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12 Business Heroes to Learn From Today

Who is your business hero, and why?

This was the question StartupNation asked of 12 successful entrepreneurs. The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

1. Jack Dorsey

Jack not only built Twitter (a billion-dollar company that revolutionized communication), but also Square — another billion dollar company that has revolutionized the payment sector. Not many people will ever have an opportunity to accomplish that much in a lifetime and stay so humble.

- Ben Lang, Mapped In Israel

2. Junior Bridgeman

Junior Bridgeman owns one of the largest chains of Wendy’s franchises in the nation. Junior is my hero because he is a master at taking previous opportunities and turning them into new ones. He got his start playing in the NBA, but he invested his money instead of squandering it like many athletes. Always humble about his accomplishments, Junior is an excellent role model for young people.

- Lawrence Watkins, Great Black Speakers

3. Trey Ratcliff

Trey has accomplished so much with his popular photography blog, stuckincustoms.com, that he’s now the owner of a seven-figure art business, has spoken to audiences like Google and was honored by having the first HDR photo hung in the Smithsonian. He’s hired a dozen employees so he can concentrate on his art. With the term “starving artist,” it shows artists that we can do the same.

- Angela Pan, Angela B Pan Photography

4. Julie Aigner-Clark and Bethenny Frankel

These two women are tied because of their abilities to become market leaders in a new niche and do so with persistence and huge success! Julie, founder of Baby Einstein, started with a passion and ultimately sold her company to Disney. She has remained a humble and passionate person throughout the process. Bethenny never stopped believing in her idea, and eventually, the world did, too!

- Darrah Brustein, Finance Whiz Kids | Equitable Payments

5. Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh’s goal as a business person — realized with Zappos.com — is to make people happy. This mission is self-obvious happy customers, employees, vendors and investors. If all four of these groups are happy, you are going to be successful. His vision is great, but what I admire most is that Hsieh and his “Delivering Happiness” team share his strategy. They’re making a global impact!

- Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

6. Ken Powell

My business hero is the CEO of General Mills, Ken Powell. Not only does Powell successfully run one of the nation’s greatest cereal companies, he is highly dedicated to philanthropy — especially worldwide nutrition and agricultural sustainability. For this reason, Powell and General Mils were third on Forbes’ list of companies that give back the most to the community.

- Jay Wu, Best Drug Rehabilitation

7. Bill Gates

Early in my career, I was drawn to Bill Gates as a successful tech entrepreneur. But it was his keen sense of “I don’t know what I don’t know” that allowed him to build a team of very experienced business people with various skill sets, which developed Microsoft into an industry leader. I respect that he challenged his managers to become the best that they could be at Microsoft early on.

- Robby Hill, HillSouth

8. Elon Musk

Out of all the current entrepreneurs, I’d say Elon Musk is the best example of somebody who defines entrepreneurship. He helped build PayPal, and when it sold, he didn’t retire but focused on solving bigger problems with Tesla Motors and SpaceX to solve our dependence on oil and gain access to affordable space travel.

- Liam Martin, Staff.com

9. Pete Carroll

Successful coach, football legend and my hero, Pete Carroll has amassed records, impacted many and taken a long-term perspective to change the game. He attracts the best talent and motivates them at full speed through inevitable peaks and valleys. Like in sports, trial and error and pushing self-competition is crucial for success. Mimicking his confidence, trust and focus pushes me daily.

- Matt Ehrlichman, Porch

10. Steve Jobs

Though Steve Jobs was a complicated individual with some personal flaws, I really respect his client focus. He is my hero for the ways in which he understood his clients’ needs and his endless ability to innovate and see new trends to give clients what they wanted. His ability to build markets was also incredible.

- David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

11. Richard Branson

The only reason why Richard Branson became a billionaire and most people have not is simply because he’s been willing to fail more than anybody else. As Sir Branson says, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over.” He inspires dedication, persistence and — most of all — knows success is a journey, not a destination.

- Charles Gaudet, Predictable Profits

12. Steve Wynn

Have you ever been to Vegas and just pondered the business model of the entire Las Vegas Strip? I have — quite often, too. If you really think about it, the entire street is built on no more than possibilities and illusions. Steve Wynn is a big player in that, building one mega success after another — even after being told each time that his vision was ludicrous or impossible.

- W. Michael Hsu, DeepSky

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