10 Highly Successful Business Owners (Who Started Late)

Think you’re too late for great success? These 10 late bloomers who shaped the modern business world didn’t think it was ever too late to start or start anew.

1. Lim Goh Tong, 47, Genting Highlands

Lim founded the Genting Highlands Sdn. Bhd., the Malaysian hotel and casino when he was 47. He sold almost all of his assets to fund this company and the hotel and casino went on to open franchises all over the world.

Lim Goh Tong

Lim Goh Tong (1918–2007) was a prominent Malaysian Chinese businessman and philanthropist. He was renowned for transforming Genting Highlands from an unexplored hilltop into one of the world’s most successful casino resorts, Genting Resort, proving instrumental in its development. Born into a low-income family in China’s Fujian province, he moved to Malaysia in his teens.

His ventures varied from scrap metal to construction, but his risk and innovation in developing Genting Highlands cemented his legacy. His success in the face of adversity made him one of Malaysia’s wealthiest people, with his philanthropic efforts, including significant contributions to education and medicine, enhancing his reputation. His life story is an inspiring tale of entrepreneurship and perseverance in the face of substantial challenges.

2. Gordon Bowker, 51, Starbucks

He co-founded the Starbucks company with Ziv Siegel and Jerry Baldwin. He also christened the Starbucks name and gave it its looks as a nod to their alma mater.

Gordon Bowker 1

Gordon Bowker is an American entrepreneur best known as one of the co-founders of Starbucks, the world-renowned coffee company. Bowker, alongside Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegl, opened the first Starbucks store in 1971 in Seattle, Washington, aiming to sell high-quality coffee beans and equipment. Initially, the store did not sell prepared coffee drinks, a concept introduced later.

Bowker also contributed to the company’s branding, as he was instrumental in creating the Starbucks name, inspired by the character Starbucks from Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby-Dick.” Besides his work with Starbucks, Bowker co-founded Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Redhook Ale Brewery, demonstrating a broad entrepreneurial spirit.

3. Henri Nestlé, 52. Nestlé

Henri Nestlé founded the Nestlé company and saved his neighbor’s infant from starvation by finding a substitute for breast milk in 1867 (aged 53).

Henri Nestle 1

Henri Nestlé, originally born Heinrich Nestle in 1814, was a German-born Swiss confectioner and the founder of Nestlé, the largest food company in the world. Nestlé’s most significant contribution was in the field of infant nutrition. Disturbed by the high mortality rate of infants unable to breastfeed, Nestlé developed a milk-based baby food, the first commercial infant formula.

It was composed of cow’s milk, wheat flour, and sugar and was introduced in 1867. This product was a groundbreaking success, saving the life of a premature infant in its first year of launch and marking the beginning of the Nestlé brand. Henri Nestlé was a skilled businessman and a pioneer in producing safe, nutritious food, leaving a lasting impact on global nutrition.

4. Yoshisuke Aikawa, 53, Nissan Mobor

Yoshisuke Aikawa took advantage of the stock market boom to grow his company and later went on to venture into automobile manufacturing in 1933.

nissan founder 1

Yoshisuke Aikawa (1880–1967) was a prominent Japanese businessman and industrialist known for his significant role in developing Japan’s automobile industry. He founded Nissan Motor Company Ltd. Born in what is now part of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Aikawa studied in the United States, where he became fascinated with Western industrial methods. He returned to Japan, and in 1931, he merged several business interests to form Nissan. Despite facing several challenges, including being purged from public office following World War II due to his involvement in Japan’s wartime regime, Aikawa rebuilt his industrial empire in the postwar era. He is regarded as a critical figure in modern Japan’s industrial growth.

5. Joseph Campbell 52. Campbell Soup

Founded the Campbell Soup with Abraham Anderson in 1869.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph A. Campbell (1817–1900) was an American businessman known for co-founding the Campbell Soup Company, one of the most recognized brands in the food industry. He started as a fruit merchant in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and later partnered with Abraham Anderson in 1869 to form Anderson & Campbell. This company canned tomatoes, vegetables, jellies, soups, condiments, and mincemeat.

