How you do define success? How do you measure it? How do you achieve it? Fortunately, there’s more than one path to success.
Advice on success is like clothing: rarely does one size fit all. So, we compiled these nuggets of wisdom from notable people who have become wildly successful. We hope these quotes will provide motivation, make you think, or make you rethink your own notions of how to succeed.
Ursula Burns was the first African-American female CEO to lead a Fortune 500 company. She was the CEO at Xerox from 2009 until 2016. She is now on the board of Uber.
Colin Powell, the 65th U.S. secretary of state, spent 35 years as a soldier, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam, as a second lieutenant and then a major in the Army, and a tour of duty in Korea as a battalion commander. He’s also been a brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general, 4-star general, national security advisor, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell has overseen several military campaigns. While some of them were controversial, he was respected as a military strategist, and received dozens of awards, including two Presidential Medals of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal.
Larry Ellison, co-founder and former CEO of Oracle, was born to a single mother, contracted pneumonia, and was sent to live with his mother's aunt and uncle. When he was in college, his aunt (who’d adopted him) died, and he dropped out of college. Ellison later returned, but dropped out again.
He decided to move to California. He worked various jobs before founding Software Development Laboratories (which would later become Oracle). At one point, the company was close to bankruptcy, and was forced to lay off 10% of its workforce. An agreement with IBM infused much needed money into the organization. Five years later, the company was once again in financial trouble, resulting in some staff changes at the top. Ellison turned it around, and as of 2016, the company had $37 billion in revenue. Ellison has a net worth of $55 billion.
Anna Wintour may not have scored all A's in school, but she sure knows fashion. Wintour has been the editor-in-chief of Vogue since 1988. Strong opinions and a willingness to take risks helped cement her role as one of the fashion industry's most famous power brokers.
Albert Einstein developed the general theory of relativity, and won the Nobel Prize for Physics. But he was much more than a world-renown physicist. He spoke out against war, and co-penned a letter to President Roosevelt warning that Hitler’s Germany might develop a Nazi bomb. His intent was to spur the U.S. to create an atomic bomb as deterrence. After Hiroshima, he also worked against further use of atomic bombs. In addition, Einstein was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, supporting civil rights for black Americans. He considered racism a crime and once paid the college tuition for a black student.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, turns setbacks into stepping stones. Fred Thorlin, who was director of the Atari Program Exchange, describes a time when he played one of Atari’s early games with Gates. Thorlin won 35 of the first 37 times they played the minute-long game. However, just a month later when the two played again, Thorlin said Gates either won or tied every time. “He had studied the game until he solved it. That is a competitor,” Thorlin said.
Sheryl Sandberg is Facebook's COO (and member of the board) and the author of the best-selling book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Succeed."
Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company. His assembly-line process of producing cars changed transportation forever. Ford understood that his success was dependent on the quality and engagement levels of his assembly line workers. He implemented a $5-a-day wage, which doubled the $2.34 wage of most automobile workers. Ford Motor Company was also one of the first organizations to implement a 5-day, 40-hour workweek, a change to the more common 9-hour, six day a week schedule.
Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, is an investor in several start-ups and stars on the reality TV show Shark Tank. He has also started and sold several businesses, including MicroSolutions and Broadcast.com. Cuban, who is worth over $3 billion, is always looking for the next great business idea or investment. He has acted in and produced movies and TV series and has pursued purchasing football, baseball, and hockey teams.
The late college basketball coach John Wooden holds the record for winning 10 national championships in 12 years. He accomplished this feat coaching at UCLA, after winning a championship as a player at Purdue University. When Wooden became UCLA’s head coach, the school wasn’t even a championship contender. However, he implemented his “pyramid of success,” which included such principles as poise, condition, industriousness, friendship, skill, and self-control. During Wooden’s tenure at UCLA, the school won 88 games in a row.
With a net worth of almost $3 billion, Winfrey is the chairman and CEO of Harpo Productions and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and the former host of the Oprah Winfrey Show. Notice her name is included in each title (Harpo is Oprah spelled backward). Winfrey understands the importance of being in charge of her brand. Unlike some CEOs and moguls who take their lead from tightly scripted marketing gurus, Oprah makes sure that her company reflects her own values and personality.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is one of the richest men in the world. With a net worth of more than $70 billion, he is often in the news. Perhaps that’s one reason Buffett has been so bullish on guarding his reputation. He is widely respected for both his business and personal views. Back in 2011, Buffett famously argued against the inequality of having a 19% tax rate while his employees, who earned substantially less, paid 33%. Buffett has also been an advocate of expanding U.S. healthcare and making it more affordable.
