The Corporate-to-Entrepreneur Hall of Fame

July 31st, 2008

Woz and Jobs at workSome say that a true entrepreneur could never work in Corporate America. Many claim that you have to be born with that entrepreneurial DNA and will know from an early age if you’ve got what it takes to run your own business. I strongly disagree. I believe that entrepreneurial skills and attitude can be acquired.

In fact, doing some time in Corporate America can be a great way to pick up very valuable business expertise that will come in handy when running your business. As Aliza Freud, founder and CEO of SheSpeaks, puts it, “I think that the skills that I gained when I was working at a big company really helped to make me a better entrepreneur.”

The trick is to get out before the bureaucracy crushes your entrepreneurial spirit.

Sure, the stories about entrepreneurs who started their first profitable businesses during junior high are inspiring. But it’s also true that many of the most legendary entrepreneurs of all time started out as corporate employees.

  • Henry Ford was the son of farmers and toiled in an engineering job before striking out on his own to form Ford Motor Company.
  • Walt Disney was an illustrator for an advertising agency before he and his brother Roy started a business in their uncle’s garage that eventually became the Walt Disney Company.
  • Ray Kroc was a salesman for the Multi-Mixer Corporation when he bought a California hamburger restaurant from the MacDonald Brothers and turned it into a multibillion-dollar international chain.
  • Mary Kay Ash was a sales director for Stanley Home Products for twenty years before she retired and used her life savings of $5,000 to get Mary Kay Cosmetics going in 1963.
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak spent time as engineers at Atari before they created Apple Computer.
  • Jeff Bezos quit his job as a senior vice president on Wall Street when he came up with the revolutionary idea for
  • Michael Bloomberg was a senior manager at Salomon Brothers until he was squeezed out after the company was acquired in 1981. The unemployed Bloomberg went on to make his fortune by starting Bloomberg LP, the financial information company, and later used
    his billions to finance a successful run for mayor of New York City.
  • Martha Stewart had a successful career as a stockbroker before she turned a catering business into a media empire.

Do you have other nominations for the Corporate-to-Entrepreneur Hall of Fame? Don’t be shy. Show your entrepreneur-sized ego and nominate yourself if you like!

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Wasn’t Colonel Sanders doing something else to before he started KFC?

Pamela Skillings

Actually, Harland “Colonel” Sanders didn’t start the business that would become Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was 40. Before that, Wikipedia says he worked as a steamboat captain, a farmer, and an insurance salesman (a gig that was probably at least somewhat corporate).


It seems as though almost any corporation could be traced back to one or two individuals who left their original jobs and started out as entrepreneurs…

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