50 CEOs Who Worked Their Way Up From the Proverbial Mailroom

Woman CEO in skyscraper office with killer views

If anyone has any doubt about their ability to succeed in this country, they should take notice of the number of CEOs who worked their way up from the bottom of their companies. Here are fifty individuals who started at the bottom and worked their way up to the position of CEO.

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1. Nick Akins – CEO and President of American Electric Power

American Electric Power Website Homepage

Atkins’ career at American Electric Power (AEP) began in 1982. Rising through the ranks, he started out as an electrical engineer and then moved to other positions with more responsibility.

He was elected president of AEP in December 2010. From 2006 to 2010, he served as executive vice president, where he was responsible for AEP’s approximately 38,000 MW of generation resources. His responsibilities consisted of construction, engineering, power plant operations, fuel procurement, logistics, new generation, marketing, and trading.

American Electric Power is one of the largest electric energy companies in the United States. They provide power to over five million homes and businesses in eleven states.

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2. Samuel Allen – CEO of John Deere

John Deere signage surrounded by John Deere tractors.

Since 2009, Samuel Allen has been CEO of John Deere and chairman of the board. In 1975, Samuel Allen began working at John Deere as an industrial engineer. He soon visualized himself working in senior roles and having responsibilities in almost every department. Allen feels fortunate to be the president of the worldwide construction and forest division.

Allen has spent his entire career at John Deere in various areas of the company. His responsibilities have included manufacturing and managing sales geographic regions. Allen credits this diverse experience as being the most beneficial to his career.

John Deere is a leader in the heavy equipment industry. Their specialty is providing building products and technologies for use in construction, agriculture, lawn and garden, and forestry. The company was established by its founder, John Deere, in 1837.

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3. Dan Amos – CEO of Aflac and Aflac Incorporated

Aflac Website Homepage

Amos was just a teenager when he joined Aflac in 1973 as a sales associate. His sales territories were number one in 1981 and 1982. In 1983, Amos was appointed the president of Aflac and chief operating officer of Aflac in 1987. He became chief executive officer of Aflac Incorporated in 1990 and was named the chairman of Aflac’s board of directors in 2001.

In 2000, Amos launched the company’s popular advertising campaign featuring the Aflac Duck, which helped Aflac become a top national brand.

In 2015, Aflac was named by FORTUNE magazine as one of America’s Most Admired Companies for the 14th time.

Aflac has appeared for 17 straight years on FORTUNE’S list of the 100 Best Companies to Work for. For the past nine years, the company has been on Ethisphere® Institute’s annual list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.

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4. Tracey Armstrong – Copyright Clearance Center CEO

In 1996, Tracey Armstrong started working at Copyright Clearance Center as a clerk. She held that position for almost a year. During her spare time, she took the initiative to create a tri-fold marketing brochure. The Marketing department was so impressed with her work that they asked her to do additional projects.

Having demonstrated her abilities, she was called upon again to help when the company had a large project that was behind time and over budget. Armstrong remembers that she was a customer service manager, who was at home on leave for personal reasons when her boss asked her to come into the office. When she arrived, she was asked to manage the project. That was the beginning of her experience as an MBA.

Armstrong soon discovered why the project was behind schedule and advised her employer. Eighteen months later, the project was complete. Others who worked on the problem with Armstrong are still employed at Copyright Clearance Center. They attribute the success of that initial project to the reason why the Copyright Clearance Center has the success it has today.

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5. Mary Barra – Chairman and CEO of General Motors

Mary Barra speaking to an audience at the 2016 Chevrolet Volt reveal at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS).

Mary Barra began her career with General Motors (GM) when she was 18 years old. She enrolled in a co-op program at GM to help her pay for her college tuition at General Motors Institute. Barra’s responsibilities included checking the panels on the hood and fender of the Pontiac Grand Prix models at the Pontiac, Michigan automotive plant.

Upon graduating with her undergraduate degree, Barra was hired by GM as a senior engineer. Impressed with Barra’s leadership abilities, GM offered her a fellowship to attend Stanford Business School, where she earned her Master’s in Business Administration.

Barra has held at least 10 different positions at the automotive manufacturing company. On January 15, 2014, Barra became of the CEO of General Motors and the Chairman of the GM Board of Directors on January 4, 2016. Barra was the first female in the automotive industry to hold the position of CEO.

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6. Mark Barrenechea – CEO, Open Text

After graduating from college in 1980 with a computer science degree, Mark Barrenechea began his career with Open Text as a computer programmer.

Because of Barrenechea’s unwavering commitment to new ideas and obtaining results, he was able to successfully realign the company’s products, which resulted in OpenText being transformed into a leader in the field of Enterprise Information Management.

Barrencheas credits his desire to learn and ask questions is a large part of the key to his success. Later in life, after surviving leukemia, he learned the importance of humility, empathy, and mindfulness.

Barrencheas also teaches that leadership is an act of the heart and mind. He believes it is more of an obstacle course than a ladder.

