Entrepreneurs who built companies after age 40

Written by:
August 27, 2019
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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: Lynda.com
- Age started: 42

Lynda Weinman founded her eponymous computer training website Lynda.com 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.

#11. Chip Wilson

- Company: Lululemon
- Age started: 42

Chip Wilson might exist to defy the stereotype that Canadians are nice with his offensive remarks, but there’s no denying that the athleisure company he founded in 1998 is well-loved. His company remains one of the cornerstones of the versatile clothing trend, even after Wilson stepped away from the business.

#12. John Warnock

- Company: Adobe
- Age started: 42

John Warnock founded the company best known for image editing because he wanted a way to make sure documents came out the same on all ends. The software CEO invented the PostScript language and the PDF as a means to ensure consistency, though his company’s name is now often associated with skillful image manipulation.

#13. Ralph Roberts

- Company: Comcast
- Age started: 43

Ralph Roberts looms large as one of the original cable TV kings, representing the largest cable television network in the country in the form of Comcast. After purchasing a small Tupelo, Miss., cable service at the age of 43, Roberts grew the company through a series of consolidations and forward-thinking strategies, ultimately serving as CEO for 46 years.

#14. Sam Walton

- Company: Walmart
- Age started: 44

Before Sam Walton, people didn’t get into the grocery business to become millionaires. Because nothing like it had ever existed at the time, it would have been impossible to envision a chain even half of Walmart’s size until Walton opened his first outpost. His business kept pushing and completely changed the concept of grocery stores in the U.S., becoming the largest private employer in the world in the process. Its 2.3 million employees trail only the United States Department of Defense and the People’s Liberation Army of China in terms of employee count.

#15. Jack Weil

- Company: Rockmount Ranch Wear
- Age started: 45

The common association between ranchers and bolo ties is probably thanks to Jack Weil. The innovator and manufacturer popularized the Western shirt and the accompanying string ties after starting his ranchwear business in his mid-40s. Weil continued to work at the company regularly until he passed away at the impressive age of 107.

#16. Dave Duffield

- Company: PeopleSoft
- Age started: 46

Duffield was nearly 50 when he founded his famous human resources software company, which rose to become the second largest back-office software company after SAP. After nearly two years of intense bidding, Oracle acquired PeopleSoft for more than $10 billion, quickly firing 5,000 of the 11,700 PeopleSoft employees.

#17. Momofuku Ando

- Company: Nissin Foods
- Age started: 48

While Momofuku Ando started his family business Nissin Foods at the age of 38, it wasn’t until he was 48 that he found a way to create the prepackaged Top Ramen instant noodles that have become a staple of the college diet. It took another 13 years for Ando to invent his instantly recognizable styrofoam cups of noodles, spreading the product from his native Japan across the world.

#18. Yoshisuke Aikawa

- Company: Nissan
- Age started: 48

The son of an influential Japanese family, Yoshisuke Aikawa chose to begin his career as a humble mechanic to disguise his distinguished upbringing. After achieving success across a series of smaller auto manufacturing endeavors, Aikawa took over his brother-in-law's conglomerate to help lead a restructuring. Aikawa renamed the firm Nissan, derived from Nihon ("Japan") and Sangyo ("Industry"), bucking the prevailing convention at the time to name businesses after the founding family. A longstanding commitment to shareholders and effective business practices have helped contribute to Nissan's growth into the ninth most valuable automotive company in the world.

#19. Tony Ryan

- Company: Ryanair
- Age started: 48

Tony Ryan might have been a CEO, but his unofficial title should have been a magician. How else can flights for less than 10 euros be explained? The Ryanair founder started his ultra-budget airline with a single aircraft in 1985 and watched it grow to 500 routes across Europe.

#20. Julia Child

- Company: The French Chef
- Age started: 49

The chef endlessly imitable in both style and voice didn't see her first cookbook published until she was 49 years old. "Mastering The Art of French Cooking" was an instant sensation, leading to Julia Child's beloved television series two years later.

#21. Leo Goodwin

- Company: GEICO
- Age started: 50

The insurance magnate had kicked around the industry for several years before he decided to start up his own venture. In 1936, Leo Goodwin founded GEICO with the idea that he could offer customers lower premiums if he dealt directly with the holders of policies. It worked—the insurance giant raked in more than $25 billion in 2017 alone.

#22. Wally Blume

- Company: Denali Flavors
- Age started: 57

Plenty of people on this list have changed our lives in massive ways, but Wally Blume deserves credit for his small-scale contribution that has no doubt lead to a lot of happiness. Blume founded his own company and invented the Moose Tracks ice cream flavor after quitting his previous job, where his employer pitched a tomato-flavored ice cream.

#23. Bernie Marcus

- Company: Home Depot
- Age started: 49

Anyone who has spent hours wandering in a warehouse and dreaming about pedestal sinks has Bernie Marcus to thank. After a corporate power struggle led to him being axed from his position as a CEO of another hardware company, Marcus founded The Home Depot in 1979. Marcus’ business proved that living well is the best revenge, as it became the largest home improvement retailer in the U.S.

#24. Carol Gardner

- Company: Zelda Wisdom
- Age started: 52

Carol Gardner started her greeting card company—which creates intimate, fun-loving cards (primarily themed around dogs). It was founded after an off-hand comment from her divorce attorney.

