Business Leaders Who Started at the Bottom

by Allan Peretz

As you’re developing and growing your business, it’s important to remember that your starting place doesn’t determine when or where you cross the finish line. The path is different for everyone.

While some business leaders may have had a head start, beginning with wealthy families and strong business education, there are plenty of leaders who started from the very bottom and climbed until they reached the top .

Walt Disney

It may be hard to believe, but the creator of the Happiest Place on Earth and one of the top business leaders in America had humble beginnings.

Walt Disney grew up in a small town called Marceline in Missouri. He took to art from a young age. However, when he set his sights on being a newspaper cartoonist, he was unable to find work anywhere. Disney spent some time developing characters and attempting to start up an animation company. Two of them failed, and he wound up having his original character Oswald taken from him.

However, Walt Disney went on to start, of course, the Walt Disney Company. Even this struggled until Mickey Mouse burst onto the scene. Once they released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937, Walt had made his mark.

Colonel Harland Davis Sanders

Colonel Sanders, better known as the creator of KFC , is one of the top restaurant leaders of the 20th century. Even so, he had many challenges along the road to success.

The Colonel didn’t grow up wealthy, and in fact lived quite a hard life when he was younger. At the age of 10, he was already working odd jobs to support his family after his father passed.

By today’s standards, Sanders’ resume would look like that of a job hopper. He moved between every profession from hard labor to firefighting to sales. He even had a stint as a lawyer.

However, upon opening a restaurant in Kentucky, his chicken took off and became a phenomenon. Sanders was so successful that the mayor of Kentucky officially dubbed him a Kentucky Colonel just because of the popularity of his chicken.

Madame C.J. Walker

Born as Sarah Breedlove in 1869, Madame C.J. Walker paved the way for women to become some of the top business leaders in the country.

Not only did she have her race working against her at a time when racism was rampant, but she was also a woman at a time when women couldn’t even vote. Still, she managed to beat the odds by developing a special hair formula to treat hair loss – and marketed it specifically for African American women.

The “Walker method,” as this treatment was called, was highly successful. Not only did Madame C.J. Walker become one of the top business leaders in history. She also overcame incredible odds to help set the pathway for equality.

Oprah Winfrey

Did you know that Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first reporting job at 23?

While we know Oprah nowadays as a media mogul, queen of talk shows and even entire networks, Oprah’s first starts weren’t so auspicious. In fact, her struggles may have been enough to kick anyone out of the game, and nobody would have faulted her for it.

Oprah is a prime, living example that it’s possible to beat the odds. Obstacles exist to be conquered, and that’s exactly what Oprah did.

Oprah worked her way up from a position as an intern at a CBS affiliate in Nashville. In this job, she achieved her first glimmer of success and was later promoted to a full-time anchor and reporter.  What’s more, she was the youngest person to ever be an anchor in Nashville and the first black woman to have this role.

Stay with it!

Regardless of where you’re starting in today’s business climate, the most important key to success is persistence. Nobody ever won any races by stopping early or at the first sign of trouble.