Open Text is a corporation that provides intranet, extranet, and corporate portal solutions to organizations located throughout the world.

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7. James T. Blackledge – Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company CEO

Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company mobile website homepage shown on a smartphone against a wooden background.

Blackledge, 48, joined Mutual as an actuary in 1989 and has been executive vice president, chief information officer, and chief risk officer. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from Creighton University.

In November 2014, Mr. James T. Blackledge became the President of Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company and Chief Executive Officer in April 2015. Mr. Blackledge served as an Executive Vice President of Information Services at Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company. He served as Senior Vice President and Product Line Officer of Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company.

8. Ursula Burns – XEROX Chairman and CEO

Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns grew up in a poor neighborhood in New York City on the Lower East Side. She earned her master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

When Burns graduated from her Catholic high school, there were not many career options available for women. Unless she wanted to be a nurse, teacher, or a nun. Burns decided to make her own way and became a chemical engineer.

In 1980, Ursula Burns began working at Xerox as an intern. The next year, she became a permanent employee after graduating with her master’s degree. In the beginning, Burns worked in planning and product development.

Opportunities came for Burns to work closely with the company’s senior executives, including CEO Annie Mulcahy. Under the leadership of Mulcahy, Burns assumed the role of president of Xerox in 2007. In July 2009, Burns succeeded Mulcahy as CEO. Burns was the first black woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company and the first woman to succeed another woman as head of a Fortune 500 company.

Burns led Xerox in a split into two independent companies: Xerox Corporation and Conduent Incorporated. In May 2017, she left the Xerox board and her role as chairperson.

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9. Susan M. Cameron – Chairman, President, and CEO of Reynolds

When Cameron was two years old, her family moved to Florida. In 1976, Cameron graduated from Ft. Lauderdale High School. In 1980, she graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in business. In 1984, she earned an MBA from Bellarmine University.

In 1981, Cameron got her job in the industry as a sales representative for Brown Williamson. The next year, she received a promotion to district sales manager. In 1990 Cameron moved to London, where she served as a brand director for British American Tobacco, which the parent company for Brown and Williamson. She became Director of Marketing in China in 1994 and was based in Hong Kong. In 1996, Cameron moved back to England and served as the Head of International Brands.

Upon returning to the United States, Cameron joined the executive committee of Brown and Williamson’s and served as senior vice president of marketing. In 2001, Cameron became the president and CEO of Brown Williamson, which made her the first woman CEO of a major cigarette company.

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10. George Clooney – Actor and philanthropist

George Clooney

Today, George Clooney is known as a rich actor and philanthropist, but he grew up with meager means.

Clooney went from door to door selling insurance and worked at a liquor store at night.

He bought clothes that were too big and cut part of the fabric to make ties to match his suit. He understands what it is like to not have insurance.

Now that he can help others, he is a philanthropist for causes from human rights to poverty relief.

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11. Doug Conant – CEO, Campbell Soup Co.

Various flavors of Campbell's condensed soup on display.

Conant’s first job was that of an entry-level marketing assistant. He learned about teamwork and helping others. Since he has never worked in an office, he had to learn how to adapt to the corporate environment. He discovered how competitive it was, but also learned if he built a network of good people, no one could beat them.

Conant worked hard to get promoted based on how well his team performed. He was tough on standards but tenderhearted with the people. Conant became known for dropping handwritten notes to his employees, telling them how much they are appreciated. He would write sometime as much as 10 to 20 notes a day. Conant’s advice to others is to celebrate what people are doing right. They will perform at their best for you.

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12. Michael Corbat – CEO Citigroup

Michael Corbat

In 1983, Corbat graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Since graduation, he has spent his entire career affiliated with Citigroup, the world’s global bank. If he wasn’t working directly for Citigroup, he was working for one of the companies’ subsidiaries. Corbat’s first position was working in the sales department at Salomon Brothers. Later, Salomon Brothers merged with Citigroup.

After working his way up in the company, Corbat is currently the CEO of Citigroup. According to CEOWORLD magazine, Corbat is ranked number 67 of the world’s best CEOs in 2019.

After the resignation of Vikram Pandit in October 2012, Michael L. Corbat was appointed CEO of Citigroup.

Citigroup has approximately 200 million customer accounts and conducts business in over 160 countries and jurisdictions.

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13. David Cote – CEO, Honeywell

Honeywell wall signage

Cote began working at the General Electric jet engine plant as an hourly employee at the age of 21.

He understood how important it was for leaders to be supportive of the people who work for them. While working as a middle-level corporate financial planner, members of his staff wanted him to make an internal request for return on investment that involved projections from another business unit. Cote did not agree with the request, but he made it on behalf of his team.

As expected, his CEO rejected the proposal. A few months later, the CEO learned Cole had made the request because his team wanted, although Cote himself didn’t agree with it. Cote’s CEO was so impressed with the way Cote supported his team, he promoted Cote to the CFO role in an aircraft engine production unit.

In 2002, Cote became CEO, president, and a member of the board of directors. He was made Board Chairman in July 2002. Cote served as CEO at Honeywell until March 2017.

