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Successful U.S. companies started by immigrants

  • Successful U.S. companies started by immigrants

    The mountain of contributions made by America's immigrants to the country and to the world is nowhere more evident than it is in the sphere of business. According to Brookings, nearly half of the top Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or first-generation children who lived out the dreams their parents could have only imagined when they made the journey to America in search of a better life, as so many others had done before.

    Over the centuries, each wave of immigrants faced hostility, suspicion, discrimination, or worse based on their religion, race, customs, country of origin, or perceived values. As a new debate about a new generation of immigrants rages on, it's impossible not to wonder how the world would have suffered if America hadn't welcomed the following entrepreneurs, innovators, movers, shakers, and game changers to its shores.

    Read on to learn which successful U.S. companies were started by immigrants.

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  • Panda Restaurant Group

    Andrew and Peggy Cherng immigrated from China in the 1960s. It must have been hard for them to imagine that the little restaurant they opened would go on to become what Business Insider refers to as "a company that essentially owns the Chinese-food sector of the quick-serve market." The parent company of Panda Express is now worth $2.8 billion and provides a living to 27,000 employees.

  • Chobani

    Hamdi Ulukaya came to America from his native Turkey in 1994. Less than 15 years later, he's America's yogurt king—his Chobani brand is the country's #1 Greek yogurt. The son of Kurdish sheep dairy farmers, Ulukaya took out a Small Business Administration loan in 2005 to make a product based on recipes from his homeland. Now worth $1.79 billion, Ulukaya courted intense controversy when he recently hired refugees, many of them from Muslim countries, who had resettled in America. His logic, according to an interview with "60 Minutes," was that "the minute they get a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee."

  • Yahoo!

    At the dawn of the internet age, few names rang out louder than Yahoo!, a company that was worth $130 billion at its zenith. Its founder is Jerry Yang, a Taiwanese immigrant who came to America in 1978 not knowing who the faces on U.S. paper money belonged to and only understanding the word “shoe.” He learned fluent English in just three years and earned both a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford in a combined four years. He is now worth $2.8 billion, thanks largely to his revelation that web pages should be categorized in a hierarchy instead of in lists.

  • Kraft Foods

    From Maxwell House and Kool-Aid to Grey Poupon and Cheez Whiz, the Kraft Foods product line is baked into the DNA of the American kitchen. The $8.8 billion juggernaut began with $65: that’s how much Canadian-born James L. Kraft spent on the horse and wagon he used in 1903 to shepherd his budding food distribution company to global prominence. In 1909, Kraft began working on a virtually non-perishable, "processed" cheese that didn't dry out or get moldy. When World War I broke out, the U.S. government ordered 6 million pounds of Kraft cheese to feed its hungry soldiers overseas—and the rest is history.

  • Zumba Fitness

    Alberto "Beto" Perez always enjoyed dancing during his childhood in Colombia, and by the time he was a teenager, he was using his skills to earn money as an aerobics instructor. He improvised by using music to help his pupils dance their way to fitness. After immigrating to the United States, he launched Zumba in 2001. Today, 15 million people sweat through Zumba sessions in 180 countries every week, and Perez's apparel line sells 3.5 million units a year.

  • Tesla

    The $51.1 billion Tesla corporation is bringing electric cars to the mainstream. Founded in 2003, Tesla employs 27,000 people, and the entire operation is the brainchild of Elon Musk, one of the boldest innovators in history. Born and raised in South Africa, Musk immigrated first to Canada before landing in America as a transfer student. Now worth $20.8 billion, Musk first revolutionized not the way people drive, but the way people buy and sell when he co-founded PayPal.

  • SpaceX

    Elon Musk is not just changing the way people travel on Earth—he's also preparing them to ride off into the cosmos. In his spare time, Musk runs an almost cartoonishly ambitious company called SpaceX, which builds rockets that NASA uses to ferry things like satellites and telescopes into space. The company's real goal, however, is private space tourism—in a not-too-distant future.

  • AT&T

    In the history of American telecommunications, there's AT&T and there's everyone else. Originally called Bell Systems, the company was named after Alexander Graham Bell, who, alongside Thomas Watson, invented the telephone. The man who in 1876 provided human beings with the means to communicate from a distance was born in Scotland in 1847.

  • Pfizer

    Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which globally distributes vaccines and other biological medicines, is one of the 15 biggest companies in America—but the man who co-founded the empire wasn't born in the U.S. Born in Germany, cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart launched the company with a $2,500 loan from Pfizer's father. Pfizer is now worth $207.7 billion.

  • eBay

    Born in France to Iranian parents, Pierre Omidyar came to America when he was 6 years old. What the country gained when he arrived was the future mastermind of one of the most important names in the history of online commerce—eBay. Formed in 1995, the online auction house and marketplace is now worth $38 billion. Omidyar, who still sits on the board, is worth $11.1 billion himself.

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