that the installed active base of devices achieved a record of 1.8 billion devices.

What Are Some Examples of Entrepreneurs in Healthcare?

The healthcare industry is full of bright and talented entrepreneurs, such as physicians running their own practices, independent traveling clinicians, and other professionals who assume risks to create new business opportunities or new ways of doing business.

For example, Ara Chackerian is the co-founder of Mindful Health Solutions—a psychiatric practice treating mental illness—and an investor in start-up healthcare companies. Abhilash Patel is the co-founder of Recovery Bands and other websites that help people struggling with addiction find the treatment they need.

Who Is the Number 1 Entrepreneur In the World?

Depending on when asked, the top entrepreneur in the world is often the world's richest person. As of February 2023, that title is bestowed by Forbes on Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX and PayPal. However, some argue that the number one entrepreneur is Jeff Bezos—Amazon founder and former CEO—who is the second richest person in the world.

What Are 5 Characteristics of Entrepreneurs?

There is no prescription for being an entrepreneur; however, there are traits most often shared by successful entrepreneurs. Here are five characteristics entrepreneurs should have:

  • Take risks to pursue new opportunities
  • Work hard and be persistent
  • Know your target market and understand the market in which you will compete
  • Continue learning
  • Consider failures as new opportunities

The Bottom Line

These ten entrepreneurs succeeded by giving the customer something better, faster, and cheaper than their nearest competitors. No doubt, some like Rockefeller will always be on these lists. However, with entrepreneurship being so diverse and everyone's beginnings being different, there are many different avenues these entrepreneurs took to be successful.

Article Sources
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