Climbing the Business ladder; those who did it and where they started

Many business leaders and those on prestigious lists we all read may have had an easy ride to where they ended up. Others had to wait for their time and scramble up to make it there. From creating a business from nothing to expanding and leading a corporation, these figures have made it from the bottom and built their success for themselves.

Ursula Burns

Burns came from Manhattan’s Lower East Side where her mother operated a daycare centre whilst taking on cleaning jobs so Burns could go to High School. Later, Burns earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and whilst completing her master’s she joined Xerox as an intern which paid a portion of her educational expenses. Biding her time, Burns then earned the title of Senior vice president of Xerox in 2000. Burns was a valuable member at Xerox expanding her global research and marketing she was made president in 2007.

Only two years later she was CEO, making her the first African American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Burns didn’t stop there in 2012 she became chairman of the board. The former US President, Barack Obama selected her to help lead the STEM Education Coalition, which was a national alliance to improve and support students to perform in subjects such as the sciences. Burns eventually stepped down from her position after a long and successful career.

Doug McMillon

From a teenager with a part time job to being the CEO of an international business with stores across the world, McMillon made it to the top of the ladder over the years. He started as a teenager unloading delivery trucks in Arkansas for $6.50 an hour. After completing his degree in business administration, he returned to Walmart as a trainee buyer in the athletic wear department.

It was in 2006 when McMillon made it to CEO of Sam’s Club, Walmart’s wholesale store where he focused on small business owners and expanding international sales. He was then named CEO of the entire Walmart group in 2014, after 30 years of rising through the ranks. McMillon made it to the top of this highly successful business after starting a summer job as a teenager.

Charlie Mullins

As the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, based in London, Mullins has created a successful business and is one of the capital’s most recognised firms. Mullins left school at 15 without any qualifications and decided to start an apprenticeship as a plumber.

Mullins started the business with a second-hand van and a bag of tools in 1979 and grew into a £50 million a year trade empire. In 2021 Mullins decided to sell the business believing it needed a change to expand. It was sold to an American firm called, Neighbourly for roughly £145m.

Deborah Meaden  

You may know her as one of the Dragons on the BBC programme, Dragons Den, and as a powerful businesswoman with many successful operations under her belt. Meaden didn’t have the smoothest road to get where she is now, with a failed business attempt and working shop floors until she made it. At 19, without completing her O-Levels, Deborah Meaden started up her first business where she imported glass and ceramics from Italy into the UK to high-end buyers like, Harvey Nichols. However, she had to walk away after only 18 months as the products were spotted in other high street shops and she did not have the financial means for a legal fight.

The next step for Meaden was working the shop floor in a family amusement arcade business working her way up to Operations Director within two years. Deborah quickly moved over to the Holiday Park side of the business where she was promoted and supplied quality family holidays in the UK. Today we see Deborah Meaden as a successful businesswoman with an impressive portfolio and as a fierce lead on Dragons Den.

Indra Nooyi

Known for her CEO position at Pepsi, more than doubling their net profit growing from $2.7 to $6.5 billion during her time leading the business. When she began working for Pepsi at 38 she had no sales experience but was made CEO in 2006, almost 12 years after she started there. Nooyi had begun her career as a business strategist in India, though Nooyi was not finished with her education and moved to the US to study at Yale. It was unusual at the time for a single woman to leave India but Nooyi was not dissuaded with her ambition driving her on. She worked as a receptionist during her studies at Yale University to make ends meet and when she graduated, her first job was at Boston Consulting Group as a strategy consultant.

Nooyi had several jobs in different sectors before her remarkable success at Pepsi. The National Women’s History Museum quotes that Indra Nooyi’s identity as an immigrant woman was her “biggest internal driver.”

Pang Kang

Pang Kang is the chairman and president of Foshan Haitian Flavouring & food, which is one of China’s biggest suppliers of soy sauce. Kang started working in the sauce department called the Foshan sauce shop in 1980. As a finance graduate he rose through the ranks becoming vice-chairman and now Chairman of the manufacturing giant.

Now the business is one of China’s most valuable food companies with Kang being known for his vision. Kang’s investment in research and development has assisted the business greatly and he has introduced more products and technology that helps them stay ahead of the competitors.

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