If there’s one instantly recognisable characteristic all business owners share, it’s resilience. On their tool belts, hanging right next to resilience and failure, you’ll find optimism. Every now and again however, even the most enduring spirits need a little motivational boost. If you’re having ‘one of those days’, here are 10 inspiring stories of commitment, courage and hard-earned success to keep you pumping those business pedals:
1. Forever Striving
When Do Won Chang moved from Korea to the USA in 1981 he maintained three jobs to support himself and his wife, Jin Sook. The then janitor, petrol station attendant and coffee shop worker saved his pennies to open a humble clothing store in 1984. That clothing store grew into the multi-national retail giant today known as Forever 21. With more than 600 stores in 2015 turning over approximately $4.4 billion in annual sales, the couple have had to recruit the help of their two daughters Linda and Esther.
2. Girl power
In 1976 when environmental and human rights activist Anita Roddick opened her first shop in the UK with around 25 beauty products, a pair of nearby funeral parlours took issue with the name, The Body Shop. Whether intentional or not, Roddick then cemented her success by suggesting to a local newspaper that she was a woman entrepreneur under siege. This resulted in increased exposure for the ethical brand, now carried by over 2,500 stores in over 60 markets worldwide. In 2003, Roddick was appointed a Dame of the British Empire for her service to retailing, the environment and charitable endeavours, before dying of an acute brain haemorrhage in 2007, leaving behind a legacy of ethical consumerism.
3. Opes, she did it again!
American talk show host Oprah Winfrey rose from a culture of sexism and harassment in her first television job as an anchor (where she was ultimately fired), to become #5 on Forbes’ America’s Richest Self-Made Women (2015) list and #12 on their Power Women (2015) list. The 61-year-old actress, director/producer, entrepreneur and philanthropist endured an unenvious childhood in an extremely poor and dangerous neighborhood to having donated hundreds of millions of dollars to educational initiatives like her school for girls in South Africa.
4. Success sucks
5,126 failed prototypes to show for 15 years worth of savings and you’d think Sir James Dyson would have pulled the pin on his invention. Instead, he pulled the bag – and prototype number 5,127 went on to become the best-selling bagless vacuum in the USA. According to Forbes, Dyson now employs 650 engineers and scientists, and boasts more than 560 patents. In an interview with Entrepreneur, he said of success: “You never learn from success, but you do learn from failure. (When I created the Dual Cyclone vacuum), I started out with a simple idea, and by the end, it got more audacious and interesting. I got to a place I never could have imagined because I learned what worked and didn’t work.”
5. Give up or GoPro
American businessman Nick Woodman wasn’t always a businessman; he was a B-grade university student with a passion for surfing that saw his grades remain average, but it was his commitment to overcome failure that saw him create the world’s most recognisable wearable camera, the GoPro, on the back of two failed and unrecognisable online startups; EmpowerAll.com (an e-commerce site selling cheap electronics, and the online marketing business, FunBug). After losing nearly $4 million investors’ dollars, Nick’s faith in his entrepreneurial ability was shaken, but not stifled. As Hongkiat tells, he picked himself up and went on a surf trip to clear his head; a move that ended up making him one of the youngest billionaires in the world.
6. Mary ‘Can Do’ Ash
Frustrated from 25 years in sales at Stanley Home Products feeling overlooked for promotions awarded to male colleagues (that she had trained herself), Mary Kay Ash resigned and turned her efforts towards writing a book for women in business. She soon realised what she was writing was in fact a business plan for herself, from which Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc. was born. When Ash died in 2001, the company boasted total annual sales of over $200 million and more than 800,000 representatives in 37 countries, which has today grown to an international sales force of more than 3 million independent consultants and a wholesale volume exceeding 3 billion.
7. Christopher Reeve
When the Superman actor became a quadriplegic in 1995 after after being thrown off a horse in an equestrian competition, Reeve suffered lifelong paralysis and lived out the remainder of his life in a wheelchair, attached to a ventilator. The America actor had a hard time coming to terms with this new life: “In the morning, I need twenty minutes to cry. To wake up and make that shift, you know, and to just say, ‘This really sucks,’ to really allow yourself the feeling of loss. It still needs to be acknowledged.” And then, he’d say, “And now…forward!” And forward he went – on to do international public speaking; lobbying as a voice for people affected by spinal injury. But he didn’t stop there – he raised funds for his charity, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Centre and co-directed the animated sports comedy family film, Everyone’s Hero.
8. Cirque de Success
From modest beginnings as a street performer playing the accordion, walking on stilts and eating fire, Canadian-born Guy Laliberté became dually responsible for the most renowned circus troupe in the world today, Cirque du Soleil. After accompanying a talented team of performers to Los Angeles Arts Festival in 1987 on a one-way ticket, the act was ushered off to Las Vegas, where they began the Cirque legacy, now affording Laliberté a total net-worth of $2 billion.
9. Happy Vera After
American fashion icon Vera Wang let go of an Olympic ice-skating dream in her late teens because she felt she was “never going to get better.” With younger skaters arriving on the scene, she was convinced she’d never make the US team, so she quit. She went on to become a salesgirl at Yves Saint Laurent where she came to the attention of Vogue fashion director, Frances Stein, who was instrumental in Wang later becoming an editor at Vogue. Realising she wasn’t in line for editor-in-chief, Wang reinvented herself at age 40 to become a wedding designer, taking a single bridal boutique and turning Vera Wang into a bridal empire with a retail value exceeding $1 billion.
10. Hair today, billionaire tomorrow
From working his first job at 9 years of age selling Christmas cards and newspapers, to passing through foster homes before joining the ranks of an L.A. gang (and later military), to end up homeless at 22, John Paul DeJoria has experienced his share of struggle. With a janitor’s job and an insurance salesman position under his belt in adulthood, he landed an entry-level job at professional haircare company, Redken. He then went on to turn a $700 loan into Paul Mitchell Systems, with the help of companion Paul Mitchell, in 1980. His door-to-door hawking (while living out of his car) paid off, and Paul Mitchell Systems $900 million annual turnover is testament to the quality of the products, sold to more than 150,000 beauty salons in 87 countries.