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3 Entrepreneurs Who Became Successful After 40 (WMT, YUM)

Author: Matthew Jackson

The movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" details the inspirational story of Christopher Gardner, who went from being a jobless, homeless father to being a millionaire entrepreneur, stockbroker and author. Gardner (portrayed by Will Smith in the movie) struggled with personal relationships and changing jobs until late in life, before he established his own brokerage firm in 1987 and created a sizable net wealth.

Gardner's story is famous because of his writing and the subsequent movie, but his story is only one of many entrepreneurs who didn't make it big until after their 40th birthdays.

Wally Amos

Most Americans are familiar with Famous Amos cookies, which are sold in just about every major gas station chain, supermarket and grocery store in the country. Few know the story behind founder Wally Amos, who spent his entire early adulthood working in a New York City mailroom.

Amos took a shot as a music agent in his 30s (even managing Marvin Gaye at one point), but he never really struck it rich. One of Amos' favorite hobbies was baking, especially cookies. On the eve of his 40th birthday, Amos received a $25,000 loan from Gaye and Helen Reddy to open his first bakery. Half a decade later, Amos was pulling in more than $10 million a year in sales.

Amos went on to host an adult-learning program, Learn to Read, and has spent millions in philanthropic efforts promoting literacy in America.

Colonel Harland David Sanders

Kentucky Fried Chicken (NYSE: YUM) is synonymous with the Colonel. The multibillion-dollar fast food chicken restaurant is the creation of entrepreneur and businessman Harland David Sanders. Sanders was born in 1890 and worked as a steam engine stoker, insurance salesman, blacksmith, fireman and service station operator before starting to serve meals in the 1930s.

Sanders tinkered with his chicken recipes until the 1940s, when he finalized his now-famous secret recipe and focused on food sales. He didn't open his first franchise for KFC until 1952, at the ripe age of 62. Still, major success eluded him until 1959, when he opened the headquarters in Shelbyville.

Sanders traveled the country, often sleeping in the back of his car, and lived off of Social Security checks to promote his recipe and try to sell franchises. It worked; there were more than 600 locations by 1964, and Sanders' interest in the company was worth more than $2 million. Prior to his death in 1980, the Colonel's chicken franchise had more than 6,000 locations and generated annual sales in excess of $2 billion.

Sanders was commissioned as a Kentucky colonel in 1935 by then-governor Ruby Laffoon. He was recommissioned in 1950.

Sam Walton

One of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time, Sam Walton didn't open up his first Walmart (NYSE: WMT) until age 44. Born to poor farmers in Kingfisher, Oklahoma in 1918, Walton moved around during the Great Depression doing whatever odd jobs were required to help support the family.

He worked a short stint for his brother's farm mortgage company, waited tables, delivered newspapers and eventually joined J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) as a manager in Des Moines. Walton spent 18 months with J.C. Penney and earned $75 a month.

Walton joined the Army in 1942, eventually reaching the rank of captain before leaving the military after World War II ended. Walton used a loan from his father-in-law and $5,000 of his own personal savings to open his first retail variety store, where sales volume jumped from $80,000 to $225,000 in three years. He managed a chain of Ben Franklin stores until 1962.

Later that year, Walton opened up the first Walmart in Rogers, Arkansas. Walton focused his expansion on smaller towns and keeping the shelves stocked with low-priced goods. By 1977, there were 190 Walmarts. That number grew to 800 by 1985. When Walton died in 1992, his business empire spanned 1,735 Walmarts, more than 200 Sam's Clubs and more than $50 billion in annual sales.

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