Five Entrepreneurs That Define America

One of the things that makes America great is that it seems custom built for the entrepreneur. Here you are free to start your own business, free to achieve great success and free to run the business into the ground. Think about all of the franchises around the world that have made a global impact (I was watching a Bizarre Foods episode last night where Andrew Zimmerman was exploring a Chinese market). In the background was the familiar siren of Starbucks. Here are a few of the entrepreneurs that have made this country great.

1. Steve Jobs: There’s not a lot that hasn’t already been said about him but my list would be seriously remiss without a mention. The founder and CEO of Apple, Inc. transformed the way we thought about music, computers and phones. Before his death in late 2011 he reached a God-like status among techies. Even if you don’t own an Apple product (which puts you in the minority) you probably own something inspired by the titan company’s latest gadget.

2. Walt Disney: I guess you could argue that Disney hasn’t invaded our everyday lives the way Apple does. You don’t have people using a “Mickey-Phone”. But the company certainly has invaded every aspect of the entertainment industry. Disney does cruises, European tours, theme parks, movies, books based on those movies, high end art and even wedding dresses. Like all of the entrepreneurs on this list Disney has a global impact with parks in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and soon Shanghai. Disney is known for promoting dreams and wishes in their marketing, but when you look at the story of their foundation from a humble animator in Kansas City, MO to an international corporation you start to believe that with a little ambition, dreams can come true.

3. Howard Schultz: The man who invented the caffeine buzz. Basically, in 1971 this guy became the biggest enabler to a country addicted to caffeine. Just like Jobs, he’s worshipped in some circles (of course those circles don’t include fans of the Seattle Sonics, may the team RIP).  There’s a lot to love about Starbucks. You can start with their commitment to fair trade coffee. Then look at their employees: anyone who works 25 hours a week is eligible for health insurance and everyone receives payment above the minimum wage. Then there’s the fact that every Christmas many locations do a drive for Toys for Tots. I never feel too guilty for choosing Starbucks over a quote on quote “local” coffee shop. Starbucks is constantly posting flyers to support local events, raising money for good causes and featuring fellow customer recommendations in the store. Starbucks is a local coffee shop, it just has a corporate name.

4. Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook has irrevocably changed social interactions. I’d say more about him but I’m quite bitter that he’s just a couple of years older than me and already a billionaire. Entrepreneurial lesson from Mr. Zuckerberg and The Social Network? Don’t go into business with your friends, online or otherwise.

5. Oprah Winfrey: Born into poverty Oprah never let hardships stop her drive to succeed. From the time she was nineteen Oprah worked her way from a co-anchor of the nightly news to become a media titan. When it debuted in 2000 “O Magazine” turned a profit – with its first issue.  What’s admirable about Winfrey is her generous spirit in addition to her business know-how. Of course she’s known for giving away cars like candy, but she also built a school for young girls in Africa. As one of only six black billionaires in the world Oprah is proof of the importance of the power of diversity in entrepreneurship.

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