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14. Ronald E. Daly – CEO, Océ-USA Holding

When Daly was seventeen years old, he started working at Océ-USA Holding as a proofreader. His starting salary was $1.92 an hour.

It took Daly 38 years at RR Donnelley to go from apprentice proofreader to president of the company’s largest unit, Print Solutions.

Daly was the company’s first African American to work as a production coordinator. He had less competition because most of the company’s managers were craftsmen, without a college degree.

In college, Daly learned how to conduct root cause analysis. Applying that knowledge, he was able to turn a unit that was losing money into one that was profitable.

Although he felt his chances were slim, Daly applied for a position as a general manager at one of the Pennsylvania plants. He impressed the senior VP in the interview and got the job. Daly is a risk-taker who doesn’t mind tough assignments.

Daly’s advice to anyone who wants to succeed is you must market yourself and do things to sets you apart from everyone else. What differentiated Daly was his education. He earned an associate degree, an undergrad degree in business, and an MBA.

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15. Michael Dubyak – CEO, WEX Inc.

At age 23, Dubyak began his career at Pennzoil working as an Allocation coordinator.

A friend who worked in the human resource department shared with Dubyak how to determine his career path by prioritizing his values. When Dubyak was presented with career advancement opportunities, he utilized the method taught to him by his friend. In doing so, Dubyak determined that his priorities involved the creation and involvement in a team and having ownership in an organization.

Five years after Dubyak joined WEX, the company began to lose money. Along with those monetary loses, the company lost its CEO. Because of the situation in the company, Dubyak considered leaving to go work for a different company. The other company offered him the opportunity to make twice his current salary but having ownership in that company was not possible. Not wanting to leave WEX any more vulnerable, or at risk of failing altogether, Dubyak decided to remain. Years later, Dubyak was promoted.

Dubyak has served as Wright Express’ president and chief executive officer since August 1998.

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16. Greg C. Garland – CEO Phillips 66

Phillips 66 gas station in Goodland, Kansas

In 1980, Greg C. Garland became employed by Phillips 66 as a project engineer. Later, he became a sales manager, a business service manager, a sales engineer, and a business development director at the company. Twenty-two years later, Garland became the CEO and chairman of Phillips 66.

Garland was the first person in his family to attend college. His father was a union man, who worked at Union Car by Texas City. His father worked his way up to a supervisor position.

According to Garland, his father stressed that he did not care what he did for a living as long as it wasn’t an engineer. To show his father that he honored his wishes, Garland said he sent him a business card, which read CEO.

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17. Hans Gieskes – CEO, Cision

Cision website homepage

When he was twenty-two years old, Gieskes started out as a production coordinator. Within a few months, he learned that the company was in poor financial shape. So, he took a position in sales at another company.

While running global sales for Elsevier, a science publishing company, he was mentored by his boss’s boss—Elsevier’s chairman. He taught him to ask more questions instead of making statements.

Gieskes took his mentor’s advice and discovered that asking questions was an effective way to get people to do better work and accept changes to the organization.

Some of the advice Gieskes gives young people is to find out who their boss will be, if possible. Find out whether they think that person is honest. If they can respect their new boss, they will be able to learn from them.

In 2013, Gieskes stepped down as President and CEO of Cision.

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18. Ilene Gordon – CEO, Ingredion

Ingredion website homepage

Gordon began working at the Boston Consulting Group when she was twenty-three years old.

The company sent her to the London office to work. During this time, it was not popular for women to hold such a position. Her British male colleagues were dismissive towards her. She was forced to constantly defend her position concerning advice given to her clients.

A mentor, Gordon an opportunity to work in the profit and loss section. Her mentor advised her to take advantage of the opportunity by learning all she could from the men she worked with by figuring out what motivated them.

Gordon prides herself on the fact that she stayed true to herself. The career choices that she made were consistent with her goals. She realized early in her career that she wanted both the corner office and a family. When offered opportunities that conflicted with her family values, she declined them.

In May 2009, Gordon became CEO, president, and chairman of Ingredion. She retired from the position in 2017.

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19. Alex Gorsky – CEO Johnsons & Johnson

Alex Gorsky and Ali Wentworth at the Global Champions of A Mother's Fight Awards Dinner on February 20, 2013 in New York

In 1988, Alex Gorsky began his career as a sales representative at Janssen Pharmaceutica, which is a Johnson & Johnson company. Today, he is the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Johnson & Johnson. Gorsky ranks number 8 out of 121 of the best CEOs in the world for 2019.

Gorsky gained experience by working in many positions at Johnson & Johnson. In April 2012, he was named CEO and Chairman of the Board on December 28, 2012. Alex is also a U.S. military veteran. He served as a U.S. Army Ranger. When he completed his military career, he held the rank of captain. Gorsky is an avid supporter of the armed forces.

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20. Tricia Griffith – CEO and president of Progressive

Progressive Corporation building in Mirimar, Florida.

Griffith went to Illinois State University where she earned an undergraduate degree. Then she attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she participated in the advanced management program at the Wharton School of Business.

