Stars And CEOs Who Didn’t Succeed Until 45+

Are you in your late 20s, 30s or even 40s and feel stuck in a rut? Do you have dreams you would love to pursue but feel like it’s too late? You shouldn’t. You should get inspired. Check out this list of celebrities and CEOs who didn’t get their big break until middle age, showing all of us it is never too late to succeed.

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most well-known actors and film producers in Hollywood. He achieved prominence and critical acclaim in the early 1990s with the film Jungle Fever in 1991. He later gained more attention after the release of Patriot Games, Amos & Andrew, True Romance, and Jurassic Park. His collaborations with director Quentin Tarantino in the films Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight have made him a household name. Jackson has appeared in over 100 films to date, including the Star Wars prequel trilogy as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But while it is hard to imagine Hollywood without Samuel L. Jackson, he’d only landed small parts before landing the award-winning role in Spike Lee’s film Jungle Fever. Jackson was at the ripe age of 43 when he became famous and successful.

Julia Child

Julia Carolyn Child is a household name. She was an American chef, author, and television personality who was recognized for bringing French cuisine to the American public with her debut cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her subsequent television programs, like The French Chef, premiered in 1963. Child’s second book, The French Chef Cookbook, was a collection of her recipes from the show. It was soon followed by Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two, and her fourth book, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, was illustrated with her husband’s photographs.

Julia Child

Julia Child wasn’t always a world renowned chef. She worked in advertising and media before writing her first cookbook when she was 50. It is that cookbook that launched her career as a celebrity chef in 1961.

Betty White

Betty Marion White Ludden is an American actress who is known publically as Betty White. White has the longest television career of a female entertainer and is considered to be a pioneer of television. She is recognized as the first woman to produce a sitcom and her first major roles were as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, which scored her Emmy’s.

Betty White

For a career that has spanned more than 75 years, White didn’t become an icon until she joined the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1973 at age 51. White is an icon who has received seven Emmy awards, three Screen Actors Guild awards, three American Comedy Awards and a Grammy (go Betty!). She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Jack Weil

If you are a fan of all things western wear, then you may know the name, Jack Arnold Weil. Weil was the founder and CEO of the Denver-based Western clothing manufacturer Rockmount Ranch Wear. At the age of 107, he was believed to be the oldest working CEO in the United States in 2008. Rockmount’s fashions were featured in the Academy Award-winning film Brokeback Mountain in 2005.

Jack Weil

Jack Weil was 45 when he founded Rockmount Ranch Wear. It became the most popular cowboy-wear brand for the rest of his life. He remained the company’s CEO until he died at the ripe old age of 107 in 2008.

Gary Heavin

Gary Heavin is a Texas businessman who has a unique claim to fame: He is the founder and Chairman of the fitness chain Curves International. After dropping out of college at age 20, he took over a failing fitness center in Houston, Texas and ended up building a chain of 14 locations with his brother as his partner. He was a millionaire by age 25 but filed for bankruptcy at age 30.

Gary Heavin

Gary Heavin was 40 when he opened the first Curves fitness center in 1992 with his second wife Diane Heavin. It ended up becoming one of the fastest-growing franchises of the ’90s. Diane Heavin is an exercise enthusiast and advertising executive.

Vera Wang

Vera Ellen Wang is now one of the most prominent fashion designers today but that was not always the case. When she graduated from The Chapin School in 1967, she then attended the University of Paris and earned a degree in art history from Sarah Lawrence College. Wang actually pursued figure skating but failed to make the US Olympics team so she decided to enter the fashion industry.

Vera Wang

Vera Wang entered the fashion industry as a bridal wear designer at age 40 but first, she was hired to be an editor at Vogue after graduating from Sarah Lawrence. She was the youngest editor at that magazine and was at Vogue for 17 years to join Ralph Lauren, who she worked for 2 years. Wang has made wedding gowns for many well-known public figures and has designed costumes for figure skaters.

