Top Ten Business Men of the 20th Century
Okay, so who are the top ten businessmen of the 20th century? I have compiled a list based on a variety of factors. To qualify, (1) the business must be profitable; (2) the business must have improved the lives of people in a major way; (3) they have changed the way people in the field do businesses.
Here are the top ten:
10. Donald Trump-Real estate mogul
When you think business, you think the name Trump. People criticize Trump because his father’s tremendous wealth allowed him to gain notoriety in the business world. Further, Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino endeavor in Atlantic City has been a complete financial disaster and is currently in bankruptcy reorganization. But any good businessman will tell you that success and failure are cousins of the same coin.
Trump’s two biggest successes were the result of a keen eye for business opportunity. The first was was the revitalization of the foreclosed Swifton Village apartment complex in Cincinnati, Ohio. He occupied this venture while pursuing his undergraduate business degree. He turned a 1200-unit complex with a 66% vacancy rate to 100% occupancy within a year. When the Trump Organization sold Swifton Village for $12 million, they cleared $6 million in profit. The second occurred when Trump landed the rights to develop the old Penn Central yards on the West Side He turned the bankrupt Commodore Hotel into a new Grand Hyatt based on a New York City tax abatement program that allowed him to develop the property cheaply and provided New York City with much needed revenue in a time of financial crisis. Trump’s use of leverage and tax-benefits in real estate transactions changed the way real estate companies develop property.
9. Sam Walton-Founder, Wal-Mart Stores
As much as I dislike the predatory animal that his company has become, you have to give credit where it is due. Sam Walton turned ordinary retailing into an economic powerhouse. Traditional retailing dictated that with lower prices, you could chase higher sales albeit at the expense of lower profits. His philosophy was mark up the price slightly above cost lowering profits which in turn would siphon sales from the competition. Wal-Mart’s first store opened in 1962 and has never looked back.
Fast forward to 2010 and his company has grown to sales of $416 billion from its 3,000+ stores with a workforce of over 2.1 million employees. His company has a workforce that is larger than the United States military. However, the glimmer of having a successful company has been tarnished by the companies anti-union sentiment and record of ruthless employment practices toward its workforce that include failure to pay overtime and provide affordable healthcare. Walton’s company, despite its faults, is a control for inflation and arguably allows the economically disadvantaged a higher purchasing power. The company provides goods to a lower middle class that may not afford them without the company’s economies of scale.
8. Larry Ellison- Founder and CEO of Oracle Corp.
Larry Ellison is one of the richest men in the world and it is because of his innovative company. In 1977, Ellison started the company with $1400 of his own money. Oracle is an enterprise software company that engages in the development, manufacture, distribution, servicing, and marketing of database, middleware (computer software that connects software components or applications), and application software. In layman’s terms, his company allows other companies in financials, human resources, maintenance management, manufacturing, product lifecycle management, procurement, and supply chain planning sectors to process their own information faster through the use of Oracle’s software. The true genius behind his company is that each version of the software only allows for a certain number of upgrades before requiring a purchase of new software that guarantees future revenue streams for the company. Ellison allowed companies to process their data faster that, in turn, made them more nimble and able to adapt to change.
7. Paul Allen/Bill Gates-Co-founders Microsoft Corporation
If you are reading this article, there is good chance that your computer runs on the software code these two men created. What started as a hobby creating computer code became creating a ‘disc operating system’ for IBM’s first personal computer. These guys became moguls of the computing world with their operating system being used in nearly 90% of computers today. Their company, Microsoft, Inc. made millionaires out of janitors because of one word: innovation. These two saw an opportunity to make a computer run faster. The rest is history. Both are billionaires and both have pledged to give their vast fortunes to charity.
6. Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg News
Mike had it good from the get go and he started out as an equity trader with Solomon Brothers. Sadly, he was fired in 1981. The good news is he was given a 10 million dollar severance package. He took the money and like all smart, savvy people, he started a business. His company, Bloomberg LP is a premier provider of financial information from around the globe. He has amassed a wealth of over 16 billion. He was living the high life owning homes in London, Bermuda, and NYC. He decided to enter the public forum and run for Mayor of NYC in 2002. He is currently the Mayor of the City of New York winning a controversial 3rd term. Like Gates and Allen, he pledged his vast fortune to charity.
5. Michael Dell-Founder and CEO of Dell, Inc.
Michael started his namesake company in 1984 with $1,000 with an innovative plan. He wanted to build a relationship directly with customers. He built customized computers for customers. This accomplished two things: (1) lowered costs of personal computers by eliminating components customers didn’t want or need and (2) put the personal in the computer since customers felt it was customized for them. What started out as a dorm room operation, quickly became a firestorm of computer sales. In 1992, Michael became the youngest CEO ever to earn a ranking on the Fortune 500 list. His company has recently struggled with sales and market share cessation to HP and Apple, Inc. However, his innovation to the computer industry by adding personalization to the process is an ongoing testament to his business prowess. With Mr. Dell back at the helm at Dell, the company is poised for a comeback.