Griffith’s career in the insurance industry began when she joined Progressive in 1988. She worked as a claim’s representative in Indianapolis. After holding several management positions, Griffin became the Chief Human Resources Officer in 2002. She served as the Group’s President in 2008.

As Chief Human Resources Officer, Griffith created a diversity and inclusion program. In 2007, she established the Progressive African American Network and LGBT Plus. When Griffin returned to claims in 2008, she was serving as the group’s President.

Later, Griffin was named President of Customer Operations and Chief Operating Officer of Progressive’s personal lines branch. She was appointed CEO of Progressive’s first female CEO on July 1, 2016.

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21. Ed Heffernan – CEO, Alliance Data Systems

AllianceData website homepage

Upon earning an MBA in 1986, Heffernan began his career at First Boston as a management trainee. He was twenty-three years old.

The crash of 1987 occurred the following year, which made him more appreciative of the job he had. He learned to be more disciplined and conservative. Although he was conservative, Heffernan was not afraid to go where the opportunities for advancement were.

In 1998, Heffernan was in California working at First Data doing mergers and acquisitions. He had been Silicon Valley for about four years and was enjoying the location. However, there were opportunities at Alliance Data in Texas. Heffernan left the sea breezes of California to go to the rolling hills in the plains of Texas. He never forgot that it was 105 degrees when he arrived.

Heffernan was appointed President and CEO in March 2009. He left that position in June 2019.

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22. Robert Herjavec – “Shark Tank” star, investor and CEO of Herjavec Group

Robert Herjavec

When he only eight years old, Herjavec’s family moved to Canada from Croatia to escape communism. They arrived in Canada with nothing by a suitcase and $20. The family had to stay in the basement of the house of a family friend. Herjavec’s father eventually got a job working in a factory for $76.00 per week. Herjavec realized that time that his family was destitute.

Herjavec delivered newspapers to help pay the bills. He also had a job as a waiter. Finally, he got a job working in the technology sector because he agreed to work for free. Utilizing the experience he gained from working for free, he started his own IT company out of his basement. Later, he sold that company to AT&T Canada for over thirty million dollars.

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23. Bob Iger – CEO of Walt Disney

Bob Iger and Mickey Mouse

In 1974, Bob Iger began his career working as a weatherman at a local ABC news station. He was performing small labor tasks for $150.00 per week. Today, he is the Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

In 1989, Iger was named head of ABC Entertainment. He served as president of the ABC Network Television Group from January 1993 to 1994. In March 1993, Iger was appointed as Capital Cities/ABC senior vice president and executive vice president in July 1993.

In 1994, Iger was named the president and chief operating officer of ABC’s corporate parent, Capital Cities/ABC.

Bob Iger ranks number 103 in the CEOWORLD magazine’s ranking of the most influential CEOs in the world 2019.

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24. Jeff Jackson – CEO, PGT Innovations

At the age of twenty-four, Jackson began working as a staff accountant at KPMG.

His job included fixing the fax machine when it jammed and going to get lunch for the firm’s partners. Because his mentor told him to do whatever needed to be done, he spent Christmas and New Year’s counting inventories.

When Jackson was thirty-two years old, he landed his first role as an executive. He became the CFO of Mrs. Smith’s Bakeries, which is owned by Flowers Foods. However, he was reminded that he wasn’t receiving the respect he deserved when the CEO called him one day to fix the stopped up toilet in the men’s bathroom.

In November 2005, Jackson became employed at PGT as CFO. Within his first few months of employment, he got the company ready for its initial public offering. In 2006, Jackson helped lead the PGTs IPO. He was later named Executive Vice President. In June 2014, Jackson became President and Chief Operating Officer. In 2016, Mr. Jackson was appointed to the Board of Directors.

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25. Aaron Jagdfeld – CEO, Generac

Generac GP7500E 7500-Watt Gasoline at a fundraising event.

Jagdfeld began working as a staff accountant at Deloitte when he was twenty-one years old.

The following year he joined Generac’s finance department. Generac was a Deloitte client. Although it involved a pay cut, Jagdfeld saw the position as an opportunity to work closely with the company’s founder to learn how the company was run. At that time, the company was a small family business, and an employee could be more visible.

By shadowing his managers, Jagdfeld gained the confidence he needed to do his job. If someone asked him a question, he imagined how he would answer it. When people asked his manager a question, Jagdfeld would imagine how he would answer that question. Sometimes, he would ask his manager later why he answered a question a certain way. Jagdfeld reached the point to where most of his answers matched his manager’s answers.

Jagdfeld has served as President and CEO of Generac since September 2008.

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26. Abigail Johnson – CEO Fidelity

Fidelity Investments signage at an office building.

In 1985, Johnson became a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm. The following year, she finished her Master of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Upon graduation, she began her employment at Fidelity Investment, as a stock analyst.

Johnson had to climb her way up the ranks. She has been an inspiration for women who aspire to have a career in finance.

