The road to entrepreneurship can be a long and treacherous road filled with detours, roadblocks, and dead ends. Sleepless nights and plans that don’t work out can become the new norm in a person’s life.

This can be discouraging. Yet hundreds of entrepreneurs have faced these odds over and over and found success. It might take a while, but that’s okay. Entrepreneurship can take many forms, as the following list will show.

In fact, the following list will show six of the oldest entrepreneurs who got a late start but still made it big. After reading this list, you might even be shocked at how some of these late-bloomers made it to the top. You might even find some inspiration…

Vera Wang

Company: White by Vera Wang

Age: 39

Vera Wang in a black dress with her hands on her hips.

A wedding dress made by Vera Wang could cost anywhere from nearly three thousand dollars to seven thousand dollars depending on choice of style and customization. Buying a Vera Wang dress means joining celebrities’ ranks: Chelsea Clinton, Karenna Gore, Ivanka Trump, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, and Kim Kardashian, just to name a few. In fact, one of her evening dresses was worn by Michelle Obama.

As a young girl, Vera Wang didn’t start out with nothing. Her mother worked as a translator for the United Nations, and her father, a Yanjing University and MIT graduate, owned a medicine company. However, given all this information, it might surprise you that Vera Wang got her success later in life.

After being an editor at Vogue for seventeen years, Vera Wang went to join Ralph Lauren, the face behind a global multibillion-dollar enterprise in the fashion world. This is a major industry change, from editing to designing! After just two years, Vera Wang made her own path as an independent bridal wear designer.

However, Vera Wang did not just enter the fashion industry without knowing what she was doing. In fact, at nineteen, Vera Wang attended the International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf in Astoria, New York. However, it took twenty more years for her to step back into the fashion industry.

While thirty-nine is by no means old, Vera Wang’s success cannot be understated. She set her sights on what she wanted, and although it took some time to find her calling, she got what she was looking for.

Henry Ford

Company: Ford Motor Company

Age: 40

Henry Ford in a suit with his arms folded. The image is black and white.

Yes, the father of the automobile got his start late in life. While the automobile had already been invented in 1886 with the Benz Motor Car, it was Ford’s Model T that launched the industry into what we know today.

After leaving home at the age of six, Henry Ford got himself employed as a machinist in Detroit. This was the path that led him to eventually lead him to establish Ford Motors and pioneer the assembly line. It would surprise no one that “Fordism,” the idea that mass production of inexpensive goods creates the best product for the market, derives from his name.

His intense commitment to systematically lowering costs turned his company into a household name, transforming the automobile from an expensive curiosity into something accessible to everyone with a little cash. While a controversial figure, given his sympathizes with the Nazi party and his racial and sexist prejudices, Ford’s name is still known today for a reason.

Colonel Harland David Sanders

Company: Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)

Age: 40

A side-by-side image of the KFC logo and a photograph of Harlan David Sanders. The two look very much alike, down to the necktie.

He is known today simply as Colonel Sanders, and his company is known by its initials: KFC. The embodiment of the phrase, “never give up,” Sanders had trouble holding down a job. Infamously, he was disbarred after getting into a courtroom brawl with a client, a story that destroyed his reputation. He then moved back to live with his mother and went to work as a laborer on the Pennsylvania Railroad, but soon had to quit that job when he moved.

Refusing to give up, Sanders got a job selling life insurance. He was soon fired for insubordination. From there, he moved to Louisville and got a sales job before establishing a ferry boat company. It was an instant success.

Eventually he sold it and used the funds to establish a company manufacturing lamps, which promptly failed after Delco introduced the electric lamp. This would mark his life from here onwards. At this point in time, it was 1922. He’d gone from failure to success to failure again.

Fast forward to 1952, and Sanders set up the first KFC at age forty. His special chicken recipe proved an instant success and this time he didn’t cash out the company. Instead, after his station was destroyed by a fire, he rebuilt the location as a motel and a one-hundred-and-forty seat restaurant. He was sixty-two at this point, but instead of retiring he franchised his “Kentucky Fried Chicken” company. The rest is history.

Never give up. Be the Colonel Sanders of your generation. With that stated, is forty the golden age of success?

Not quite, because the next few entrepreneurs are even older.