Donald Fisher

Donald George Fisher was an American businessman and philanthropist who co-founded The Gap clothing stores with his wife Doris F. Fisher. In the 1960s, Fisher started leasing some retail space to Levi Strauss & Co. which opened a showroom. Fisher’s start in retail began after a frustrating experience trying to return a pair of Levi’s jeans that did not fit. He noticed that most department stores only carried a limited selection of Levi’s jeans and those circumstances were not accommodating. Fisher and his wife opened their first store named the Gap after the “Generation Gap.”

Donald Fisher

When Donald Fisher and his wife opened The Gap, he was 40 and had no experience in retail. The first Gap store opened in San Francisco in 1969 and the Gap’s clothes quickly became fashionable. Today, the company is one of the world’s largest clothing chains.

Jack Cover

John “Jack” Higson Cover, Jr. formed Taser Systems, Inc. in 1970. He was the inventor of the Taser stun gun. Due to the Taser using gunpowder to launch the darts, the federal government considered it a firearm. Because of this type of classification, it was ruled out of the civilian market and also discouraged police and military sales.

Jack Cover

If you have ever wanted a career change but think there is no time for you, just look at Jack Cover. Before inventing the Taser gun, Jack Cover worked as a scientist for institutions including NASA and IBM. His incredibly successful invention launched his successful entrepreneur career at the age of 50.

Charles Darwin

Charles Robert Darwin was a pioneer of science. He was an English naturalist and geologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. He established that all species of life have descended from common ancestors. His scientific theory of this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection and selective breeding.

Charles Darwin

Darwin is one of the (or the most) influential figures in human history. Darwin spent most of his life as a naturalist who kept to himself. But in 1859, at the age 50, his On the Origin of Species changed the scientific community forever. He had to overcome scientific rejection but by the 1870s, the scientific community and much of the general public had accepted evolution as a fact. Darwin’s scientific discovery is the theory that explains the diversity of life.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American writer. She is known for the Little House on the Prairie series. It was a series of children’s books released from 1932 to 1943; the books were so compelling because they were based on her childhood in a settler and pioneer family.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books have become a staple of many young girls’ childhoods and during the 1970s and early 1980s, the television series Little House on the Prairie was loosely based on the Little House books. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote these semi-autobiographical stories in her later years; she published the first in the Little House books at the age of 65 in 1932.

Wally Blume

Wally Blume had a mission; his mission was to start his own ice cream company. In 1995, when Blume was 57 years old, he struck out on his own starting his own ice cream business. Wally was wrapping up a long career with the supermarket giant Kroger Corporation. Wally’s path to success was not that different from the trek of other successful startup business owners.

Wally Blume

Blume learned the ins and outs of the industry while working for someone else and struck out on his own with the belief that he could do it better. Wally Blume had a long career in the dairy business before starting his own ice cream company. His company was named Denali Flavors. The company reported revenue of $80 million in 2009.

Robin Chase

Robin Chase is co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, which is the largest car-sharing company in the world. She is also the founder and former CEO of Buzzcar, which was acquired by Drivy and she also started the defunct GoLoco.org. Chase is the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Veniam, a vehicle network communications company. All of her ventures have made her a transportation entrepreneur.

Robin Chase

In 2000, Chase co-founded Zipcar at the age of 42. She left the company in 2011 and she continues to build and advise startups today. She also serves as a member of the World Economic Forum.

Ray Kroc

Raymond Albert “Drew Engels” Kroc was an American businessman who joined McDonald’s in 1954. Kroc opened the first restaurant of McDonald’s, Inc. in Des Plaines, Illinois and was responsible for building it into the most successful fast food operation in the world. Kroc was named in a list in Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.

Ray Kroc

The Des Plaines location boomed. It brought in hundreds of dollars on its opening day. Kroc franchised out scores of restaurants to franchisees and it became a family affair; they were satisfied with the money they had and did not feel a need to expand their empire, but Kroc had other plans. Before McDonald’s, Kroc spent his career as a milkshake-device salesman, which connects to the McDonald’s needs. He bought into McDonald’s at age 52 in 1954.

Rodney Dangerfield

Jacob Cohen, publicly known as Rodney Dangerfield, was an American stand-up comedian, actor, producer and screenwriter. He was very well-known for the catchphrase “I don’t get no respect!” and all of his comedic monologs. He is also very well-loved for his 1980s film roles in Easy Money, Caddyshack, and Back to School.

