Success Tips from 5 CEOs with Humble Beginnings


It takes a diverse set of skills to outgrow modest circumstances and advance to the pinnacle of the world of business. By looking intently at successful entrepreneurs who have risen from obscurity to direct some of the world’s most notable firms, we can gain insight into what makes them tick and learn from their stories. Certainly, the experiences of their forerunners can prove instructive for today’s aspiring businesspeople.

Dave Thomas

Founder of the popular fast food chain Wendy’s, Dave Thomas has become iconic for his appearance in hundreds of TV commercials. Today, Wendy’s has more than 6,000 locations, most of which are operated by franchisees.

Though Thomas was a billionaire at the time of his death in 2002, his origins were humble indeed. His mother put him up for adoption shortly after his birth, and then his adopted mother died when he was 5. After a stint in the Army and a series of restaurant-related jobs, he started working with the legendary Colonel Sanders of KFC fame. Putting the lessons he learned from this estimable personage into effect, Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. From Thomas we can see the results of persistence and learning from those who have gone before us.

Todd Pedersen

Todd Pedersen of home automation company Vivint is one of the hottest names in the burgeoning North American home automation sphere. Because of its commitment to providing all-in-one solutions and thorough support, ordinary homeowners feel confident that they won’t have to manage incompatible devices or spend hours on the phone with disinterested company representatives. Vivint has served more than 1 million clients to date.

Pederson grew up in Utah and he opened his first business before the age of 25. Originally dealing in pest control products, he sensed an opportunity in the home security market and shifted his attentions to burglar alarms. As smart home systems began to find their niche, Todd decided to focus on this technology and changed the name of his company from APX Alarm to Vivint. As Todd Pedersen’s history shows, it pays to stay in tune with what the market is demanding.

Larry Ellison

Raised by his great-aunt and great-uncle, Larry Ellison of database software giant Oracle didn’t show much promise as a young adult. He dropped out of college not once but twice and then took on a string of jobs, none of which lasted very long. While working as a programmer, he read a paper about relational databases and was intrigued by the possibilities. He co-founded the company which today the second-largest computer software producer in the world behind only Microsoft. Ellison himself is among the 10 wealthiest people in the world.

By looking at Larry Ellison’s life, we can appreciate how important it is to recognize new technological developments and run with them. In many ways, his story foreshadowed those of many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who risked it all on a vision.

Carol Bartz

After losing her mother when she was 8, Carol Bartz struggled financially and had to support herself through college by working as a cocktail waitress. Perhaps the that fact that her life wasn’t a continuous string of successes inspired her, after becoming CEO of Autodesk, to implement a strategy of planning for and taking into account failure before it happened.

Under her guidance, Autodesk, a creator of construction and architecture software, grew its revenues fivefold. Carol later briefly headed the search giant Yahoo! for a couple of years. Explaining her attitude to unexpected misfortunes, she stated that life is about “catching the ball before it hits the floor.”

Lloyd Blankfein

Lloyd Blankfein rose from being a soda vendor at Yankee Stadium to leading the multinational financial services organization Goldman Sachs. Last year, Blankfein led his financial management firm to a closing revenue that exceeded $37 billion. This is quite an ascent for a boy who grew up living in the public housing projects of Brooklyn.

Early on, Lloyd excelled academically, becoming the valedictorian of his high school. He earned a scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated from law school, and he then began his career. Lloyd Blankfein’s success attests to power of persistence and scholastic diligence – by outsmarting his classmates, Blankfein figured out a way to take his hard work all the way to the bank.

Some of the most successful business enterprises have risen from unlikely places – just because you’re starting from the bottom doesn’t mean you’re doomed to stay there. With hard work and confidence, you can rise to meet any challenge and succeed at anything you put your mind to.

About the Author:

Emma Bailey is a freelance writer and blogger from the Midwest. After going to college in Florida she relocated to Chicago, where she now lives with a roommate and two rabbits. Find her on Twitter @Emma_Bailey90

Photo Credit: Pexels


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