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Last updated: 15.07.21

Billionaires who had their Career Breakthrough after the age of 35

Mark Zuckerberg. Whitney Wolfe Herd. Steven Bartlett. From the narratives surrounding the most successful companies of this decade, you’d think that it is only young people who prevail in the business world. 

Take the Facebook founder’s comment that ‘young people are just smarter’ for example, or the fact that PayPal gives out $100,000 fellowships each year to talented entrepreneurs - who must be under the age of 23.

So, if you're in your 50s, 40s or even 30s, you might feel like you’ve missed the entrepreneurial train and that it's simply too late to change your career or start your own business. But you'd be wrong. 

According to the Census Bureau, the majority of successful businesses were founded by middle-aged people. Their research found that someone 35-years-old is three times more likely to found a successful start-up than someone aged 22. 

Among the 2.7 million founders in their dataset, the Census Bureau found that the average age of a company’s founder at the time of founding was 41.9 years. Not the 20-something whippersnapper that today’s narrative would have you believe.

So, who are the high-achieving ‘mature’ entrepreneurs? We analysed data from Forbes World’s Billionaires List to identify which of the richest people in the world had their big career breakthrough after the age of 35 and created this set of profiles to show who they are and what they do.

  • Style icon, Giorgio Armani, didn’t found his well-known fashion house until he was 41 years old. Following a medical degree and three-year service in the army, Armani found a job as a window dresser in a department store in Milan, the job which forged his path in the fashion world.
  • Partly supported by his wife's salary as an art teacher, cleaning tycoon James Dyson launched his first vacuum cleaner after 5,126 failed prototypes. Finding no one would handle his product in the UK, he founded his own company in 1991, Dyson Ltd, aged 44 years old.
  • World market leader energy drink, Red Bull, was co-founded in 1984 by 40-year-old Dietrich Mateschitz. Before Red Bull, Mateschitz was a marketing executive for the German consumer products company, Blendax - a job he secured after taking 10 years to obtain a marketing degree.
  • The luxury hotel company Shangri-La Hotels, which now has over 100 luxury hotels and resorts around the world, was founded by Robert Kuok in 1971 when he was 48 years old. Kuok began his business career as an office boy and later worked as a clerk in the rice-trading department of Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha during the Japanese occupation.

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You can also download our infographic as a PDF here.

The billionaires who had their successes after turning 35 are spread across multiple industries. From multi-billion-dollar deals in the world’s top business economies to plucky start-ups in less obvious markets, these are the qualifying billionaires who’ve made the biggest splash in their respective industries.

Fashion and Retail

Alongside designer fashion mogul Giorgio Armarni, 6 other billionaires made their money in the Fashion and Retail industries. 

A particularly notable profile is Amancio Ortega, who opened the first store of what is now the popular high street fashion chain Zara in 1975 when he was 39 years old. The company then formed part of Inditex, founded by Ortega himself, which is now the biggest fashion group in the world with over 7,200 stores and other brands such as Zara Home, Massimo Dutti and Bershka. The Spanish businessman is now worth $77B, making him the 11th richest person in the world and the richest billionaire on our list. 

Finance and Investment

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a negative impact on many industries, but not on companies specialising in digital solutions. Adyen, a Dutch payment company, has benefited greatly from the last year and the consequential amplified digitalisation of global e-commerce. 

The company was founded in 2006 by a team of payment industry professionals, including the current CTO Arnout Schuijff, who was 38 years old at the time of its inception. Before founding the company, Schuijff worked as a systems architect at a different financial services company but is now worth $3.5B.

Technology

Despite the belief that young people are better with technology, research shows that the average startup founder was 45 years old when they founded the most successful tech companies. Not far off the magic number is Martin Lorentzon, who was 37 years old when he founded the world's largest music streaming service provider, Spotify. 

Swedish-born Lorentzon was working at Tradedoubler - a digital marketing agency he had founded - before creating Spotify, but is now worth $6B. Having always had entrepreneurial traits, Lorentzon told classmates that he wanted to sell one matchbox to every Chinese person and become a billionaire.

Food and Beverage

Ricardo Po Sr founded Century Canning Corporation in 1978 when he was aged 47 - a company that was concerned with the distribution and sales of canned and processed fish products including tuna and sardines. 

Po Sr taught himself English using a Chinese-English dictionary, and worked for the Great China News in the 1950s, starting as a cub reporter covering the prison and community beats. Before starting his food empire, he started the advertising firm, Cathay Promotions, but lost most of his fortune in the 1973 stock market crash.

Gender Ratio

2021 was a milestone year for females in business - 31-year-old Bumble co-founder Whitney Wolfe Herd became the youngest female CEO in the U.S. to take a company public. Worth $1.3B, she is currently the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire. 

What’s more, there was a 36% increase in female billionaires on the Forbes 2021 World’s Billionaires List compared to last year. Of the 2,755 billionaires featured, 11.9% of these are female. And if these increasing figures underline anything, it is that women do not lack ability or ambition. 

With this in mind, it is interesting that all of the billionaires qualifying for our list are male; something that could be a result of the stereotype of women amongst Baby Boomers. Remember that old rhyme of ‘first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage’...

However, millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996 roughly) look at the world differently than the generations before. Having children is not the default path anymore and more and more women are having babies later in life. Many women have different priorities and perspectives altogether, focusing on their careers, creativity, and travel. 

So, perhaps if we revisit this data in the next decade - when millennials are all 35 years old or older - we’ll see a very different gender ratio. 

We only need to look at the image of Wolfe Herd ringing the historic Nasdaq opening bell in February this year - a successful female CEO taking her company public, doing so with her young baby balanced on her hip. 

Upskilling

Inspired? It’s hard not to be.

For anyone considering starting their own business or choosing another career path, online training courses can help you gain valuable skills, knowledge and expand your employment options. 

At Virtual College, we offer a range of Personal and Professional Development courses for free, with many of these courses being CPD certified. These include Resilience, Dealing with Stressful Situations and Growth Mindset, which are perfect for those looking to maintain and develop their existing skills. 

And as we edge closer to Industry 4.0, it has never been more important to be tech-savvy. That’s why we offer a range of courses that focus on navigating our increasingly digital world, including a comprehensive Digital Business Skills Suite which explains social media, digital marketing and key website aspects. 

Methodology 

We used information from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List to identify which of the richest people in the world had their big career breakthrough after the age of 35. For each country with a billionaire(s), we calculated the age they were when they founded their successful business or made their most successful business decision. 

Countries with no billionaires listed were omitted from the research, along with countries with no qualifying billionaires (fortune made after 35). In cases where there was more than one qualifying billionaire, the profile of the billionaire with the highest worth was used. 

Data for net worth was taken from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List, which is a snapshot of wealth using stock prices and exchange rates from March 5, 2021. The age that the individuals had their success was calculated by working out their date of birth and the year that their company was founded.

Every step has been taken to ensure that the information contained within our research is as accurate as possible. However, it is possible that there may be billionaires richer than the ones listed here that qualify and that the ages may differ slightly from the ones outlined above.

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