Eventually, Johnson became a portfolio manager. She received a promotion to an associate director position in 1994. A year later, her father divested his shares of Fidelity. There was speculation about her being groomed to be his successor.

In 1997, Johnson became senior vice president, and three years later, she was appointed as the new president.

Johnson then became Fidelity’s new CEO, succeeding her father who stepped down from the position to retire.

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27. Gregory Johnson – Chief Executive Officer and Co-President at O’Reilly Automotive Inc

Johnson has been an O’Reilly Team Member since 2001 when the company purchased Mid-State Automotive.

Johnson’s career began as a part-time distribution center team member and progressed through the various roles within the company.

Johnson was President from 1993 to 1999, Chief Executive Officer from 1993 to 2005, and Co-Chairman of the Board from 1999 to 2005. He has served as Chairman of the Board since February 2005.

Johnson has held the position of Chief Executive Officer and Co-President since 2018.

O’Reilly Automotive, Inc., is a chain of auto parts stores that publicly traded. In 1957, they began with just one store in Springfield, Missouri, in 1957. Since then, the company has since grown to over 4,000 stores.

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28. Todd Jones – CEO Publix Stores

Publix company logo on a building exterior.

Jones started his career as a store clerk in 1980 in New Smyrna Beach. Since then, he’s worked as a store manager, district, and regional manager. He was also vice president of the Jacksonville division and senior vice president of product business development.

Jones’ career at the company has been marked by a steady ascent to the top. He was named president in 2008. During that time, Publix has grown into a mega grocery company in the southeastern United States.

Currently, he oversees an empire of grocery stores that includes about 1,200 stores, more than 190,000 employees. Publix’s annual revenue exceeds 34 billion. In 2016, Jones was named president and CEO in 2016 after the retirement of Ed Crenshaw.

The company, at a late September news conference, announced plans for even more growth, with a $28 million expansion of its corporate headquarters in Lakeland that will add 700 jobs.

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29. Karen Kaplan – CEO of Hill Holliday

In 1982, Kaplan started working at Hill Holiday as a receptionist at Hill Holliday. She was twenty-two years old. Her goal was to save money for law school. Instead, she was promoted through the ranks at the marketing company. Thirty years later, Kaplan became the CEO of Hill Holliday.

Over the years, Kaplan held at least sixteen different titles. In January of 2001, Ms. Kaplan was promoted to managing director of the Boston office. In June 2007, Kaplan became the president of the agency.

In 2012, Kaplan was named to Ad Age’s list of the 100 most influential women in advertising. Kaplan is frequently listed among a group of female leaders in the advertising business, such as Sarah Thompson, CEO of Droga5.

While serving as CEO, Kaplan also served in several roles outside the firm. She was chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and president of the Massachusetts Women’s Forum.

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30. Muhtar Kent – CEO Coca Cola

Electronic signage for

Kent began working at the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta in 1978. During his first nine months, he worked on the delivery trucks in Georgia, Texas, Massachusetts, and California. He also stocked the shelves and built the store displays.

Kent held a variety of leadership positions that helped him rise through the company. In addition to his work in the United States, Kent was the General Manager of Coca-Cola Turkey and Central Asia in 1985. He was also the President of their Europe Division and Senior Vice President of Coca-Cola International in 1989.

From 1999 through 2005, Kent was the President and CEO of the Efes Beverage Group, a beverage company with operations in Southeast Europe, Central Asia, and Turkey.

He returned to Coca-Cola in 2005. From 2009-2017, Kent served as the Chairman and CEO.

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31. Howard R. Levine – CEO Family Dollar

amily Dollar store in Fresno, California.

Levine graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1981. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree. When he graduated from college, Levine worked in merchandising at Family Dollar.

He held several positions while working at Family Dollar. From 1981 to 1987, Levine was assigned to Marketing and Advertising as a Senior Vice President. Next, he served as President of Best Price Clothing Stores, Inc. from 1988 to 1992.

From 1992 to 1996, Levine was self-employed as an investment manager. In 1996, Levine rejoined Family Dollar and served in various positions until he became Chief Executive Officer in August 1998.

Howard R. Levine is the current Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Family Dollar and is the son of Leon Levine, the Founder of Family Dollar.

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32. James John Liautaud

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Restaurant in Indianapolis.

James John Liautaud is the founder, chairman, and majority owner of Jimmy John’s sandwich chain.

After graduating from high school in 1982, he received a $25,000 loan to start a business from his father. Liautaud’s wanted to open a hot dog stand but seen realized he didn’t have enough money for that type of a venture.

After a chance encounter at a sandwich shop, he realized he did have enough funds to open a sandwich shop. He could buy premium cut meats at the neighborhood market and bake his own bread.

In 1983, Liautaud opened Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches in Charleston, Illinois. The store’s location wasn’t the greatest, so Liautaud decided to include delivery services to help increase sales.

He took samples of the sandwiches to the nearby college dorms. The restaurant had turned a profit at the end of the first year. The next year, Liautaud had earned enough to purchase his father’s shares in the business.