#25. Bill Porter

- Company: E-Trade
- Age started: 63

Shortly after Bill Porter acquired an Apple II in 1980, he had the idea of creating a system where people could buy stocks over the internet. Unfortunately, he didn't know how to access the information or build the program. Luckily, he ran into programmer Bernie Newcomb at a party, and the pair got to work. Three years later, they had put the ability to buy stocks into the hands of anyone with a modem.

#26. Gary Burrell

- Company: Garmin
- Age started: 52

Garmin’s first office was a set of folding chairs and a card table, but the company grew quickly, thanks to a fairly well-known client: The GPS manufacturer’s first paying customer was the United States Army.

#27. Joseph A. Campbell

- Company: Campbell's Soup
- Age started: 52

So many sick children owe their favorite remedy to a fruit merchant who was just looking to sell some canned tomatoes. 52-year-old Joseph Campbell started the company that would eventually introduce condensed soup in Camden, N.J., where the company remains to this day.

#28. Henri Nestlé

- Company: Nestle
- Age started: 52

Henri Nestlé started out by developing powdered milk for infants, despite being childless. After merging with a Swiss competitor, the company soon branched out into new consumer foods and has since grown into the largest food and beverage company in the world.

#29. Chaleo Yoovidhya

- Company: Red Bull
- Age started: 53

Given the way the brand has associated itself with youth culture and extreme sports, it might be surprising to learn that Red Bull was started by someone almost old enough to receive a pension. Chaleo Yoovidhya came up with the formula for Red Bull when he was 53 years old, and it quickly became a success in Bangkok thanks to his savvy decision to market the drink to blue-collar workers who needed the drink’s extra kick. Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz discovered the drink while jet-lagged in Thailand in 1984 and pitched a carbonated version that helped the concoction grow into one of the world’s most-recognized energy drinks.

#30. Ray Kroc

- Company: McDonald's
- Age started: 52

Ray Kroc is one of the most influential businessmen of all time, having essentially invented the modern fast-food franchise when he grew McDonald's from a single restaurant into the world's biggest fast-food chain. As chronicled in 2016's "The Founder," Kroc did not actually found the initial McDonald's and, in spite of his success, Kroc's well-documented ruthlessness paints him as far from a glimmering hero.

#31. John Pemberton

- Company: Coca-Cola
- Age started: 54

Coca-Cola began its life as a tonic dreamed up by a man suffering from a saber wound sustained in the Civil War. John Pemberton’s French Wine Cola originally started out as an alcoholic beverage meant to help wean people off morphine. In 1885, the recipe shifted closer to the soda we know today in response to Atlanta’s temperance laws, though it still had trace amounts of cocaine in it. That was dropped from the recipe in 1929 and people still found themselves hooked.

#32. Sheldon Adelson

- Company: Las Vegas Sands
- Age started: 55

Las Vegas kingpin Sheldon Adelson was 55 years old when he founded his successful casino and resort. The billionaire many times over also owns Vegas’ largest newspaper and the landmark hotel The Venetian.

#33. Bob Parsons

- Company: GoDaddy
- Age started: 47

Bob Parsons’ company might be best known for its raunchy ads, but it is also largely considered to be the biggest domain-hosting company in the world. Even though internet businesses have a reputation for being a young person’s game, Parsons didn’t start his until he was nearly 60.

#34. Kawasaki Shozo

- Company: Kawasaki
- Age started: 59

Kawasaki Shozo’s eponymous manufacturing company was birthed from a shipyard also named after him. The company behind countless motorcycles was incorporated in 1896 when Kawasaki was nearly 60.

#35. Charles Ranlett Flint

- Company: IBM
- Age started: 61

If he were alive today, Charles Ranlett Flint probably wouldn't recognize the company he started as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. But it's worth mentioning that the founder of one of the world's most recognizable computing brands was nearly eligible for (then-nonexistent) Social Security when he founded it.

#36. Harland David Sanders

- Company: KFC
- Age started: 62

The famous face of KFC spent a chunk of his life as a rabble-rouser before settling down and becoming a fast food titan. It all started with a personal recipe. When the buzz began to build around Sanders’ much-protected seasoning blend, Sanders gained enough confidence to sell it to others. The first KFC franchise opened when the Colonel was 62 years old.

#37. Paul Tasner

- Company: PulpWorks
- Age started: 66

The company slinging biodegradable and easy-to-open packaging started out of a familiar gripe and a bit of free time. Tasner had been let go from a high-level job in packaging when he noted that his wife was struggling with a pair of scissors made to open hard-to-crack packages. His resulting Karta-Pack has since become a hit among companies looking for eco-friendly containers.

#38. Jai Nam Choi

- Company: Mommy Sauce
- Age started: 71

The mother of famed chef Roy Choi was inspired to start her own line of pre-made Korean sauces by her famous son, and it wasn’t long before people took notice. The older entrepreneur has already found herself the subject of features in The Los Angeles Times.

#39. Cherry Harker

- Company: ZwimZuit
- Age started: 76

The popular neoprene bikinis made by Cherry Harker call back to vacations she took nearly 60 years ago. Harker has said in interviews that she had the idea to create bikinis from the wetsuit material after spending her youth watching active women struggle to keep their swimsuits in place.

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