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Entrepreneurs who built companies after age 40

  • Entrepreneurs who built companies after age 40

    The collective media image of the successful businessperson has steadily shifted from the suit- and tie-clad professional with a receding hairline to a hoodie-wearing kid living in a dorm as he secures millions from venture capitalists. Despite the awe inspired by a fresh-faced entrepreneur, the fact is most successful entrepreneurs aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, and they tend to start their businesses much later in life than many might expect. 

    In fact, 40 seems to be just about the median age of entrepreneurs, and the Kaufman Institute found that U.S.-born tech CEOs are far more likely to be over 50 than under 25. Founders of some of the biggest and most recognizable businesses in history were already over the hill when they started their companies, from Henry Ford's legendary factories to internet ventures like Lynda and GoDaddy.

    It's never too late to pursue your passions. The nation cried out in mourning after the death of "Beloved" novelist Toni Morrison in August 2019, who left an indelible mark on American culture. However, all but one of her books was published when she was past 40 years old. Several world-famous actors only found success later in life; "I Love Lucy" started airing when Lucille Ball was 40. 

    Why do people find success later in life? One obvious reason is experience: After working in the field for decades, entrepreneurs can get a sense of what works and what doesn't, along with finding a specific need to be filled. Establishing connections is also important: According to that Kaufman Institute study, 45% of startups founded by U.S.-born CEOs were established in the same state the CEO received their education. 

    At Stacker, we researched years of news reports to pick out success stories from entrepreneurs who built companies after 40. Take a look through our list and get inspired, no matter your age.

    You might also like: 30 big companies that started with little to no funding

    Story updated by Zack Abrams.

  • #1. Vera Wang

    - Company: Vera Wang
    - Age started: 40

    Vera Wang lived several lives before becoming one of the biggest names in high-end bridal fashion. The lifelong New Yorker was a competitive figure skater, a fashion editor at Vogue, and a design director at Ralph Lauren before launching her first boutique in 1990. The inspiration for her store came after she sketched her own wedding dress, frustrated with the available selection in other stores. Wang then opened her flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York City and has since grown her brand into a massive fashion empire that includes handbags, homewares, and perfume.

  • #2. Herbert Boyer

    - Company: Genentech
    - Age started: 40

    Herbert Boyer is a legendary figure in the field of genetic engineering. The researcher was the first person to successfully join genes from one organism into another living organism, adding antibiotic resistance genes to an E. coli bacterium. With the help of a venture capitalist, he used his new process to found Genentech and produce various treatments for people suffering from everything from hemophilia to growth hormone deficiencies.

  • #3. Lynda Weinman

    - Company:
    - Age started: 42

    Lynda Weinman founded her eponymous computer training website at 40 years old after stints as an animator for Dreamquest and a computer instructor. Two decades after the website was founded, LinkedIn purchased it for a whopping $1.5 billion.

  • #4. Henry Ford

    - Company: Ford Motor Company
    - Age started: 40

    Quintessential American businessman Henry Ford was one month shy of his 40th birthday when he founded his namesake company. Bringing together turn-of-the-century concepts of the automobile and the assembly line, Ford was able to make cars attainable for a larger portion of Americans than ever before, reshaping the American landscape as cars became commonplace.

  • #5. Jeffrey Brotman

    - Company: Costco
    - Age started: 40

    It makes a certain amount of sense that the biggest name in the bulk grocery market would have a few years of experience under his belt when he started his business. Jeffrey Brotman's Costco chain was quite a shift from the two successful clothing stores he ran before Costco’s inception, but countless Kirkland brand believers are glad he made the switch.

  • #6. Robert Noyce

    - Company: Intel
    - Age started: 41

    Robert Noyce wasn’t some starry-eyed kid when he started the company that changed the way the modern world works through the invention of the microprocessor. The doctor of physics founded Intel along with Gordon Moore when he was 41, and it’s thanks to them that reading this list on a computer is even possible.

  • #7. Donald Fisher

    - Company: The Gap
    - Age started: 44

    Donald Fisher's famous clothing shop came out of a quite literal gap—namely, the one between clothing shipments. He started the first Gap via a deal with Levi's that ensured he would never run out of their most popular items. With easy overnight restocking from Levi's San Jose warehouse to his San Francisco storefront, Gap built its name on always having the denim that its customers wanted at any time. Nearly 50 years later, the store has grown to include more than 3,500 locations.

  • #8. Martha Stewart

    - Company: Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    - Age started: 41

    Martha Stewart had a successful business before she was 40, but it wasn’t the cross-platform home and living media company for which she is known today. Stewart was a caterer whose food just happened to impress at a publishing world party, and that chance collision of Martha’s food with the books business led to the publication of the then 41-year-old Stewart’s wildly successful first cookbook in 1982. Since then, Stewart has built an empire out of explaining how to entertain.

  • #9. Thomas Siebel

    - Company: Siebel Systems
    - Age started: 41

    Thomas Siebel wasn’t exactly starting from zero when he founded Siebel Systems in 1993. The 41 year old had built up tech giant Oracle before leaving to start the sales automation company. Siebel eventually returned to the fold, as his company was purchased by Oracle in 2006.

  • #10. Christian Dior

    - Company: Dior
    - Age started: 41

    Christian Dior started the fashion house that changed the shape of women’s clothing at the age of 41. His “New Look,” made up of tight waistlines and full skirts, was such a sensation that it helped Paris re-establish itself as the center of the fashion world.

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