5 Leadership Heroes: Learning to Lead in The Big Leagues


From startup to the Big Leagues, here are 5 successful entrepreneurs who are doing it right.

Aside from just having a good idea, entrepreneurship takes dedication, hard work, and desperation mixed with just enough ‘crazy’ to make it to the big leagues.

This type of success is very rare, compared to the failure rate among new businesses in the U.S.

5 Leadership Heroes

Here are five entrepreneurs who made it, and are still making a name for themselves.

Ryan Smith: Qualtrics

It’s not easy getting your name on Forbes list of “America’s Most Promising CEO’s Under 35.” First off, you have to be…young. Then you have to be the CEO of a serious corporation. These criteria posed no problem for Ryan Smith, the CEO of Qualtrics, who founded the company with his father and brother ten years ago.

Today, Qualtrics—a leading provider of research and analytics software for businesses and academics—has over 5,000 customers, over half of which are Fortune 500 companies. Smith recently turned down a $500 million buyout offer for Qualtrics.

When asked in a recent Forbes article why he said “no” to the substantial offer he said, in true entrepreneurial fashion:

“The second act is never as good as the first. I want to go big now.”

Having just raised $70 million in venture capital, Ryan Smith and Qualtrix are positioned to go big soon.

Paul Allen: Ancestry.com

When it comes to launching business startups, Paul Allen has a long list of successes, including Ancestry.com. Recognized as one of the largest online family history resources in the world, Ancestry.com has around 2.7 million paid subscribers and some 5 billion online records.

Over the last few years, the company has gained notoriety through the popular TLC TV show, “Who Do You Think You Are,” wherein celebrities use Ancestry.com to discover their roots.

The company is now collaborating with Family Search International, owned and operated by the LDS Church, to make the church’s vast collections of family history records available online. In 2012, a private equity group acquired Ancestry.com for an estimated $1.6 billion.

Joining Gallup in Washington, DC, Allen is bent on building a worldwide strengths movement. “We want to help a billion people discover their strengths…” he proclaims on his LinkedIn profile. Clearly Paul Allen has discovered what his strengths are.

Todd Pedersen: Vivint

While selling products door-to-door might not seem like a great marketing strategy, for Todd Pedersen, founder of APX Alarm Security Systems in Provo, Utah in 1997, the technique proved very successful. So successful in fact that APX—rebranded as Vivint in 2011—has become a leading provider of innovative home security, home energy management and home automation products and technologies.

In late 2012 the Blackstone Group acquired Vivint, and Pedersen has stayed on as CEO. This year, Vivint was recognized by Inc. Magazine as the number two job-creating private company in America.

In recognition of that Hire Power Award, Pedersen said this:

“Vivint’s culture is one of innovation, and creating more jobs has been a natural byproduct of our growth and expansion of services. We couldn’t have a higher quality workforce, and receiving national recognition is extremely rewarding.”

With that philosophy, it’s easy to see why the Utah Valley Entrepreneurial Forum named Pedersen the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year. Outside of Vivint, Todd Pedersen is involved in a number of philanthropic organizations that benefit the Utah community.

Josh James: Omniture and Domo

For a college dropout who started a business in a basement back in 1996, Josh James lays down some pretty bold rules for other startup entrepreneurs.

Fortunately, Josh practiced what he preaches and turned that fledgling business he co-founded with friend John Pestana, into Omniture, a booming web analytics and online marketing company purchased by Adobe in 2009, for $1.8 billion.

In 2010 Josh founded Domo, a highly successful business intelligence company focused on transforming the way executives manage their businesses. Ranked as the number one entrepreneur on Fortune Magazine’s list of 40 under 40 “Ones to Watch” in 2011, James has definitely made the most of his own startup rule #4, a portion of which reads:

“Think Big…Imagine deals people around you think will never happen.”

J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott: Marriott International

No list of startup entrepreneurs is complete without including J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott, the husband and wife team responsible for one of the most successful business startups ever launched.

The story is legendary—a nine-stool root beer stand built back in 1927 is transformed over time into Marriott International, a vast global lodging empire with more than 3,700 properties worldwide.

With thousands of employees in 73 countries and annual revenues of $12 billion in 2012, Marriott International stands as the embodiment of the pioneering spirit all entrepreneurs must possess in order to achieve true greatness.


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Robert Cordray

Robert Cordray is a freelance writer with over 20 years of business experience
He does the occasional business consult to help increase employee morale
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Image Sources: mr6.cc/wp-content

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Rami Kantari on December 5, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Reblogged this on Executive Training Dubai.

  2. Junior Achievement of Greater Hampton Roads on December 5, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Reblogged this on juniorachievementghr and commented:
    An interesting peek into entrepreneurship and successful businesses –

  3. Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. on December 6, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Hm…this inspires to research top women entrepreneurs. The only one mentioned in this article is part of a husband/wife team. That said, it’s important to share the stories of successful leaders so the rest of us can be inspired and learn from their experience. Thanks for doing that.

  4. kinnakeet82 on December 25, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Reblogged this on MyTown and commented:
    Some inspiring summaries on entrepreneurship!