Sir Richard Charles Nichols Branson suffers from dyslexia and dropped out of school at the age of 16. Branson frequently recounts in media interviews how his headmaster told him that he would end up being either a millionaire or a prisoner. Obviously, the former won out (despite a run-in with the law related to tax evasion). Branson launched a successful record company, Virgin Records, which included such acts as The Rolling Stones, Culture Club, and Genesis. When the label fell on hard times, Branson tearfully sold the company.
He rebounded and is now worth over $5 billion. His Virgin Group includes over 40 companies, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Hotels, Virgin America, and Virgin Mobile.
Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, began his career at GE as a junior chemical engineer. After many promotions, he became the company’s youngest chairman and CEO. During Welch’s tenure, GE’s market share increased by $268 million. He became controversial due to his cost-cutting measures, which included firing the bottom 10% of managers and shutting down or selling off underperforming subsidiaries. His goal was to make GE a lean organization at the top of its game. By the time he retired, his net worth was estimated to be over $750 million.
Meg Whitman is the CEO of Hewlett Packard. Before joining HP, she ran eBay from 1998 to 2008, leading its expansion from 30 employees and $4 million in annual revenue to more than 15,000 employees and $8 billion in annual revenue.
Steve Jobs was a firm believer in pushing people — and himself. The former co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple was notorious for being demanding to both subordinates and colleagues. In a PBS documentary, Larry Tesler, a former computer scientist says, “He wanted you to be great, and he wanted you to create something that was great — and he was going to make you do that." While Jobs was notorious for being tough, he was also known to cry in front of his employees. That level of vulnerability helped to endear him to many at Apple.
Jeff Bezos, founder, chairman and CEO of Amazon, is crushing brick-and-mortar competitors from Sears and JCPenney to Kmart and Radio Shack. Although his online company started out selling books, it now sells just about everything, from clothes and jewelry to electronics to personal care products. Amazon plans to send in-person installers to help customers set up their smart home gadgets. Bezos figured out that efficiency, convenience, and low pricing can provide a lasting competitive edge.
Lee Iacocca achieved success at not one, but two American automotive companies. At Ford, he helped design the Ford Mustang, Ford Escort, and several Mercury models. Iacocca eventually became president of the company. Disagreements with Henry Ford eventually led to his ouster. He was then recruited by the Chrysler Corporation, and at its helm, Iacocca successfully introduced new concepts that had been rejected at Ford, such as the minivan (Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan) and the K-car (Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon).
Peter Thiel is the co-founder and former CEO of PayPal, which was later sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. After founding several companies, Thiel invested in Facebook and eventually sold his shares for $1 billion. Thiel’s quote about Facebook, as well as his actions — which have garnered him a net worth estimated at $2.7 billion, demonstrate the importance of answering the door when opportunity knocks.
Actress Carrie Fisher was best known for her iconic role as Star Wars’ Princess Leia. Her wry quote speaks to the fact that ambition often grows as initial successes are achieved.
Harman Cain rose to national prominence when he ran for President of the United States in 2012. Before making his move into politics and political commentary, Cain was the CEO of Godfather's Pizza.
Lebron James is a star basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is often ranked as one of America's most influential and popular athletes. James points out that a fear of failure can hold you back from achieving your full potential.
As Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel is one of the most influential women on the planet. She points out that self-confidence and ambition can fuel your personal path to power.
Spielberg is one of the most popular movie directors and producers in film history. He attributes his success to his love of movies and desire to perfect his craft.
In 2017, New York City Marathon champion Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to win the race in 40 years. She was 36 years old.
Lorne Michaels created Saturday Night Live over 30 years ago. Under his leadership, the show has become a mainstay of popular culture. Many of SNL's cast rose to national stardom after getting their first 'big break' on SNL.
SNL is ranked tenth in TV Guide's "50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list.
Michelle Obama is a former First Lady of the United States. Prior to her time in the Whitehouse, she was a lawyer, Chicago city administrator and community-organizer. She encourages us to measure success not in financial terms, but in how we impact the lives of others.
Tennis pro Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and several Olympic gold medals. She's one of the most accomplished female athletes in the world.
Marissa Mayer worked in Google's product development team for over 10 years before becoming Yahoo's CEO in 2012 (at the age of 37).
Maya Angelou was a poet and award-winning author best known for her book 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'.
Michael Phelps believes that success is born out of consistent, hard work. He should know... he's the most decorated Olympian of all time.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the second female justice to be confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States. President Bill Clinton nominated her in 1993.
Danica Patrick is a professional race car driver. She was the first woman to lead the Indy 500.