Expert Poll Names Greatest Entrepreneurs In American History

Sept. 22, 2003

by Cynthia J. Jackson

What constitutes "greatness" in American business history? Researchers at Baylor University and the Center for the American Idea polled experts to determine the top 10 entrepreneurs, the top female entrepreneur and the top minority entrepreneur in American history. The winners will be honored at a luncheon of the Baylor Business Network at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Dallas.

"Although most Americans could name our first President, few could name our first billionaire," said Dr. Blaine McCormick, assistant professor of management at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. "Yet the success of entrepreneurs has transformed America and the way we live - often more than the Presidents who led us during this same period."

"On the one hand, ranking America's greatest entrepreneurs and businesspeople is an exercise fit for a game of Trivial Pursuit«," said Burton Folsom Jr., formerly with the Center for the American Idea and now The Charles Kline Professor of History and Management at Hillsdale College. "Yet, on the other hand, such an effort is a deeply important conversation. Both students and practitioners of business have much to gain by studying the lives of our greatest entrepreneurs and businesspeople."

The researchers polled 58 experts. The interdisciplinary group included management scholars, business historians and economic historians. The group was asked to list, in rank order, America's 10 greatest entrepreneurs and/or businesspersons. They were also asked two additional questions:

1. Who do you believe to be America's greatest female entrepreneur or businessperson?

2. Who do you believe to be America's greatest minority entrepreneur or businessperson?

Responses were tallied and ranked.


Top 10 Entrepreneurs and/or Businesspeople in American History:

1. Henry Ford

2. Bill Gates

3. John D. Rockefeller

4. Andrew Carnegie

5. Thomas Edison

6. Sam Walton

7. J.P. Morgan

8. Alfred Sloan

9. Walt Disney

10. Ray Kroc

Greatest female entrepreneur or businessperson in American history:

Mary Kay Ash

Greatest minority entrepreneur or businessperson in American history:

John H. Johnson

Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company 100 years ago and brought affordable personal transportation to the masses. Ford put the world on wheels and also saw the wisdom in creating a diverse workforce that could afford the products they produced by introducing the famous $5 a day wage. Edsel B. Ford II will accept the award on behalf of his great-grandfather.

Accepting the award on behalf of the late Mary Kay Ash will be her grandson, Ryan Rogers, who currently serves on the board of the corporation and its public Foundation, and is a project manager at Mary Kay Inc. Rogers believes Mary Kay's legacy extends far beyond the business success she was able to achieve for herself. "In a speech to our worldwide sales force this past July, our chairman and chief executive officer, Richard R. Rogers, explained her story perfectly. My father's point was that the most significant thing about the life of Mary Kay is not that she reached the top of the corporate world, but how many thousands of women she brought along with her... She never thought about fame or wealth for herself, but only about success for others."

John H. Johnson, founder, publisher and chairman of Johnson Publishing Co. and publisher of EBONY and JET magazines, said "I am delighted to be named among the greatest entrepreneurs in American history and specifically selected the Greatest Minority Entrepreneur in this study. I live by the words, 'Failure Is A Word I Don't Accept' and when I started the company in 1942 I was determined to succeed and help improve the lives of others. I want to be known as someone who pioneered in a new field and persevered."

Tickets for the event are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Reservations are required before Wednesday, Sept. 24, by calling 1-800-BAYLOR-U, option 6.

For more about the research, contact McCormick at (254) 710-4158 or or Folsom at (517) 607-2430 or

Other contacts are:

Baylor University

Cynthia Jackson


Ford Motor Company

Kathleen Vokes


Johnson Publishing

Lydia Davis Eady


Mary Kay Corporation

Diana Gold


NOTE TO NEWS EDITORS: A table will be provided for members of the media.

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