1897 the company gained significant success when Campbell’s nephew, John T. Dorrance, invented condensed soup. This innovation reduced the cans’ weight and shipping costs, making the product more accessible and affordable. After Campbell’s death, the company was renamed Campbell Soup Company in his honor.

6. Ray Kroc, 52, (soas off the franchising of) McDonald’s

Ray Kroc met with the McDonald brothers (Maurice and Richard McDonald) in San Bernardino, California, and saw extensive possibilities in the small chain. He bought the company from them and took it to greater heights.

Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc (1902–1984) was an American entrepreneur best known for expanding McDonald’s from a local chain of fast-food restaurants in California to a global franchise. Kroc was a milkshake machine salesman when he discovered Richard and Maurice McDonald’s efficient restaurant in San Bernardino in the 1950s. Seeing the potential for a successful franchise model, he proposed opening more locations under a franchise agreement with the McDonald brothers.

Kroc opened the first franchise McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955 and bought out the McDonald brothers’ stake in the company in 1961. Under his leadership, McDonald’s became one of the world’s leading fast-food chains. Kroc is remembered for his innovative fast-food business model and emphasis on uniform standards and quality control across all McDonald’s locations.

7. Ferdinand Porsche, 55, Porsche

Porsche established a “designs and consulting service for engines and vehicles” in 1931 with the help of Austrian funders.

Ferdinand Porsche

Ferdinand Porsche (1875–1951) was a pioneering Austrian-German automotive engineer and founder of the Porsche car company. He is best remembered for creating the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle (the Lohner-Porsche), the Volkswagen Beetle, and the Porsche 911. Porsche started his career in the early 20th century with the Bela Egger Electric company in Vienna, later working with notable firms like Austro-Daimler and Mercedes-Benz. During World War II, he also designed tanks for the German army.

In 1931, he established his engineering consultancy, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH, which eventually became the Porsche car company. His innovations in the automobile industry have left an indelible mark on the design and development of sports cars, making him a significant figure in automotive history.

8. Kawasaki Shozó, 59, Kawasaki

Kawasaki was a shipbuilder. He went on to establish Kawasaki Dockyard Co. Ltd. in 1896.

Kawasaki Shozo

Kawasaki Shōzō (1837–1912) was a prominent Japanese businessman and shipbuilder best known as the founder of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, a major global player in various sectors, including shipbuilding, aviation, rail transport, and heavy equipment. Born in a sake brewing family, Kawasaki had an adventurous spirit that led him to start a shipping business.

His experience in shipping exposed him to the technological advancements of Western naval design, prompting him to establish Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard in Tokyo in 1878. His shipyard quickly expanded, setting the foundation for Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Kawasaki’s endeavors significantly contributed to the modernization of Japan during the Meiji period.

9. Charles Flint, 61, IBM

Flint merged four companies to form a Computing Tabulating Recording Company, which was later named International Business Machines (IBM).

Charles Flint

Charles Ranlett Flint (1850–1934) was a prominent American businessman and financier best known for his role in forming the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). Before IBM, Flint had a successful career in the shipping business and was also involved in consolidating various industries into trusts, earning him the nickname “Father of Trusts.” In 1911, he engineered the merger of four companies to form the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR), a precursor to IBM.

Under the management of Thomas J. Watson, CTR was renamed IBM in 1924. Flint was a member of the IBM board until his retirement in 1930. His business acumen and talent for consolidation played a pivotal role in shaping the modern computing industry.

10. Colonel Sanders (Colonel Sanders), 62, KFC

Harland David Sanders, fondly known as Colonel Sanders, opened the first KFC franchise in 1952 in Utah after holding many jobs, including firefighter and selling insurance before selling chickens by the roadside.

Colonel Sanders

Colonel Harland Sanders (1890–1980) was an American businessman and entrepreneur best known as the fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) founder. Sanders started his career running a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, where he began cooking for hungry travelers. His recipe for fried chicken, seasoned with a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, became so popular that he opened a restaurant.

In the 1950s, at 65, Sanders began franchising his chicken business, and KFC was born. Despite numerous challenges, Sanders’ determination and entrepreneurial spirit turned KFC into a global franchise, making his image as “Colonel Sanders” one of the most recognized in the industry. His iconic “finger-licking” recipe continues to be a staple of KFC’s menu worldwide.

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