Rodney Dangerfield

While Rodney Dangerfield is remembered as a legendary comedian, he didn’t start that way and it took him a significant amount of time to reach stardom and success. Dangerfield didn’t catch a break until he made a hit appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was 46 at the time of his big break.

Taikichiro Mori

Forbes ranked Taikichiro Mori as the richest man in the world in 1991 and 1992; he was the founder of Mori Building Company. Mori graduated from the Tokyo College of Commerce in 1928 and was later appointed Professor at Kyoto Sericulture Technical High School in 1932.

Taikichiro Mori

He served as Dean of the Faculty of Commerce from 1954 to 1959 for Yokohama Commercial School and while working for the University, he founded the Mori Building Company. He became the president of the Company in 1959. Mori was an academic who became a real-estate investor. He was 51 when he founded Mori Building Company. In 1992, when he had a net worth of $13 billion.

Tim and Nina Zagat

Would you believe that Tim and Nina Zagat started their company as a hobby? Well, they did. In 1979, Nina and Tim Zagat were at a dinner party with friends when one of the dinner guests started complaining about the restaurant reviews of a major newspaper. They all discussed how the paper’s reviews were unreliable and Tim suggested taking a survey of their friends; this idea led to 200 amateur critics rating and reviewing 100 top restaurants for food, décor, service, and cost.

Tim and Nina Zagat.JPG

Tim and Nina Zagat were both 51-year-old lawyers when they published their first collection of reviews in 1979. Zagat is the original provider of user-generated content and it eventually became a mark of culinary authority.

Momofuku Ando

When you attend college, there is one staple item that everyone can relate to. Here’s a hint: it is warm, delicious and fills your belly at a bargain price. If you guessed ramen noodles, or even cup of noodles, you are correct! Momofuku Ando was a Japanese inventor and businessman who gave the world the gift of instant ramen noodles.

Momofuku Ando

He founded Nissin Food Products Co. which is known as one of the inventors of instant noodles, instant ramen, and Cup Noodles. Ando didn’t create this delicious college staple when he was in college; he cemented his spot in junk-food history when he invented instant noodles at age 48 in 1958.

Henry Ford

If you don’t know who Henry Ford is, you might just be living under a rock. He was an American industrialist who founded the Ford Motor Company. He is responsible for the development of the assembly line technique of mass production.

Henry Ford

Ford didn’t invent the automobile nor the assembly line, but he is known for developing and manufacturing the first automobile that many middle-class Americans could afford. In 1908, Ford was 45 years old when he created the revolutionary Model T car, which revolutionized transportation and American industry. Henry Ford became one of the richest and best-known people in the world.

Sam Walton

Samuel Moore “Sam” Walton is known as an entrepreneur who founded the retailers Walmart and Sam’s Club. The first Wal-Mart opened in 1962, in Rogers, Arkansas and it was called the Wal-Mart Discount City store. His determined effort to market American-made products included the effort to find American manufacturers who could supply merchandise for the entire Wal-Mart chain at a price low enough to meet the foreign competition (which American’s know isn’t an easy feat!).

Sam Walton

Sam Walton didn’t launch Wal-Mart stores until later in life. He had a fairly successful retail-management career in his 20s and 30s, but his path to astronomical success began at age 44. He realized the secret to success was buying in volume and efficient delivery permitted the sale of discounted name brand merchandise. Thus, sustained growth was achieved.

Stan Lee

And (for all of the comic book fans) we have Stan Lee. Lee is an American comic-book writer, editor, publisher, media producer, television host, actor, and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics (whew, what a busy guy!). In collaboration with several artists, he created fan favorites like Spider-Man, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor, the X-Men, and many other fictional characters. Lee subsequently led the expansion of Marvel Comics.

Stan Lee

But all of this success didn’t happen early in life, or overnight. Lee created his first hit comic, The Fantastic Four, in 1961. This happened right before his 39th birthday. Later, he created the legendary Marvel Universe, whose characters became American cultural icons.