4. Warren Buffet- Founder of Berkshire Hathaway
Warren had a knack for running businesses and his prowess for entrepreneurship was displayed at an early age. His first business involved selling golf balls to golfers that he caddied for at a golf course in the summer. He started his investment empire with $10,000 he saved in 1950 from working at the golf course. He is a living testament that wealth is earned through hard work and perseverance. His current empire is worth over 62 billion dollars. His company, Berkshire Hathaway invests in everything from GEICO Insurance to Chinese suit manufacturers. Warren Buffet described one way he analyzes a good investment. He advises you to look at the corporate office. If it is very fancy with expensive furniture, the company is wasting valuable dollars that could be used to enhance shareholder value. Mr. Buffett often invests in startups because of the high risk and high return on investment. However, during the financial collapse of 2008, he made large investment in many blue chip financial firms that many in the investment community saw as a vote of confidence in the American financial system. Mr. Buffet worked hard to earn his wealth and he instills the very same value in his children. There is a famous story of his eldest son, Howard, asking him for a loan to start a business. Mr. Buffet stated: “If your business is so great, any bank should be willing to lend you the money to help the business grow.” Don’t let this story fool you as he still allocated a billion dollars of his wealth to each of his 3 children. Mr. Buffet has promised to donate the remainder of his vast fortune to philanthropic endeavors.
3. Michael Jordan-Basketball Legend and Entrepreneur
Michael became an instant icon the moment he hit that game winning shot as a North Carolina Tar Heel in the 1982 NCAA Championship game against Georgetown. While he did not win his first championship until his 7th professional season, his keen business sense to open his own sneaker and apparel line has seen tremendous returns since its debut in 1985. He has been described as the only athlete that could sell cologne to a CEO and sneakers to inner city kids. His ability to be all things to all people is what made him a marketing icon to such companies as: Nike, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Gatorade, McDonald's, Ball Park Franks, Rayovac, Wheaties, Hanes, and MCI (former telecommunication giant). However, it is his entrepreneurial skills that allowed his clothing line to grow exponentially despite hanging up his own high tops for good after the 2003 NBA season. Forbes magazine named Jordan the 20th most powerful celebrity in the world with $55 million earned between June 2009 and June 2010. According to the Forbes article, Brand Jordan generates $1 billion in sales for Nike. Not bad for a former athlete. Jordan’s ability to keep his brand fresh in the minds of the youth revolves around making new sneakers and occasionally bringing out older models of his shoes rebranded “Retro.” The aim is to keep his brand as a prestige sneaker brand ala a “Dolce and Gabana” of footwear. No athlete has come close to having the marketing prowess of Michael Jordan. The only athlete to come close, Tiger Woods, has seen his own star dim among accusations of infidelity. Jordan’s iconic status as a basketball player is only overshadowed by his strength as a business mogul
2. Walt Disney-Media Kingpin- Founder of Walt Disney Co.
Every child in America knows Mickey Mouse, but very few people realize that Mickey Mouse was actually voiced by Walt Disney himself. Disney revolutionized the entertainment industry with the introduction of ‘voice over’ motion pictures. Prior to this development, motion pictures would run with subtitles under the picture. Thanks to Disney, people could now sit back and enjoy the film without having to facilitate the dialogue by reading along. His early success with animated cartoons led to a theme park that is built around the characters invented by Walt. As the company grew, so did the acquisitions. The Disney empire has annual revenues of over $37 billion dollars spread across its television (ESPN, Disney Channel, ABC Family, ABC), movie production (Disney-Pixar studios), and theme park (Disney World in Florida, Disney Europe, and Disney Land in California) properties. Hardly anyone could imagine a world without Walt Disney’s creation. His genius has inspired the hearts and imaginations of millions of children across many generations.
1. Steve Jobs-Tech Titan- Founder of Apple Inc.
I am currently typing this article on my Macintosh computer listening to my i-Pod. I hope to upgrade to a Verizon i-Phone 5 in the Fall. What do all these devices have in common? Steven Paul Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, Inc. Mr. Jobs is the number 1 businessman on this list because he turned his own business from nearly bankrupt in 1996 to a consumer product powerhouse in 2011. His innovative eye for trends and his uncanny ability to create new consumer products that didn’t exist have led Apple’s stock to gain 400% valuation since 1996. Much of Job’s success is due to an attribute that is common in many of the people on this list: an aggressive personality. He was fired from the very company he founded, only to return in 1996 after Apple purchased his new company, “NeXt.” As soon has he took the helm, he eliminated many costly and unsuccessful products and programs at the company. He also fired people who disagreed with his decisions. The old adage is right, you can’t build an empire without an iron fist. People at Apple feared Jobs thinking they would be out of a job. But it wasn’t all fire and brimstone at Apple. He led the company to develop the i-Pod that became a revolutionary portable music device that played MP3 files rather than a cd-rom. The IPOD would over take the CD player in sales in just 15 months. Jockeying on the success of the IPOD, Jobs’ developed the “i-Tunes” store where users could purchase music for the device. The I-tunes store has become a media juggernaut selling everything from musical mp3’s to books and TV shows. Job’s has shown a prowess for innovation and for pushing the envelope of information technology to places it has never been. His vast success with Apple is tainted by his failure to engage in philanthropic endeavors like his other fellow billionaires on this list. I speculate that it may have something to do with his upbringing and education where he scrapped and worked hard to become the successful businessman he would become. He attended Reed College but dropped out after only one semester. He continued to attend classes there as a non-matriculated student. He would sleep on the floor of friend’s dorm rooms and return Coke cans for food money. My thoughts are if he could become a billionaire with such a humble beginning, then anyone can and he doesn’t need to help them with his vast wealth. Jobs’ genius for innovation ,coupled with his aggressive business management style are what make him the number 1 businessman of the 20th century.
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