Robert Noyce

Company: Intel

Age: 41

Robert Noyce smiles slightly at the camera. The photo is black and white

You might not know his name, but you know his company. Today, the Intel Corporation is the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturer and the developer of the x86 series of microprocessors. Odds are, your PC is using one of their processors.

However, the company didn’t simply appear. Instead, it was brought into being by Robert Noyce, who knew his stuff. After earning his doctorate in physics from MIT, he found work as a research engineer at Beckman Instruments. In 1957, he and seven others left Beckman and founded the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation. Soon, he left there with Gordon Moore to found Intel.

Infamously, Noyce rejected the lavish benefits that most CEOs received and instead focused on treating his staff like family, employing a more relaxed structure. This kept his team happy and less likely to leave, something which Noyce instinctively knew benefited him in the long run.

A visionary, Noyce oversaw the invention of the microprocessor, revolutionizing computer technology. This entrepreneur formed the foundation of the machines you’re using to read this list.

For those with Noyce as a hero, remember how he treated his staff like family. Not only will it prevent your workers from leaving, but it also keeps your company brimming with fresh ideas.

Leo Goodwin

Company: GEICO

Age: 50

A painting of Leo Goodwin from the Insurance Hall of Fame

Jumping nearly a decade in age is an entrepreneur whose company’s mascot is world famous, plus there’s a caveman or two.

Son of a country doctor who traveled by horse and buggy, Leo Goodwin was an accountant by education but an insurance salesman by trade. Blessed with an entrepreneurial mindset, he saw a problem that needed fixing: insurance was out-of-date.

As the years passed, Goodwin figured out how to fix insurance. After hammering out a basic business plan, he founded the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) in 1936.

Success didn’t come at first. While Goodwin knew that insurance could better serve its customers while at the same time reducing costs by dealing directly with policyholders, knowledge doesn’t equal success.

Teaming up with his wife, Lillian, the Goodwins worked twelve hours a day for little or no salary for the first several years. By the end of 1936, GEICO had 12 people on staff and 3,700 policies in force, but it was still in the red. In fact, GEICO was in the red for four years until 1940, when they realized their first profit of many.

It just goes to show that beside every man there’s an equally capable woman.

Chaleo Yoovidhya

Company: Red Bull GmbH

Age: 61

An image of Yoovidhya next to the Red Bull logo, along with his name, and birth and death dates.

We told you that forty wasn’t the golden age. In fact, Chaleo Yoovidhya first became an entrepreneur at the ripe age of sixty-one-years-young. While his name isn’t known to many, his tonic drink is.

That’s right, it’s Red Bull. However, Yoovidhya didn’t set out with wings. After all, Red Bull hadn’t been invented yet!

A Thai businessman, Yoovidhya is still a mystery to most people. In fact, his birthday is estimated to have been somewhere between 1922 and 1932. What is known is that he was born to a poor Thai-Chinese family that raised ducks and traded fruit, and his father was an immigrant from Hainan.

More importantly, however, is that Yoovidhya didn’t come out swinging with Red Bull. He had very little formal education when he moved to Bangkok. He was initially an antibiotics salesman before setting up his own small pharmaceutical company, TC Pharmaceuticals, in the early 1960s.

It’s a mystery how he developed the infamous energy-boosting beverage, which he released in 1976. In fact, Red Bull’s logo depicts two wild gaurs chasing after each other, not bulls. Gaurs are a native species to Southeast Asia, an obvious callback to his roots.

Success wasn’t instant. In fact, it didn’t come until nearly eight years later when Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian salesman, discovered that Red Bull cured his jet lag. He contacted Yoovidhya with an offer he couldn’t refuse: a partnership.

In 1987, Red Bull hit the market. Not stopping there, Yoovidhya continued to run TC Pharmaceuticals and became part-owner of Piyavate Hospital, a private hospital in Thailand He was also co-owner of the sole authorized importer of Ferrari Italian luxury sports cars into Thailand.

Chaleo Yoovidhya died in March of 2012. While his age was debated, what wasn’t argued was his impact.

Entrepreneurs everywhere, take note of the stories of Vera Wang, Chaleo Yoovidhya, and everyone in between. Success can come from anywhere, even those who’ve suffered severe setbacks.


Image of Vera Wang

Image of Henry Ford

Image of Colonel Harland David Sanders

Image of Robert Noyce

Image of Leo Goodwin

Image of Chaleo Yoovidhya

Photo by Eduardo Barrios on Unsplash

Leave a Reply