Hero Worship

Welcome to the entrepreneurial hall of fame. You can't touch these exhibits.
Magazine Contributor
15+ min read

This story appears in the March 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Few will argue that the 20th century was an era of unprecedented progress, growth and accomplishment. Where would we be today without the visionaries and dreamers, innovators and inventors, mavericks and rebels, trailblazers and ? The world as we know it--and that which we will live in tomorrow--has been shaped in large part by men and women who knew how to use their talent, drive, ingenuity and desire to make dreams come true . . . and influence the course of history.

The four entrepreneurs to follow represent not only archetypes of 20th-century achievement, but also very human examples who faced--and overcame--the same kinds of obstacles we all do in life and .

Thaddeus Wawro is a -based direct- consultant, an author and an award-winning copywriter.

Internet Evangelist

Marc Andreessen

Co-founder of Netscape Communications Corp.

Launched: 1994

"Right now, today, with a little luck and brains and timing, any kid with a computer can do what Netscape has done. There are no barriers to entry anymore. Any kid can spark a revolution." --Marc Andreessen

To some, Netscape Communications Corp. co-founder Marc Andreessen is a cyberspace folk hero whose programming savvy made the vast resources of the Internet's World Wide Web available to anyone with a computer and modem. To others, he's little more than a computer hacker who rode to the top on the accomplishments of others. But no matter how his supporters and detractors feel about him, Andreessen is indeed a visionary, whose dream of creating an easy-to-use Web browser clearly revolutionized information , sparked the Internet boom of the 1990s and laid the groundwork for one of the fastest-growing companies in U.S. history.

Born in rural New Lisbon, Wisconsin, in 1971, Andreessen seemed destined for a career in computers. At age 8, Andreessen began teaching himself the BASIC programming language from a library book. By the time he'd reached the sixth grade, Andreessen had created a virtual calculator to do his math homework. By the seventh grade, he was writing his own games and playing them on the family computer.

During his senior year at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne, in 1992, Andreessen took a $6.85-per-hour programming job at the university's high-tech think tank, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). It was there he first gained access to the Internet, which at that time was a crude, text-based network accessible only through primitive interfaces.

Andreessen immediately saw a potential market for an easy-to-use Internet browser, and in one sleepless weekend, he hacked out a crude prototype. He showed his prototype to his friend, gifted hacker Eric Bina, and in just six weeks, Andreessen, Bina and several other NCSA colleagues built it into a fully functioning browser called Mosaic. They made the program available free of charge over the Internet, and within a year, more than two million copies had been downloaded.

After graduation, Andreessen was offered a job with the Silicon Valley firm Enterprise Integration Technologies. Just a few miles from where Andreessen worked, Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics (SGI), had recently left SGI and was looking to start a new venture. Wasting no time at all, Clark fired off an e-mail to Andreessen. As soon as Andreessen explained the World Wide Web to Clark, the pair knew they should go into , making browsers and servers for the Internet.

Using $4 million of Clark's money, the duo founded Mosaic Communications Corp. in April 1994. (Six months later, they changed the name to Netscape, after the University of Illinois claimed it owned the rights to the name Mosaic.) Andreessen's first move was to recruit some of his former colleagues from NCSA, including Bina. By year-end, Andreessen's "dream team" had created a more powerful, more polished version of Mosaic, which they named Netscape Navigator.

In a brilliant move to generate a user base, Navigator, like Mosaic, was launched free of charge on the Internet (the company eventually began charging for the program, offering free 90-day trials instead). The browser immediately ruled the Net, claiming nearly 75 percent of the browser market.

With the success of Navigator, the company grew from three to 200 employees. To keep the start-up from growing out of control, Clark and Andreessen hired former FedEx senior executive Jim Barksdale to serve as CEO. Netscape also expanded its product line to include high-end, high-priced software tools that companies could use to create and maintain their own Web sites, and they established virtual stores to conduct secure transactions over the Net.

