Who are your business idols? The people who inspire you to get up every day and create interesting, new products and services for your customers? The people who paved the way for your business?
I don’t know who your rockstars are, but I want to share 10 of mine with you today. These are 10 American entrepreneurs who completely changed their respective industries. Some of them are quite famous, while others have fallen into obscurity.
I am so excited to share this list with you so that you can get inspired by these great men and women. I will also be including some of the great lessons that we can learn from these entrepreneurs about business and life.
Elizabeth Arden, born Florence Nightingale Graham in 1881 is our first great American entrepreneur. She built a cosmetics empire from scratch at a time when it was incredibly uncommon for women to run businesses.
In 1910, Arden founded the Red Door Salon, a beauty parlor and cosmetics shop in New York, where she taught women to apply makeup. Shortly after, she opened a beauty retreat in Maine, which was the first beauty retreat in the world. By 1929, she had expanded to 150 salons across the US and Europe.
Her influence goes far beyond the cosmetics and skincare brand that still carries her name. She was single-handedly responsible for popularizing everyday makeup for women. She effectively created a completely new industry, and at one point in her life, she was one of the wealthiest women in the world.
Elizabeth Arden is a great example of someone who found a market that was not being served and found a way to serve them.
Arianna Huffington, born Ariadnē-Anna Stasinopoúlou is a co-founder of the Huffington Post with her husband. She has been recognized as TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people because of her political and journalistic work.
She began her career as a conservative commentator but began to skew more liberals in her writing and commentary in the late 1990s. She was at one point the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post media empire, although she has now moved on to other ventures.
In 2014, Ariana Huffington stepped down from Huffington Post to create Thrive Global, a wellness and mindfulness company.
Born in 1963, Michael Jordan is one of the most dynamic and successful modern entrepreneurs. His story is a stunning example of the way some entrepreneurs can translate success in one industry into success in another.
Jordan was able to bridge the gap between his career in sports and a business career because he was already a well-known face through celebrity endorsements. He brought Nike’s “Air Jordans” to fame before setting out on his own business ventures. Jordan was the first NBA player to become a billionaire.
His businesses include being a part-owner of the Miami Marlins, is a part-owner of a golf course, a steakhouse, and a dealership that bears his name. His diverse range of businesses has brought him success even in times of economic downturn.
George Washington Carver
Heading back in time for a moment George Washington Carver is a famous scientist-turned inventor who was born in 1864. Carver was a professor at Tuskeegee Institute, and while he was there, he developed an array of revolutionary ideas on the topic of agriculture.
He was interested in the ways that farmers could use crops to improve soil quality when the soil’s nutrients had been depleted. He pioneered the idea of rotating in nitrogen-fixing crops to ameliorate the effects of continuous farming.
Like Michael Jordan, he transitioned his career radically during his life. Although he began as a scientist, he also developed a series of patents and recipes to teach people how to cook with peanuts. He is credited with popularizing peanuts as a food in the US.
Joyce Chen is one of those entrepreneurs who were just able to take advantage of being in the right place at the right time. In the 1950’s northern-style Chinese food was obscure in the United States.
Joyce Chen took advantage of this opportunity to bring that cuisine to the average American. With her television show, restaurants, and books, she brought Chinese food into the American household.
She was the first individual to bottle Chinese stir-fry sauce and sell it on the US market. She also popularized and sold flat-bottomed wok pans for the US market.
As of this writing, Elon Musk is the wealthiest person in the world, but what brought him there? Musk has been creating businesses since the 90s. His first successful venture was an online bank called X.com, which was eventually merged with Confinity to create Paypal. Fueled by this success, Musk went on to found SpaceX and become the CEO and primary shareholder of Tesla.
However, all of this success did not come easily to Musk. Musk has spoken openly about his difficult relationship with his father who was an emotionally abusive, lonely person. Musk’s father was quite wealthy; however, he was not generous with his wealth. In 2017, Musk told Rolling Stone that when he started his first company, Zip2, with his elder brother, they had to raise all of their funds from angel investors.
These setbacks did not prevent this entrepreneur from following his passions. Musk had an early interest in engineering, which has remained with him for his entire life. By developing and investing in companies like the solar company Tesla Energy and the brain-computer interface company NeuraLink, Musk has pushed scientific innovation.
Margaret Rudkin was born in New York at the end of the nineteenth century. She graduated valedictorian of her high school and had an early passion for baking.
This passion eventually led her to found the Pepperidge Farm company. She started Pepperidge Farm because her son was reacting poorly to preservatives in bread, and she wanted to make more healthy alternatives available.
Her business grew exponentially, and she eventually decided to sell to the Campbells Soup Company in 1961.
Rhianna is another entrepreneur who transformed her public image into a business. Famous as an R&B singer, Rhianna came to fame in the early 2000s.
Rhianna has always been a savvy businesswoman, choosing to start her own record label and becoming a part-owner of Tidal, a music streaming platform.
In 2019, Rhianna launched Fenty, a fashion brand that has grown meteorically and inspired lingerie and makeup lines. By expanding Fenty into a series of smaller offshoot brands, Rhianna has been able to use her preexisting customer base to promote newer products.
Oprah Winfrey is often cited as the poster child of the “American Dream.” Born into poverty in Mississippi, she grew her media empire from the ground up. She started her television career as a local news anchor at 19 and rose to prominence because of her honest delivery.
Oprah Winfrey has grown her television into a huge brand, including a magazine and a book club. Winfrey is not only a successful businesswoman but has also used her platform to promote causes she believed in. Winfrey has been very politically active throughout her career, creating campaigns to inspire voting.
Madam C. J. Walker
The first self-made female millionaire in the US is a great person to finish our list with. She worked hard for her entire life and built a hair care and soap business that is credited with being the first American business to explicitly cater to African American women. She owned and operated a beauty company that employed many young African American women.
Walker is a great final entrepreneur because she completely embodies the greatest trait of an entrepreneur, finding a need that no other company is filling, and finding a creative way to fill it. Take inspiration from Walker, find the people who are not being served and find a way to make your services accessible to those people.