Company sales continued to grow, and Liautaud opened a second and third store in 1986 and 1987. The rest is history.

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33. Tom Linebarger – CEO of Cummins Inc

Cummins Inc. signage and logo.

While he was at Stanford, Linebarger worked at Cummins as an intern. He spent his summer working on the manufacturing line at the Cummins Midrange Engine plant in Wellsboro, Indiana.

Although Linebarger had other roles at other companies, most of his career was spent at Cummings. Before coming to Cummins, Linebarger was an investment analyst and investment manager at Prudential Investment Corporation.

At Cummings, Linebarger rose up through the ranks to become the CEO. Linebarger was in Supply Chain Management from 1998 to 2000. From 2000 to 2003, he was the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. From 2003 to 2008, he was President, Power Generation Business. From 2008 to 2011, he was the Executive Vice President and President.

In 2012, Linebarger became Chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc. Cummings is the world’s largest independent maker of diesel engines.

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34. Jeffrey S. Lorberbaum – CEO Mohawk Industries

Mohawk Industries website homepage.

Lorberbaum’s parents founded Aladdin Mills, Inc., which made bathmats and rugs from extruded plastics. In the 1970s, they expanded the business into tufted carpet manufacturing. It became one of the largest carpet manufacturers in the country.

In 1976, Lorberbaum joined the family business, carpet and rug manufacturer Aladdin Mills, after graduating from the University of Denver. Lorberbaum held several leadership positions, including Vice President of Operations from 1986 to 1994.

In 1994, Lorberbaum became president of Mohawk; and, in 2001, he became CEO.

Today, the Georgia-based company is one of the world’s largest flooring companies.

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35. Kathleen (Kathy) Mazzarella – CEO and President of Graybar Electric Co.

In 1980, Mazzarella began working with Graybar at the age of 19 as a customer service representative. It was one of the lowest paying positions in the company.

Mazzarella grew with the company and became a sales representative. She was so good at sales that she was promoted to other roles in field sales management. Soon, her skills were recognized by the company’s executives. She was promoted to the position of National Product Manager and was later put in other jobs at the executive level.

Mazzarella oversaw the company’s human resources and sales and marketing efforts for many years until being promoted to the position of CEO.

Mazzarella has been the Chief Executive and President of Graybar Electric Co. since June 1, 2012. With her appointment as CEO and President, Mazzarella oversees the company’s operations which includes its 250 distribution facilities in North America and over 7500 employees.

Since 2013, Mazzarella has been the Chairman of Graybar Electric Co. She is the only female CEO of a Fortune 500 company based in the St. Louis region.

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36. Doug McMillon of Walmart – CEO Walmart

Walmart logo on a storefront.

In the summer of 1984, McMillon began working at Walmart distribution center loading trucks as an hourly employee. At the time, he was just a teenager.

McMillon earned a BA from the University of Arkansas in 1989. He continued his education at the University of Tulsa, to pursue his MBA. While he was at Tulsa, he rejoined Walmart in 1990. McMillon started out as an assistant manager and later moved to merchandise after receiving his MBA in 1991.

In 2014, McMillon became the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Walmart Inc. Since Sam Walton, McMillon is the youngest CEO to lead the company.

While some may have been concerned about his youth, McMillon has proven himself to be an effective leader. COEWORLD magazine ranks McMillon number one in the category of best chief executives of all industries for the year 2019.

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37. Rodney McMullen- CEO The Kroger Co.

Kroger storefront

In 978, McMullen began working at Kroger as a part-time stock clerk.

Since May 1999, McMullen served as an Executive Vice President of Kroger Co. He served as Senior Vice President of Kroger Co. since October 5, 1997 and Group Vice President June 18, 1995.

From June 18, 1995, to 2000, he served as the Chief Financial Officer of Kroger Company.

Mr. McMullen served as Vice President of Control and Financial Services of Kroger Co. since March 4, 1993, and Vice President of Planning and Capital Management since December 31, 1989.

He served as the Chairman of Governors at GS1 US, Inc. since December 6, 2010. He has been an Independent Director of Cincinnati Financial Corp. since 2001.

Mr. McMullen has been a Director of The Kroger Co. since 2003. He holds a Master of Science degree in Accounting from the University of Kentucky, where he completed his undergraduate degree.

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38. Gregg Mollins – CEO of Reliance

Reliance Industries Limited website homepage.

Mollins began working at Reliance as a warehouseman. He was able to work his way up in the company, by not being afraid to accept new responsibilities or challenges. He gained experience in all aspects of the business.

In 1997, Mollins became a member of the Board of Directors. Since 2002, Mollins served as the company’s President. In May 2015, he followed David Hannah as Reliance’s Chief Executive Officer.

In five years, Mollins was able to turn the failing division around into a profitable operation. With that success, he was assigned to Reliance Corporate headquarters as Vice President. In 1995, when the leadership shifted following Reliance’s IPO, Mollins became Chief Operating.

Gregg Mollins considers himself to be a field man. He loves to meet with and interact with the people who work for the company.

