Inspirational Success Stories

Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks)


Howard’s father would do multiple jobs in order to support the family. He worked as a truck driver, factory worker as well as taxi driver. At the age of seven, his father lost his job and broke his ankle while working as a diaper service delivery driver. Howard lived in an overcrowded two-bedroom unit in an apartment building where 150 families would reside. When he got the chance to Northern Michigan University on an athletic scholarship, he became the first person ever from his family to have an opportunity to go to college.

After graduating, Howard worked as a salesperson for Xerox Corporation and was quickly promoted to a full sales representative. In 1979 he became a general manager for Swedish drip coffee maker manufacturer, Hammarplast, where he became responsible for their U.S. operations with a staff of twenty. In 1981, Howard visited a client of Hammarplast, a fledgling coffee-bean shop called Starbucks Coffee Company in Seattle, curious as to why it ordered so many plastic cone filters. He was impressed with the company’s knowledge of coffee and kept in contact over the next year, expressing interest in working with them. A year later, he joined Starbucks as the Director of Marketing. On a buying trip to Milan, Italy for Starbucks, Howard noted that coffee bars existed on practically every street. He learned that they not only served excellent expresso but they also served as meeting places.

On his return, he tried to persuade the owners (including Jerry Baldwin) to offer traditional espresso beverages in addition to the whole bean coffee, leaf teas and spices they had long offered. After a successful pilot of the cafe concept, the owners refused to roll it out company-wide, saying they didn’t want to get into the restaurant business. Frustrated, Howard decided to leave Starbucks in 1985. He needed $400,000 to open the first store and start the business. He simply did not have the money and his wife was pregnant with their first baby. Jerry Baldwin and Gordon Bowker offered to help. Howard also received $100,000 from a doctor who was impressed by Schultz’s energy to take a gamble. By 1986, he raised all the money he needed to open the first store ‘Il Giornale’. Two years later, the original Starbucks management decided to focus on Peet’s Coffee and Tea and sold its Starbucks retail unit to Schultz and Il Giornale for $3.8 million.

Schultz renamed Il Giornale with the Starbucks name, and aggressively expanded its reach across the United States. Schultz’s keen insight in real estate and his hard-line focus on growth drove him to expand the company rapidly. Schultz did not believe in franchising and made it a point of having Starbucks retain ownership of every domestic outlet.




Steve Jobs (APPLE)

In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had created the first Apple Inc.  computer, the Apple I and their company found seed capital from early investors. The next year, they were ready to unveil their newest creation, the Apple II, their first mass-produced computer.

They debuted the home computer at that year’s West Coast Computer Faire, and went on to become one of the first successful mass-produced desktop computers. Jobs’ close attention to the machine’s appearance was already evident based on the time he spent designing the computer’s beige plastic case. Steve Wozniak was primarily responsible for the technology of the Apple II.

The computer’s success made Jobs a millionaire by the time he was 23, in 1978. That same year, with the company growing, Jobs and Wozniak hired Mike Scott from National Semiconductor to serve as CEO.

By 1981, Apple was one of the three top producers of personal computers in the United States, and possibly the biggest. But other, bigger competitors were getting into the market, most notably International Business Machines Corp (IBM), whose most popular model surpassed the Apple II as the best-selling personal computer by 1983. The next year, the computing colossus also boasted $4 billion in annual PC revenue, more than doubling Apple’s revenues.

But Apple was on the verge of a breakthrough that would redefine personal computing. The breakthrough had its roots in 1979, when Jobs first saw the Xerox Alto. The Alto was, essentially, the first mouse-driven computer. Until then, operating a computer was a matter of learning the computer’s language and typing in commands. The visual interface of the Alto changed all that, and Jobs immediately saw the potential.

Apple unleashed the mouse-driven user interface to the public in a computer it called the Macintosh. When Jobs introduced it at a shareholder meeting in early 1984, the crowd went wild.

