4 Men Who Failed in Business but Became Very Successful Nonetheless
Walt Disney did not have an idyllic home life. His father regularly beat the whole family, and when he was sixteen, Walt began to draw as a way to escape his troubles at home. He finally physically escaped by joining the Red Cross Ambulance Corps and being stationed in France. Coming home from abroad, he decided it was time to pursue his real dream of becoming an artist.
He didn’t experience much success early on, being fired by one newspaper editor because he lacked imagination! But after a while, Walt decided to start his own company. Life was good until the company went bankrupt, leaving Disney penniless. Not to be deterred, Walt teamed up with his brother and began another company, this time moving out to Hollywood.
He began working on a new cartoon character, but when he asked his bosses at Universal for a raise, they responded by stealing all of Disney’s animators and hiring them themselves.
Again, Disney had failed.
But this failure led him to create his most recognizable character: Mickey Mouse. More perseverance followed, though, as Disney followed up his successful Mickey Mouse short film with a full-length, Technicolor animation: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. This was a risky move at the time, since Technicolor was expensive and an animated film was seen as something foolish.
Walt showed them all: Snow White turned out to be the most popular film of its time. Things started to get better, but Walt wanted more. His plans for the big Disney theme parks began to come together, but he was turned down 302 times before he got financing!
It’s tough to imagine a world without Disney, but Walt came so close to failing so many times that a world without Mickey Mouse was once a possibility. Now, millions of children around the world (and some adults too!) are grateful that Walt persevered and followed his dream.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1857, Milton Hershey was the only child of poor farmers. He never got a real education because his father needed help in the fields. Fourth grade was as far as Milton got when his father took him out of school and apprenticed him to a printer.
Milton showed no talent for the business.
Eventually, Milton father’s drifted away, disappearing from his family’s life. When Milton was fourteen, his mother found the money to apprentice him to a candy maker. This was a trade that Milton found far more interesting, and at the age of nineteen, he started his own taffy shop.
It went bankrupt.
Undeterred, Milton started another candy shop in New York, which also went bankrupt. The same thing happened in Chicago. After he learned to make caramels, Milton started Hershey’s Lancaster Caramel Company. His mother and grandmother stayed up nights hand wrapping the caramels Milton made, and this time, his business was successful. The company enjoyed excellent sales, and Milton Hershey’s caramels were sold all over the country.
Milton wasn’t done. In 1900, he sold his caramel company for $1 million, a huge sum at the time. He had a new passion — chocolate.
In 1905, Hershey’s Chocolate Factory opened. Milton Hershey’s company began making the milk chocolate bars that are still loved today. But Milton wasn’t satisfied with just a factory. Eventually, he built an entire town for his workers, with good housing, schools, churches, parks, and every other amenity. Even during the Depression, Hershey kept all his workers, promising that no man would lack a paycheck. The town of Hershey became a model community.
Unable to have children of their own, in 1909, Milton and his wife, Catherine, founded the Hershey Industrial School. Originally for orphaned or abandoned boys, the school offered education, training in a trade, and help finding employment. Each boy got a new suit of clothes and $100 as a gift to help him get started. Renamed the Milton Hershey School, it is still in operation, although it accepts girls as well as boys. More than 1,900 children are boarders at the Hershey School each year.
Milton Hershey died in 1945, but his legacies of chocolate making and helping others live on.
Born in 1906 in Japan, Soichiro Honda liked getting his hands on motors, tools, and machine parts from his earliest days. He began by helping his father, who ran a small bicycle repair shop.
When he grew older, Soichiro started his own workshop. He worked hard to design a piston that he could sell to Toyota, Japan’s best-known motor company. After several years’ work and financial pressures so great he had to sell his wife’s jewelry, Soichiro’s design was rejected; it wasn’t good enough for Toyota.
So Soichiro started again.
Then came the terrible years of World War II. All of Japan’s resources went into the war effort. There was no money for new cars, even those with a new type of piston. But Soichiro kept going, somehow managing to build a small factory — which was promptly bombed to rubble, twice. After the war ended, he rebuilt his factory a third time, only to have it destroyed in an earthquake.
Soichiro still didn’t give up, and now he had an idea bigger than an innovative piston.
Using what he’d learned as a child and what he’d taught himself later, Soichiro created a bicycle with a small motor on it. He needed capital to put his idea into production, so he wrote letters to 18,000 bicycle shop owners, asking them to help him make Japan a leader in the motorcycle market. It worked: he got enough money to start production. In post-war Japan, where gasoline was scarce and most people couldn’t afford a car, the scooter was a huge hit. That first motorbike was exported to the United States, where it became popular as well. Soon, Honda was the number-one motorcycle brand in the US.
Soichiro didn’t stop at motorcycles; he started making cars. Nowadays, Honda models such as the Civic and the Accord are fuel-efficient, reliable, and consistent winners of quality awards.
Before his death in 1991, Soichiro Honda saw his company, which had started with a single motor on the back of a bicycle, become a multinational corporation with more than 100,000 workers — all because, despite poverty, war, and earthquakes, he never gave up.
Born in 1852, Frank used to play peddler with his younger brother, Charles. Frank would come along and try to sell items, just like the real peddlers who went from house to house. Frank told his parents that someday he’d be a peddler, too.
As a young man, Frank tried to get a job in a store but had little luck. Finally, one store hired him, only to discover that Frank was a terrible salesman. Fortunately, Frank had another talent.
Ordered one day to wash the windows at the front of the store, Frank looked at the merchandise on display and decided it wasn’t appealing. No one would pay the slightest attention to the goods. Using materials such as wooden crates and yard goods to drape over them, Frank rearranged the items in the window — and they started to sell. Whatever he put in the window sold almost immediately. Frank’s boss, delighted, made the windows Frank’s responsibility from that day forward.
Frank eventually opened two different dry goods stores — stores that sold everything from pins and dress patterns to hammers and nails. Both stores failed, but Frank’s mother had told him, “Don’t worry, son. I know you’ll be a rich man one day,” and Frank wasn’t going to give up.
Finally, in 1879, F.W. Woolworth opened a five-and-dime store. It was a huge success and led to an empire of more than 1,000 stores. The store’s philosophy was simple: everything in it could be bought for five cents or ten cents. Every item had a price tag, which was an innovation. There was no bartering. The items sold for the price marked on the tag. Frank learned that by buying in bulk directly from manufacturers, he could keep prices low, still make a profit, and offer new items almost every week.
By the time he died in 1919, F.W. Woolworth’s retail empire was worth $65 million (more than $800 million in today’s dollars). And every bit of it had been earned five and ten cents at a time.