10 CEOs who didn't find success until later in life

Kazuhiro Nogi/Getty ImagesMomofuku Ando, former CEO of Nissin Foods.
  • Not all CEOs were as young as Mark Zuckerberg when their businesses took off.
  • Some of the biggest names in business didn’t have their million-dollar ideas until their late 30s or past their 40s.
  • CEOs like Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), Sam Walton (Walmart), and Robin Chase (Zipcar) all founded their companies after a series of setbacks in their youths.
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Many business leaders found success early in life, some before turning 30 (think Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey). Other chief executives, however, didn’t get a big break until after 30 or 40.

Many of them worked odd jobs before they found their true calling, or they struggled as entrepreneurs for years before a business idea took off. Despite many setbacks, entrepreneurs like Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), Sam Walton (Walmart), and Robin Chase (Zipcar) all made their businesses successful.

Here are 10 CEOs who didn’t find success until later in life.

Gary Heavin founded Curves Fitness in his late 30s

Frederick M. Brown/Getty

Gary Heavin founded Curves Fitness, the women’s-only gym, with his wife Diane in 1992, when he was in his late 30s (Heavin was born sometime in the mid-1950s). Curves would go on to open another 10,000 locations by 2006, its commercial peak. Today, Curves has only 409 locations, and Heavin has turned his focus to producing Christian films like “Amerigeddon.”

Robin Chase helped start Zipcar at age 42

Wikimedia Commons/Paul Downey

Robin Chase worked as a consultant before cofounding car-rental company Zipcar in 2000, at age 42.

Zipcar was based on the concept of renting cars in a quick and affordable way before smartphones made car-sharing even easier. The very first Zipcar sat outside Chase’s Massachusetts home, and a set of keys was hidden under a pillow on her front porch. Zipcar went on to be valued at $US1.2 billion when it went public in 2011.

After leaving Zipcar in 2003, Chase continued building transportation companies like Buzzcar and GoLoco.

Ray Kroc met the McDonald brothers at age 52

Ray Kroc helped create the biggest fast-food chain in history, McDonald’s – but he didn’t meet the McDonald brothers until 1954, when he was 52 years old.

Dick and Mac needed a franchising agent to expand their store to new locations, and Kroc saw his big opportunity. After 30 years of odd jobs (paper-cup salesman, piano player, milkshake-mixer salesman), he founded McDonald’s Systems Inc. in 1955.

Since then, McDonald’s has opened over 36,000 eateries and feeds 70 million people a day.

Safra Catz joined Oracle at age 39


Safra Catz has been with computer-tech company Oracle since 1999, joining their board of directors when she was 39. Before joining the company, she was a banker at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.

She quickly climbed the corporate ladder and served as CFO, and is now co-CEO along with Max Hurd. Catz was named the world’s highest-paid female CEO in 2017, the year she earned $US40.9 million.

Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods invented instant ramen at age 48

Kazuhiro Nogi/Getty Images

Momofuku Ando founded Nissin Foods as a salt company in the aftermath of World War II. However, Japan was in desperate need of food after the war, prompting Ando to invent instant ramen noodles in 1958 at age 48.

Ando lived to be 96, when he died in 2007. He credited his old age to eating chicken-flavored instant ramen every single day until his death.

Tim and Nina Zagat published their famous guide when both were in their 40s

Joe Corrigan/Getty

Tim and Nina Zagat met at Yale Law School, where they both graduated in 1966. They got married, moved to New York, and became corporate lawyers. Years later, while they were living and working in Paris, they made a hobby of compiling a list of their favourite restaurants in the city, which eventually became the Zagat Survey.

The first Zagat guide was published in 1982, when the Zagats were in their 40s, and enjoyed years of success. In 2011, Zagat was acquired by Google, though the company sold the brand to The Infatuation in 2018 for an undisclosed amount.

Jack Weil founded Rockmount Ranch Wear at age 45

Jack Weil founded Rockmount Ranch Wear, the cowboy-wear brand in 1946, when he was 45.

His designs became iconic and transformed Western fashion for modern people – snap-on buttons, saw-tooth pocket designs, and even the bolo tie. Before founding his stores, he was a garter salesman.

He remained the CEO until his death in 2008 at the age of 107. He was the oldest working CEO in the US.

Lynda Weinman founded Lynda.com at age 40


Lynda Weinman founded Lynda.com with her husband, Bruce Heavin, in 1995, when Weinman was 40.

Lynda.com, an online training library for computer skills, was bought by LinkedIn in 2015 for $US1.5 billion.

Before her big break, Weinman had several jobs: She opened two retail stores in Los Angeles, then became a digital animator for Dreamquest. She also taught digital media at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

Sam Walton opened the first Walmart at age 44

Ever wondered where the “Wal” in Walmart came from? Sam Walton was 42 when he opened the first Walmart in 1962.

Before starting his retail empire, Walton had a reasonably successful career in retail management. The first Walmart (based in Rogers, Arkansas) was called Wal-Mart Discount City.

Today, there are 11,368 Walmart stores worldwide, which produce over $US500 million in revenue each year.

Wally Blume found success with Denali Flavours at age 57

Wally Blume has said he had neither the time nor the money to start his own business until he was 57.

Before then, he worked in new product development for a supermarket chain, and even looked into a franchise cheese store.

He developed his ice cream flavour, Moose Tracks, on the side, with the help of a few friends. Moose Tracks eventually became a hit, leading to Denali Flavours, Blume’s now booming ice cream company.

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