But the Macintosh was expensive, roughly $2,500 apiece, and sales disappointed. But the tech industry perked up and took more than just notes. Microsoft quickly began to develop its own mouse-driven user interface. And much cheaper PC’s running the Microsoft software popped up overnight.

In 1983, Apple had hired PepsiCo Inc (PEP) executive John Sculley as its CEO. By 1985, he and Jobs were battling over the future of Apple. Sculley wanted to focus on less-contested niches like education, small business, and home markets. But Jobs wanted to take on the IBM PC in all markets with what he believed was superior hardware and software. Those tensions came to a head in 1985, when Jobs resigned, taking a handful of Apple employees with him to create a new company, called NeXT Inc.

Jobs seeded the new company with $7 million of his own money, which the company burned through in its first year. Billionaire Ross Perot stepped in as an investor, and the company released its first product, the NeXT workstation, in 1990. It was state-of-the-art, but, at $9,999, too expensive for most, especially its target customer—the education sector. By 1993, the company had only sold 50,000 machines, and decided to switch to software development. The move led to its first profit, when it netted $1 million in 1994.

At the same time, however, Jobs became involved with a venture that would go a long way toward cementing his reputation and his fortune, when he bought Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division for $10 million. The standalone company would be renamed Pixar and create a generation of iconic children’s movies, including Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and WALL-E. In 2006, the Walt Disney Company (DIS) acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion in stock, making Jobs the biggest single shareholder of The Walt Disney Company.

While Pixar was working on its first feature film, Jobs’ NeXT continued to struggle. After shifting its focus to become a software-only company in 1993, it laid off 300 of its 540 employees. But it had managed to create an impressive and original operating system, called NeXTSTEP. In 1996, Jobs began to speak to Apple again. And by the end of the year, Apple agreed to pay $429 million in cash for NeXT, along with 1.5 million shares of Apple, the latter of which went directly to Jobs, who came along with NeXT, initially as a consultant.

Just seven months after the deal was finalized, Jobs was named Apple’s interim CEO. To turn the company toward profitability, he quickly slashed a number of beloved projects, and acquired a reputation for firing people on the spot. He also modified the company’s software licensing business, making it too costly for other companies to continue to make machines that ran Macintosh software.

More importantly, the cutting-edge technology developed by NeXT over the previous 12 years began to filter into Apple products. NeXTSTEP, its coveted operating system, became Mac OS X, while visually attractive and consumer-friendly products like the iMac goosed sales. By 2000, the Apple board was ready to make Jobs the company’s official CEO.

As CEO, Jobs began to look beyond the personal computer again, first with the groundbreaking iPod digital music player, which changed the way people listen to music. Prior to the iPod’s launch in 2001, very few people listened to music on portable digital players. By 2012, more than 350 million devices had been sold worldwide.

The iPod’s sleek design and easy user interface paved the way for the company’s 2007 release of the iPhone, which revolutionized cellular phone design. In 2014 alone, Apple sold roughly 170 million iPhones worldwide.

Not content to forever alter the way people used mobile phones and listened to music, Jobs launched the iPad in 2010. The very first version of the compact tablet computer with few buttons and a touch screen sold more than 250 million units. It has been credited with single-handedly revitalizing the previously moribund market for tablet computers.

Jobs famously micro-managed every detail of the devices’ design, functionality and user-interface. The success of all three devices was profound. By 2011, Apple surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) as the largest corporation in the United States, with a market capitalization of roughly $355 billion. At the beginning of Jobs’ second reign, in 1997, Apple’s market cap was approximately $3 billion.

In 2011, with Apple at the summit of not just the tech industry, but of all of American business, Jobs resigned as Apple’s CEO. He was suffering from pancreatic cancer, and knew he would soon die. Even after his resignation, he stayed on as chairman of the board, continuing to work for Apple until the day before his death.



Jack Ma (Founder of Alibaba)

He is the Executive Chairman and founder of Alibaba Group and is among the top Chinese entrepreneurs. The Chinese internet shopping market was valued at over 150 billion USD in the third quarter of 2015. Only ten years ago, in early 1995 Jack MA was in the US, and did an internet search for the word “beer”, he realized that there were no results from his home country of China. In just over ten years he has helped the China become one of the top countries when it comes to online shopping.