By 1995, with $16.6 million in sales but no profits, Netscape went public. Initially offered at $28 per share, Netscape's five million shares of stock immediately began trading at $71. When the stock market closed, Andreessen, then just 23, was worth $58 million. By December, the value of Andreessen's stock had risen to $174 million.

Microsoft eventually usurped Netscape's dominance by bundling its own browser, Internet Explorer, with Microsoft Windows. As a result, Andreessen and Netscape drastically changed their strategy. Rather than focusing solely on the Internet, Netscape turned its attention to intranets, producing software to run within corporate networks.

As Netscape lost its market dominance, Andreessen faded into the background, and Barksdale emerged as the new face and driving force of the company. Barksdale brokered a deal with AOL in 1998 to sell Netscape for $4.2 billion. Under the terms of the buyout, Andreessen was named chief technology officer of AOL, but his actual role and responsibility within the company remained vague.

Wanting to play a more active role in the evolution of the Internet, Andreessen joined the board of directors of Accompany Inc.--the first Internet-based buying network to offer products and services in real time--in 1999. He eventually stepped down as AOL's CTO.

The legacy of 29-year-old Marc Andreessen is firmly entrenched in the annals of online history. He set the standard for Internet browsers, providing an "on-ramp" to the Web for computer users and changing the way businesses access and use the Internet--paving the way for e-business and e-commerce.

Truth Be Told

It is a widely held belief that Marc Andreessen's Mosaic was the first Web browser. It was not. But what made it unique was that, unlike other browsers, Mosaic was easy to get up and running, and it was the first browser that could automatically display graphics along with text--leading to the cultural phenomenon that captured the attention of the masses and eventually created a multimillion-dollar consumer Internet industry.

A Stylish Obsession

Calvin Klein

Founder of Calvin Klein Inc.

Launched: 1968

"Anything I wanted to do, I did. If there's something I want to do, nothing stops me." --Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein's casual and chic style brought American fashion into its own and on a par with Paris. He managed to single-handedly create the designer-jeans craze of the 1970s and revolutionized fashion in the 1980s. Now his name adorns everything from underwear to perfume. And his stylish designs and acumen have built an empire. But unlike his clothes, Klein's rise to the top of the fashion world has been anything but uncomplicated.

Born on November 19, 1942, Klein was largely influenced by his mother, who instilled in him a love of art and fashion. While other kids played stickball, Klein tagged along with his mom while she shopped at discount clothing stores in New York City. A loner who taught himself how to sketch and sew, Klein claims he always knew he wanted to be a fashion designer.

After graduating from New York City's Fashion Institute of in 1962, Klein married Jayne Centre and went to work as an apprentice in the garment district for $75 per week. He sketched designs from European runways for coat mogul Dan Millstein. The tactic of copying was typical for fashion at that time, because no original ideas were coming out of America. But Calvin wanted to change that. He had dreamed of starting his own fashion company, and nothing was going to stop him--not even the fact that he was nearly broke and still working at his father's grocery store to make some extra cash.

In 1968, at the age of 26, with $2,000 of his own money and a $10,000 loan from his boyhood friend Barry Schwartz, Klein founded his own company, Calvin Klein Inc., with Schwartz as his partner. Their first order came literally by accident, when a coat-buyer from department store titan Bonwit Teller got off on the wrong floor and wandered into Klein's workroom. Impressed by his line of trench coats, the buyer placed an order for $50,000, telling the young designer, "Tomorrow you will have been discovered." And indeed, it was that order from Bonwit, along with a glowing editorial in Vogue, that put the Calvin Klein name on the map.

In 1973, Klein designed a line of sportswear, creating what would become known as "The Calvin Klein Look" and giving birth to American leisurewear. The money was pouring in as his clean, muted, simple designs became hits with both the buying public and the fashion press, which gave him the prestigious Coty Award in 1973, 1974 and 1975. But success did not come without a price. In 1974, it cost him his marriage.

After his divorce, Klein embarked on a self-described "wild period," spending his nights partying at Studio 54, where cocaine and casual sex were part of the scene. As his power and notoriety grew, Klein maintained a high public profile--until 1978, when his 11-year-old daughter, Marci, was kidnapped. Although she was released unharmed, both Klein and his daughter were indelibly scarred. The once publicity-hungry Klein gave up partying and became a recluse.

