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Monthly Archives: December 2011

With only $250 in his pocket, Isaac Perlmutter arrived in America from Israel. He was a veteran of the Six-Day War in Israel, which occurred in 1967, and witnessing all the mayhem gave him the courage to seek a new life in a new land.

He arrived at New York City, armed only with his expertise in Hebrew. Always a man who played his strengths, he used this knowledge to survive and presided over Jewish ceremonies – particularly funerals – all over Brooklyn. He later left this somber business to sell toys and beauty products on the street. He taught himself basic skills in accounting, such as reading balance sheets. Perlmutter was a motivated self-starter – a quality which America gladly embraced.

After trying out several jobs, Perlmutter realized that he felt most comfortable in the toy market. When he met toy designer and fellow Israeli, Avi Arad, a partnership ensued. Both of them hit it off immediately, sharing the same meager background and experience in the Six Day War. They teamed up in 1990 to run Toy Biz, the company which saved Marvel from oblivion. Toy Biz made a deal with Marvel to create and sell action figures based on the latter’s characters. The partnership became beneficial for both, with Toy Biz racking up the sales and Marvel bouncing back to life.

But in 1996, Marvel hit an all-time low. The company declared bankruptcy, and Perlmutter took interest. Together with Arad, the two managed to take over Marvel and Perlmutter became its chief executive officer.

As the head of Marvel, Perlmutter brought Marvel back to the mainstream by allowing the recreation of its characters into Hollywood films, including Iron Man, Thor and Spiderman. The mild-mannered business superhero is one of the industry’s most meek yet influential figures, especially to younger generations. As one of Forbes billionaires, Perlmutter shows us how a pocket full of dreams can go a long way.

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When a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) steps down, it can be difficult for his or her replacement to measure up. When the CEO is also the company’s founder, it can seem nearly impossible. When Bill Gates, founder and CEO of the computer and software giant Microsoft, stepped down in 2000 amid the Justice Department’s investigation of the company for antitrust activities, he appointed Steve Ballmer to be his successor.

Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer at CES 2010, image via Microsoft Sweden

Under Ballmer, Microsoft has expanded into the video game console market, search engines, and the smartphone market, and has posted income growth nine out of the past eleven fiscal years. Ballmer, who has worked for Microsoft in some capacity since 1980, had served as president of the company since 1998. But in the face of dwindling personal computing market share, poor performance of online services, and disappointing smartphone sales, there are rumblings that Ballmer should resign or be asked to step down.

Ballmer’s management style is characterized by his brusque, no-nonsense manner. Since Bill Gates’s final departure from Microsoft in 2008 to focus on his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ballmer has refocused the company’s priorities a number of times. Most recently, he rather publicly fired Bob Muglia from the Server and Tools division Muglia helped build after he joined the company in 1988. And after appointing sales and marketing staff to leadership positions, Ballmer is restocking those positions with people skilled in technical areas like engineering.

Whether or not Ballmer’s shakeup and refocusing on more long-term projects (like a viable competitor to Apple, Inc.’s dominant iPad tablet)is enough to keep Microsoft the technology superpower it has been, remains to be seen. However, despite doubts about his ability to keep Microsoft afloat, Ballmer has shown he will be at its helm and is willing to make some fairly radical changes.

Phil Knight was once recognized as the most powerful man in sports, but he was neither an athlete nor was he a team manager or owner. To those who don’t know him, Knight is the man behind Nike, the brand who shod the feet of sports legends and weekend warriors alike.

Knight had his first stroke of inspiration while he was working on his master’s degree at Stanford University.  He was assigned to write a term paper on starting a small business, and naturally, the former University of Oregon track star chose athletics. Knight created a plan that attempted to break Adidas’ monopoly on the running-shoe market. Little did he know that this term paper would become the foundation for his very own company.

Shortly after graduating, the force behind Nike decided to pursue his business plan. He flew to Japan to acquire cheap labor and create cheaper athletic shoes. There, he confronted a manufacturer of an Adidas knockoff and introduced himself as the founder of a company that existed only in his mind. He made a sweet offer to the manufacturer and hired them to create 200 pairs. Knight and his partner, his former track coach Bill Bowerman, had the ball rolling as they sold the shoes at high school track meets all over the Pacific Northwest.

The fruits of his direct sales paid off and reached $3 million. He finally named his company Nike, named after the Greek goddess of victory.  He paid a Portland State art student $35 to create the infamous “swoosh” logo, which now symbolizes a billion dollar enterprise.

The Nike boss admittedly hates advertising, but his company’s marketing strategy is one of the most effective yet. With top athletes wearing his brand, his products are doing all the talking. This simple yet effective campaign solidified Nike’s status as a top choice for athletic footwear and apparel. Consequently, this made Knight one of the most powerful figures in the industry today.

The Nike sneakers featured in the film, "Back to the Future."

 image via Andy Nugent

While most 18-year-old kids today are busily enjoying their “senior week” while looking forward to college, Diane Keng is on her third business and signing $100,000 investment deals. The co-founder of MyWeboo, Keng is one indicator of the pull of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial culture.

MyWEBoo is a service that helps teenagers, like Keng herself, manage their online aliases. Most of these youngsters have more than one social networking account, making the task of updating status messages or sharing photos and videos over multiple sites quite frustrating. With MyWEBoo, Keng provides a solution to this problem by allowing users to make simultaneous changes in several profiles.

Keng just graduated from Cupertino’s Monta Vista High School, where she took Advanced Placement economics and government, and attended varsity badminton practice while setting up her string of businesses. Her first venture was a T-shirt printing business catering to clubs at her school, which she admitted did not produce much profits. After a couple of months, she quit and decided to launch another one. This time, Keng and several friends created a market research firm to help companies figure out how to market to teenagers. When SATs, ACTs and finals came in the way, their business fell apart. MyWEBoo is the product of her collaboration with her older brother.

How she found time to do all of this is a wonder to many, but Keng had several advantages in pursuing her entrepreneurial ambitions. For one, her father is a venture capitalist who gave her $100,000 in seed money. Her school also encourages entrepreneurship; in fact, at least 10 of her classmates also started businesses before graduation.

We’ve only seen the beginning of Keng’s long and lucrative career. This teenage entrepreneur has accomplished so many things that it’s difficult not to expect more from her in the coming years.