A list of the most inspirational entrepreneurs is necessarily subjective, but the following is a list of some risk-takers who really left their marks, often despite challenging upbringings.
ANDREW CARNEGIE, THE SELF-MADE PHILANTHROPIST
As a Scottish immigrant in the 19th century, Carnegie arrived in America as a poor teenager and worked his way through the ranks, starting with a daily 12-hour job changing spools. He eventually made a fortune as an investor during the Civil War, including a single $40,000 investment in the oil-rich Story Farm, which earned him $1 million in dividends by the end of the year. After the war, he launched Carnegie Steel Corporation, which he later sold to J. P. Morgan for $480 million. He increased his wealth and fame with his writing, including his “Gospel of Wealth” describing the philanthropic responsibilities of the self-made rich, and he became well-known for his own philanthropy, including millions of dollars of donations to the New York Public Library, the establishment of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (Carnegie-Mellon University today), and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
HENRY FORD, REVOLUTIONIZING AMERICAN LIFESTYLES
Born into a family of farmers, Ford worked as an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company before resigning to form his own company. Although his first company failed and his second company almost went under, Ford Motor Company changed American lifestyles by making affordable automobiles and industry by introducing the moving assembly line.
STEVE JOBS, THE BACKYARD BILLIONAIRE OF THE PERSONAL COMPUTER REVOLUTION
Raised by adoptive parents who did not graduate from college, Jobs tinkered with electronics at a young age with his father, who worked as a mechanic and carpenter. After dropping out of college, traveling and working, Jobs and high school friend Steve Wozniak formed Apple Computer from Jobs’s parents’ garage. From there, Jobs was influential in the personal computer revolution, as well as in other consumer electronics including smartphones, music and movies, and Apple eventually became the world’s most valuable publicly traded company in 2011.
OPRAH WINFREY, THE TEENAGE MOTHER WHO BECAME A HOUSEHOLD NAME
Oprah was born into poverty with a single teenage mother and experienced a tough childhood, becoming a teenage mother herself at 14 and losing that son shortly after. In high school she got involved with radio, and at 19 she began co-anchoring the local evening news. After working in a daytime talk show, which went from last-ranked to the top-ranked talk show in Chicago during her time there, she started The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her show, which started as a tabloid talk show, eventually expanded to broader topics, including celebrity interviews: her 1993 prime-time interview of Michael Jackson became the most watched interview ever. When her show went national, Oprah became a millionaire at 32, and today she is a billionaire.
ELON MUSK, THE MAN WHO IS DOING IT ALL
Born in South Africa, Musk taught himself computer programming at a young age. At 24, he started a web software company with his brother, and a few years later he founded an online financial services and email payment company that became Paypal. He is also the founder and CEO of SpaceX, which focuses on advancing rocket technology; the chairman of Solar City, the second largest provider of solar power systems in the US; and the CEO and co-founder of Tesla Motors, an electric car company.