The year 1980 marked a big turning point for Klein's empire. A series of commercials featuring 15-year-old model Brooke Shields saying, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins," made Klein's new line of tight jeans a nationwide phenomenon, selling 200,000 pairs the first week alone. The provocative commercials marked a revolution in clothing advertising, but prompted criticism from feminist leaders. The negative publicity only fueled sales.

Klein once again courted controversy in 1982, when he put his name on the waistband of men's underwear and then started a campaign featuring near-naked men modeling the new designer skivvies. Many publishers rejected the sexy ads. But again, the controversy spilled over into Klein's favor, and stores couldn't keep the underwear in stock.

In 1983, Klein and his partner bought Puritan Jeans, their jeans licensee, for $65.8 million. But lifestyles were changing, and the reality of AIDS had minimized the casual sexuality of '70s. As a by-product of this, the demand for tight-fitting, designer jeans waned. By 1984, the designer jeans business had dried up, leaving Klein deep in debt.

When Klein married his second wife, model Kelly Rector, in 1986, he was once again experiencing a dark period in his personal life. He became addicted to vodka and Valium. When Klein's office announced that he had gone to the Caribbean on an extended vacation, the truth was revealed--Klein had been admitted to the Hazelden Clinic in Minnesota for alcohol and drug abuse.

Klein came out of rehab facing bankruptcy, but was saved by pal David Geffen. Klein spawned numerous product lines, including a more affordable clothing line called CK, and licensed his name on sunglasses, watches, handbags and more. By the mid-1990s, his CK one perfume and CK jeans were selling well, his brand-new headquarters store had opened in New York City and his company experienced its healthiest financial state in years.

Indeed, the man who popularized name-brand jeans, clean American lines and men's underwear for women is unquestionably a stylish survivor as he enters the 21st century as one of the world's top fashion designers.

In Vogue

At the same time as his advertisements for jeans and fragrances were being criticized, Calvin Klein's clothing was receiving critical acclaim for its clean, modern lines. Time magazine called him the "Frank Lloyd Wright of fashion" and named him one of the 25 most influential Americans in 1996.

The First Lady Of Software

Sandra Kurtzig

Founder of ASK Computer Systems Inc.

Launched: 1974

"I think luck is seizing opportunities. There are opportunities all around. There are millions of good ideas, but it's those people who seize the ideas and seize the opportunities that appear lucky." --Sandra Kurtzig

In today's male-dominated software industry, women founders and CEOs are practically nonexistent. But while software titans like Bill Gates and Oracle's Larry Ellison have become the poster boys for Silicon Valley success, the first multimillion-dollar software was a woman. Starting with just $2,000, Sandra Kurtzig built a software empire that, at its peak, boasted around $450 million in annual sales. And it all started as a part-time job.

In 1972, Sandra Kurtzig quit her job selling computer time shares for General Electric to devote more time to starting a family. An admitted workaholic, Kurtzig knew she couldn't give up working altogether, so in hopes of making a little extra money and "to keep her mind occupied," she launched what she thought would be a small, part-time contract software-programming in her snug second bedroom.

Her first client had asked her to create a program that could track inventory and provide manufacturing information. Realizing that other manufacturers might find such a program useful, she recruited several bright computer and engineering graduates and directed them to write standardized applications aimed at solving the problems of local manufacturers.

Unable to persuade Silicon Valley venture capitalists to invest in her start-up, Kurtzig was forced to launch ASK on retained earnings alone. To gain access to the minicomputers her company needed, she persuaded executives at a nearby Hewlett-Packard plant to let her and her programmers use one of the company's series 3000 minicomputers after hours. "They let us in at 6 p.m., and we came with sleeping bags and stayed until 6 a.m.," she recalls. It wasn't long before Kurtzig's part-time job was taking up 20 hours a day. By 1978, ASK had its first salable products--a package of programs called Manman (short for "manufacturing management") that improved both inventory control and production management for companies.