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39. John G. Morikis – CEO Sherwin-Williams

Sherwin-Williams storefront in Toronto.

Morikis began working at Sherwin-Williams in 1984 as a management trainee in the company’s Paint Stores Group. He is the company’s first management trainee to rise to CEO.

Morikis believes his ability to rise through the company has given him a great perspective. He can relate to the employees at all levels within the organization because he’s been where they are. Morikis also believes he has a good relationship with the vendors and customers they serve. For the employees, no one will be asked to do anything that Morikis has not done.

All the managers at the Sherwin-Williams company are required to have a college degree. Morikis earned a bachelor’s degree from Saint Joseph’s College and a master’s degree from National Louis University.

In 2016 Morikis become CEO at age 52. He did not come to the company expecting to become the CEO but that’s the role he landed in by following the career path offered by the company.

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40. William D. Nash- CEO of CarMax, Inc.

Nash began working at CarMax in 1997 as Auction Manager. Later, Nash served as Auction Director, Assistant Vice President of auction services, and Vice President of auction services.

Before joining CarMax, Nash worked at Circuit City and in public accounting and worked in public accounting.

Mr. Nash served as Senior Vice President of Merchandising at CarMax, Inc. from 2010 until October 2011 and senior vice president, human resources, and administrative services from 2011 until 2012.

Mr. Nash served as an Executive Vice President of Human Resources & Administrative Services at CarMax, Inc. from March 2012 until February 1, 2016.

Mr. William D. Nash, also known as Bill, has been the Chief Executive Officer of CarMax, Inc. since September 2016 and its President since February 1, 2016.

He has been a Director of CarMax, Inc. since September 1, 2016. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Accounting from James Madison University.

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41. Monique Nelson – CEO, UniWorld Group

Nelson started working in sales and marketing at International Paper when she was twenty-one years old. The company’s location was in a small town close to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Therefore, it was a remote location and very cold.

Within her first few months at the company, Nelson wrote a new employee manual to help guide others coming into the business with no paper mill experience.

That helped her to become an executive assistant to the head of the plant’s production line management. She developed skills that increased her effectiveness in client management, strategy, supply chain management.

Her visibility in the executive assistant role helped her to get promoted to other positions, which included a stint in Milan. Upon returning to the U.S., she had the opportunity to lead big marketing campaigns.

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42. Richard Olson – CEO, The Toro Co.

In 1986, Olson began working at The Toro Company as a manufacturing process engineer when he was twenty-two years old.

He planned to work for Toro a couple of years and then start his own business. However, every time he received a new assignment, he became more interested in working at the company. Olson learned the importance of aligning goals, creating trust, and having diversity within an organization.

Olson became a manager of one of Toro’s manufacturing plants and eventually became managing director of our northern operations.

During that time, Olson completed his MBA and became the general manager of the Exmark landscape contractor business.

Olson said he never had climbing the company ladder as a goal. He focused on doing the best job he could do in whatever role he had.

In 2015, Olson became CEO of the Toro Company and will take over as Chairman of the Board on November 2019.

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43. Suze Orman – Financial author, advisor and former TV host

Suze Orman

Orman, who is considered a financial whiz, was broke for the first 30 years of her life. She grew up in Chicago with parents who were Jewish immigrants. Orman’s mother was a secretary, and her father operated a take-out chicken stand.

Orman’s family was impoverished. She could not afford to pay $1.00 to go swimming with friends. When the family walked into a department store, they were ignored because of their shabby dress. Her father once ran back into a building that was on fire to get a cash register that contained less than $100. Orman remembers that her parents constantly fought about money.

Orman spent several years working as a waitress before opening her own restaurant. Her regular customers urged her to open the business and financed it. When the market collapsed, Orman lost everything. However, the experience ignited a passion for finance. Before long, her career and net worth took off.

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44. Howard Putman – CEO, Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines flying in the blue sky.

Putman knew he wanted to be president of an airline when he was just nineteen years old. He would do whatever needed to reach his goal. That included working double shifts, training new employees, and helping with other departments.

His first night on the job, Putnam watched another employee break open and steal jewelry and other valuables from the passengers’ suitcases. Putnam admittedly did not say anything about what he saw, but he couldn’t sleep when he went to bed that night.

The next day, Putnam witnesses that same employee attempt to hit another employee with an airplane tire. Putnam yelled, and the employee was able to move before getting hit. One of the managers observed the incident and fired on the spot. From that time on, Putman vowed never to compromise his ethic again.

At the age of twenty-three, Putnam was a sales representative for Capital Airlines. In 1961, Capital Airlines was acquired by United Airlines. Putnam left United Airlines to head Southwest Airlines.

From August 1978 to 1981, Putnam was President and CEO of Southwest Airlines. He left Southwest in September 1981 to head ailing Braniff.

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45. Anuradha Rao – CEO State Bank of India

State Bank of India in Hyberabad, India.

Ms. Rao joined SBI as Probationary officer in 1982.