Jack Ma’s Company Alibaba had the biggest Initial public offer (IPO) in history when it went public. With over $150 billion raised in the filing it officially made Jack MA the richest man in China with a value of $25 billion.

He was born Ma Yun in 1964 in the Chinese region of Hangzhou. 1964 was a tumultuous time in Chinese history, the china’s Cultural Revolution was well underway. The young Ma found himself on the wrong side of Mao’s communist party that was leading the revolution as his grandparents were members of the Chinese Nationalist Party; which opposed Mao’s party.

His education was not all smooth sailing either. Jack failed in his primary school examinations two times before he got it right. Continuing on to middle school he failed the graduating exams three times before going through. This was not the end of his failures in the education system; after high school when applying for universities he flopped the entrance exams three times. He really wanted to join university as he even applied to Harvard University and got rejected-all of ten times! Eventually he joined Hangzhou Normal University where he graduated with a bachelor in English.

After University it was time to look for a job. When the American fast food company came to China Jack Ma and 23 other people applied for a post there. All of them were accepted apart from Jack. In another instance Jack and four other men applied for a job in the police force; only Jack was not hired.

At an early age, Jack decided he wanted to learn English. The only English speaking people he could get were the tourists staying at a nearby hotel. Every morning he would ride his bicycle to the hotel and talk to the foreigners giving free tours as he practiced his oral English. Through these tours, Jack developed pen pal relationships with some of the tourists. This gave him knowledge about the outside world. He learned to ask questions and not believe or disbelieve everything he was told; something he applies to this day.

After graduating, Jack could not find stable employment. He taught at a local university and opened a translation service business. He visited the US in 1995 as a translator and was introduced to the internet.

This was when he did a “beer” internet search and could not find any beer from China on the World Wide Web. How could a country of over a billion people have no presence in the internet? He immediately saw the potential the internet had, and how it could help develop business interactions in china and the world.

Jack and his friends decided to build a site about china and the products that it offers. They called the site “Chinapage”. Ma’s eyes were opened when after launching the site he began to get emails from people around the world. “Chinapage” fate was sealed when Jack looking for better funding joined with a government entity giving it majority control. This was a mistake as the unmoving bureaucracy hijacked many of his visions and frustrated him greatly. This eventually led to Jack’s departure. He developed his philosophy of never working with the government again from then on.

In the second half of the 90’s Jack got a job in the ministry of foreign trade and economic cooperation. While he was there for only a short time, he built connections with a man who would later come to impact his life; Yahoo founding member Jerry Yang. Jerry got Yahoo to invest 1 Billion dollars in Alibaba in 2005.

In 1999 Jack decided to pursue his dream of selling Chinese products in the internet to a much bigger market. This idea had been criticized and rejected repeatedly when he was in the government. Now with renewed vigor after leaving his government job, Jack gave it one more shot. He got together 18 people (including his wife) and pitched them his idea of an internet based company to be known as Alibaba.

Like all start-ups Alibaba faced the dilemma of getting funding. Jack tried his luck at Silicon Valley in the United States, his proposal was deemed to be unprofitable by many of the companies he approached. After many trials and rejections he succeeded in getting funding from Softbank and Goldman Sachs who invested $25 million in Alibaba.

Alibaba still had not turned up a profit by 2003 and Jack had to get creative. He launched “” an online shopping and auction site. EBay already had a big piece of the auction market in China and Taobao committed itself to charge zero commission on any purchase made in the site. With no profits this zero commission policy put Alibaba under a lot of financial pressure. Jack and his colleagues began offering other value added services like pages to online merchants for small prices. In less than four years Alibaba had pushed eBay out of the Chinese market. Yahoo invested $1 billion dollars for a 40% stake in the company in 2014. This helped catapult the company into the international market.