Kurtzig struck a deal with HP to sell its minicomputers pre-loaded with her programs--which meant ASK could market a complete product to computer-wary managers years before computers would become common tools of the industry. The system was a hit, and sales quickly soared from $2.8 million in 1979 to $39 million in 1983. Meanwhile, Kurtzig took the company public in 1981. Between 1981 and 1983, following a small equity offering and a two-for-one split, earnings per share doubled, making Kurtzig worth $65 million.

But even with her tremendous success, Kurtzig was tired of the fast-track life. "When you're the CEO, you live it seven days a week, 24 hours a day," she says. Wanting to devote more time to her children and realizing she couldn't do that and continue at ASK, Kurtzig resigned from most of her duties in 1985, keeping only the title of chairman.

For a while, ASK continued to prosper. Over the next four years, profits increased. But sales flattened out after reaching $79 million. More ominous, the company was living off a software package whose last overhaul coincided with Kurtzig's relinquishing control. In 1989, when it became clear ASK was facing the first of what would likely be several quarters of flat sales, ASK's board of directors persuaded Kurtzig to rejoin as CEO, hoping she could turn the company around. It was an offer she just couldn't refuse. "When push comes to shove," she says, "well . . . ASK is my baby, and ASK is what I know."

Upon her return, Kurtzig asked employees to rate the performance of the division's managers. The top-rated managers were rewarded with greater responsibilities; those that got low ratings received pink slips. She also stopped the practice of senior managers giving themselves hefty raises and bonuses.

She repositioned ASK as a database provider and re-engineered the software to run on a variety of computers. By 1992, the Mountain View, California, business was back on top, boasting sales of $450 million, making it the largest public company ever founded and run by a woman. Kurtzig once again retired. Two years later, ASK was purchased by Computer Associates International Inc., a provider of software support and integration in Islandia, New York.

Today, Sandra Kurtzig is chairman of the board of E-Benefits, a San Francisco insurance and human resources service provider she founded with her son Andrew in 1996. Kurtzig was instrumental in laying the groundwork of the modern business-to-business software industry. Her innovative approach of creating easy-to-use software for complex manufacturing tasks has been a model for virtually every successful software company in the industry today.

I Am Woman

One of the reasons Sandra Kurtzig succeeded in the male-dominated software industry was because she didn't accept the status quo. When she first started ASK, she refused to follow the rigid, hierarchical "male" approach to management and instead adopted a policy of being honest with employees, sharing information rather than withholding it, and keeping her office door almost always open.

The Candy Man

Milton Snavely Hershey

Founder of The Hershey Foods Corp. (originally Hershey Chocolate Co.)

Launched: 1894

"Give them quality. That's the best kind of in the world." --Milton Snavely Hershey

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when ruthless businesspeople were creating steel, oil and railroad empires on the backs of a hapless rural population forced into grim factory towns, Milton Snavely Hershey followed a different path to success. Unlike the cold-blooded "robber-barons" who offered their workers callous treatment and backbreaking labor for menial wages, Hershey offered his employees dignity and prosperity, inspiring loyalty in his workers and making himself rich.

Even so, Hershey's path to sweet success was fraught with obstacles and set backs that would have crushed lesser men. But through perseverance, ingenuity and his ability to bounce back from failure, he built one of the great American fortunes from the ground up and brought joy to millions with a beneficent wonder that would immortalize his name--Hershey's Chocolate.

Hershey began his candy-making career at age 15, when he was apprenticed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, confectioner Joseph H. Royer. Hershey blossomed under Royer's tutelage, acquiring many of the skills and tools he would later use to build his own empire.

In 1876, with $100 from his aunt, Hershey opened his first candy shop in Philadelphia. Although Hershey worked day and night making caramels and taffies, the winter of 1882 was dogged by illness and mounting debt and he sold the and headed to Denver.

It was while working for a confectioner in Denver that Hershey learned adding fresh milk to caramel improved its quality and extended its shelf life--a discovery that would later prove crucial.