She has over 33 years of experience in various facets of Commercial Banking. Ms. Rao holds a post-graduation in M.Sc. (Physics) and is also a Certified Associate of Indian Institute of Bankers (CAIIB)

She has held several different positions and responsibilities with SBI. She was Vice President for Credit in Chicago, and Faculty for Credit at State Bank Staff College in Hyderabad.

Before joining SBIFM, Ms. Anuradha Rao was the Chief General Manager of State Bank of India, where she was responsible for the Personal Banking department.

Rao was promoted to the position of Deputy Managing Director of SBI in May 2016.

She was deputed by State Bank of India (SBI) as Managing Director & CEO of SBI Funds Management Pvt. Ltd. (SBIFMPL), on August 22, 2016.

46. Chris Rondeau – CEO, Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness in Roseville, MN

Ain 1993, Rondeau worked at a front-desk job at Planet Fitness when he was twenty years old.

The next year, he became employed full-time. Then, he became a personal trainer to both the store manager and regional manager.

The company opened a third store in 1998. Rondeau presented the store owners of selling the atmosphere of a gym, as opposed to selling equipment. The owner liked the idea. That was the birth of the logo and company mission statement seen today of providing a place where everyone can feel comfortable working out. That catapulted the company.

In 2003, Rondeau became a partner in the company when they began to franchise. Rondeau was a chief operating officer.

Rondeau believes it’s essential to try and understand the mind of the customer, instead of focusing too much on the competition.

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47. JK Rowling – Author of “Harry Potter” books

JK Rowling

Rowling didn’t grow up poor as a child, but she ended up there in her late 20s.

Rowling was a schoolteacher in Portugal. To escape an unhappy marriage, she took her infant daughter and moved to Scotland.

She was unemployed and living in a small apartment. If she was any poorer, she would have been homeless, living on the streets. She didn’t eat so she could have enough food for her daughter to eat. Because of her situation, Rowling fell into a deep depression and was on the verge of suicide.

It was during these desperate times that she wrote the manuscript for the Harry Potter book. What happened after that, changed her life for good.

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48. Douglas W. Stotlar – Chief Executive Officer and President at Con-Way Inc.

He first joined Con-Way in 1985 as a Freight Operations Supervisor of Con-Way Central Express and worked successfully in a variety of management positions of increasing responsibility at the carrier.

Douglas W. Stotlar, also known as Doug, has been the Chief Executive Officer and President at Con-Way Inc. (formerly, CNF Inc.), a holding company of Menlo Worldwide Logistics (Formerly Menlo Worldwide, Inc.) since April 26, 2005. Mr. Stotlar served as an Interim President of Con-Way Freight Inc. from August 2010 to September 22, 2011. He served as the Chief Executive Officer of Con-Way Global Solutions, Inc.

He has been a Director of AECOM since October 2014. He has been a Director of Con-Way, Inc., since 2005 and Independent Director of URS Corporation, since March 26, 2007. He serves as a Member of the Board of Directors for the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). He is a Vice President at Large and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Trucking Association. Mr. Stotlar earned a bachelor’s degree in Transportation and Logistics from the Ohio State University.

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49. Howard Schultz – Starbucks executive chairman and former CEO

Howard Schultz

After graduating from college, Schultz was a door-to-door salesman, selling office equipment. One of his customers was Starbucks, which was a small coffee company in Seattle, Washington. In 1982, Schultz visited the founders of Starbucks in 1982. The following year, he oversaw the company’s marketing program.

Schultz experienced his first espresso in 1983, while on a business trip to Italy. From his experience in Italy, he had a vision of creating specialty coffee stores that integrated the romance of espresso and provided a place for the community. At the time Starbucks stores only sold whole bean coffee and had no seating, but the owners were not interested in his idea. So, Schultz left Starbucks to open his own coffee stores.

Through persistence and having people who believed in him, Schultz overcame some of the challenges with funding his stores. In 1987, he had opened three espresso bars under the name of Il Giornale. A few years later, Schultz purchased the original Starbucks when the owners decided to focus on Peet’s Coffee & Tea.

Merging Starbucks and Il Giornale, Schultz transformed the company into the Starbucks empire it is today. In 2018, Starbucks ranked number five on Fortune’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies 2018 & 2019.

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50. Rich Wood – CEO of NuSkin

NuSkin products mixed with fruits, flowers, and plants on a wooden background.

Rich Wood grew up on a farm in Utah. He attributes the development of his fundamental beliefs and values to what he learned on the farm. Wood remembers having to get up at 4 am to complete his chores. Also, his parents instilled in him the importance of education.

Wood began his employment at Nu Skin by answering the phone. Since then, he has served in various capacities at Nu Skin.

From 1995 to 1997, Wood had a crucial role in expanding the company to several European countries. Before his European assignment, Wood served as the assistant director of international tax.

From 2003 to 2017, Wood has served as a chief financial officer, vice president of finance, vice president of new market development, director of finance of new market development, and controller of the Pharmanex division.

In 2017, Wood was appointed Nu Skins CEO.

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