Success in life is a result of many factors. Some are born luckier than others, but one thing is almost certain, and that is that through hard work, determination, and talent, just about anything is possible. Here are four famous and successful entrepreneurs who started from the bottom.
1. Walt Disney
Born in 1901, Walt Disney spent his childhood on a farm and developed an interest in drawing while he was in high school in Chicago. As a teenager, Disney tried to join the Army, but was rejected due to his age. Instead, he joined the Red Cross and drove an ambulance. In the years after, he attended the Kansas City Art Institute, where he would produce his first animation.
But it took financial help from his brother, Roy, to start the production company that would become the international entertainment behemoth it is today. The character of Mickey Mouse, created and voiced by Disney himself, would mark the turning point in Disney’s career. Soon after the debut of Steamboat Willie, featuring Mickey Mouse, Disney’s success would carry on to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Dumbo, and many others.
In the 1950s, Disneyland opened, broadening the scope of the production company and solidifying Disney as wildly successful entertainment entrepreneur. Today, Disney remains dominant and is an internationally recognized brand.
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3. William Harley
At the turn of the 20th century, A young man named William Harley, with the help of childhood friend Arthur Davidson, began experimenting with putting a small, one-cylinder gasoline engine on two wheels to form one of the first motorcycles.
By 1903, they had created a motorcycle that was found to be reliable and attractive, and were able to sell a handful of them and create a company, Harley-Davidson. The company grew and grew, while Harley and Davidson developed increasingly larger and more powerful engines.
A huge turning point came when Harley-Davidson brilliantly opted to produce large quantities of motorcycles for the U.S. military at the dawn of WWII. This maneuver would establish the brand as a patriotic staple of American might and technology. They would receive 4 military awards for their contribution to the war.
3. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey had a very difficult childhood, a fact now well known by many. Spending her first years with her grandmother on a farm in Mississippi, Winfrey learned to read at a young age and grew up very poor.
Winfrey eventually moved to Milwaukee to live with her mother, who was working as a maid. It was here that Winfrey experienced sexual abuse from male relatives and tried to run away at age 14. When she was finally on her own, she became pregnant and gave birth to a child who died in infancy. She would then move to Tennessee to live with her strict father—but would thrive again in this new environment. At 17, Winfrey scored a job a radio station. From this experience, she became an increasingly successful broadcaster, moving to different stations, and finally landing her own show.
Winfrey’s empathetic manner helped her become very successful as a broadcaster and interviewer, and her success has grown to massive proportions, with her own production company and namesake brand, now trusted and recognized throughout the world.
4. Howard Schultz
Long before Starbucks, Howard Schulz lived in the Brooklyn projects where his father was a truck driver. He longed for a better life for himself. A talented athlete, Schultz was awarded a football scholarship to Northern Michigan University, where he would graduate with a communications degree.
After college, Schultz became an appliance salesman. He was good at it, and climbed the company ladder to become director of sales. He noticed, however, that there were many orders coming from a small coffee company in Seattle. He went to check out the operation, called “Starbucks Coffee Tea & Spice Company,” and fell in love with the Seattle business and the idea of good coffee. He was later hired on as director of retail operations and marketing.
After a visit to Italy, Schultz became interested in the idea of serving espresso drinks at the stores to consumers. The Starbucks founders, however, did not want pursue this route. Schultz left the company to start his own coffee shop. The coffee culture in Seattle helped launch his coffee shop into a successful enterprise that would later merge with the original Starbucks, with Schultz leading the charge as CEO. And we all know what happened next!
These stories are proof that no matter what our backgrounds are, we can turn our lives around and become just anything we want to.