Hershey eventually left Denver to start candy businesses in Chicago, New Orleans and New York City. But none of the ventures succeeded, and Hershey wound up bankrupt. When Hershey returned to Lancaster, he found he'd been cast out by his relatives--they refused even to take him in, let alone lend him money to start another business. But Hershey soon found salvation in the form of an old friend and employee.

Henry Lebkicher, who had briefly worked for Hershey in his Philadelphia store, not only offered Hershey a place to live, but also lent him the money he needed to bring his candy-making equipment from New York. The pair then scraped together enough capital to start Lancaster Caramel Co.

Drawing from his experiences in Denver, Hershey experimented with using fresh milk in the candy-making process. Impressed with the quality and shipping stability of Hershey's new, chewy, milk-based caramels, an English importer placed an order for £500 worth of candy, enabling Hershey to secure a $250,000 loan to expand the business.

By 1893, in addition to the original Lancaster factory, the now incorporated Lancaster Caramel Co. had plants in Mountjoy, Pennsylvania; Chicago; and Geneva, Illinois; which together employed more than 1,300 workers. But that was just the beginning.

During a visit to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Hershey witnessed a demonstration of chocolate-rolling machinery from Germany. Inspired, Hershey started Hershey Chocolate Co. the very next year and produced more than 114 different types of chocolate candies, including the product that would make his name world-famous--the milk-chocolate Hershey Bar. It became an instant phenomenon, so Hershey sold the Lancaster Caramel Co. for $1 million and turned his attention solely to chocolate.

Before long, Hershey set out to build an ideal town where his work force could live, play, work and prosper. Because of its rich supply of clean water, proximity to some of the finest dairy farms in the country, and plenty of land for expansion, Hershey chose land near his birthplace, Dairy Church, Pennsylvania.

In 1903, Hershey broke ground for his factory. It was modern in every way, with high-tech machinery that eliminated the cost and tedium of making and wrapping chocolate by hand, and made possible mass production of quality milk chocolate at affordable prices.

Hershey, Pennsylvania, the town developed by Hershey for his factory and employees, featured affordable housing, a sewage system, paved streets, electricity, schools, stores, a trolley system, churches, a library, a hospital, a zoo, an open-air theater and even an amusement park. Both the community and the company prospered; by 1915, the chocolate plant alone covered 35 acres, and company sales sky-rocketed from $600,000 in 1901 to $20 million in 1921.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Hershey embarked on a building plan devised solely to keep his workers employed. They constructed a new high school, a sports arena, a community building and a lavish 170-room hotel. Both the company and the town survived the Depression and continued to flourish, thanks to Hershey's efforts.

Hershey remained at the helm of his chocolate empire until 1944, when he finally retired as chairman of the board at the age of 87. He spent the 88th and final year of his life still experimenting with new confections, including celery, carrot and potato ice creams and a surprisingly successful beet sorbet.

After Hershey's death in 1945, the chairman of the board of the National City Bank of New York proclaimed, "Milton Hershey was a man who measured success not in dollars, but in terms of a good product to pass on to the public, and still more in the usefulness of those dollars for the benefit of his fellow man."

Sweet Success

Before the early 1900s, all chocolate was handmade through a time-consuming and costly process that made chocolate an expensive treat, affordable only by the rich. But Milton Hershey was determined to change that. By developing and using innovative machinery that eliminated the need to make and wrap chocolate by hand, Hershey introduced the first method for mass-producing chocolate at affordable prices, allowing everyone to experience the joys of his magical creation, the Hershey Bar.


More from Entrepreneur

We created the SYOB course to help you get started on your entrepreneurial journey. You can now sign up for just $99, plus receive a 7-day free trial. Just use promo code SYOB99 to claim your offer.
Jumpstart Your Business. Entrepreneur Insider is your all-access pass to the skills, experts, and network you need to get your business off the ground—or take it to the next level.
Are you paying too much for business insurance? Do you have critical gaps in your coverage? Trust Entrepreneur to help you find out.

Latest on Entrepreneur