Big Companies You Didn’t Know Were Founded And Led By U.S. Veterans

Navigating the job market as a civilian can be tough for veterans once they leave the military. Veterans may have a difficult time finding a position that maximizes the skills that they learned while serving. The CEOs and business owners on this list found a way to harness their leadership skills and not only survive but thrive in their careers. They built and led billion dollar businesses that top the list of the most successful companies in the world. Some of the richest men in the world are decorated fighter pilots, Army captains, and Vietnam veterans.

See which billionaire named his company after the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier he served on.

The CEO Of Johnson & Johnson Is A West Point Graduate

alex-gorsky-army-veteran-business-owner
Photo: Johnson & Johnson/Gilbert Carrasquillo

Alex Gorsky is Johnson & Johnson’s seventh Chairman and CEO and is also a graduate of West Point. Gorsky graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1982, serving as a U.S. Army Ranger. He said, “It was challenging and rewarding at the same time. I learned a lot about leadership, service and the important role the academy has in shaping future leaders of our country.”

Johnson & Johnson is the world’s largest independent biotech company, valued at $346.1 billion. As Chairman and CEO, Gorsky led the company’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help military veterans transition into civilian life.

Co-founder/CEO Of Plated Became A Marine After Harvard

nick-taranto-marine-veteran-business-owner
TheEvolvedEater/Jason Merritt

Founded by Nick Taranto and Josh Hix in 2012, Plated is a company that specializes in meal kits made and delivered to customers’ homes. The two founders met at Harvard Business School, where Taranto graduated with an MBA in 2010. While his classmates went on to start their own businesses. Taranto decided to apply as an officer in the United States Marine Corps instead.

The co-founder and CEO told Wired, “It’s when you can harness the power of dozens or hundreds or thousands of people to go and work toward your vision that you can really make [expletive] happen. And it was the military people who came through my business school who had that. I wanted it, so I enrolled in the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School and was ultimately commissioned as an infantry officer.”

Billionaire Jack Taylor Named His Company After The USS Enterprise

Jack Taylor Billionaire Served in Navy
NavyHistory.org/Wikipedia.org

Jack Taylor was a decorated Navy pilot who served in WWII and later founded Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company. Taylor served as a fighter pilot, flying an F6F Hellcat fighter from the decks of the USS Essex and the USS Enterprise. Taylor flew in a squadron that took down 500-600 Japanese aircraft where he acted as a wingman to twenty-six pilots who earned the title of “Ace”.

In 1957, after serving, Taylor founded a car leasing business geared towards potential customers whose cars were in the dealership repairs shop. He named the company “Enterprise” as a nod to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier he served on. In 2016 when Taylor passed away at 94-years-old, Enterprise was worth $20.9 billion and his net worth was $12.8 billion.

Find out which major internet company was started by a Purple Heart Vietnam veteran.

Amway Was Founded By A WWII Army Air Veteran

richard-devos-amway-founder-army-veteran
DeVos Family/Davidoff Studios/Getty Images

Richard DeVos is another incredible businessman and veteran who Forbes named the 60th wealthiest person in the United States in 2012. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, DeVos served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

In 1959, DeVos co-founded Amway Corp, a multi-level marketing company that changed the industry. The company proved to be incredibly successful and was worth $8.8 billion in 2018. That same year, DeVos’ wealth reached $5.4 billion and he passed away at the age of 92.

GoDaddy Was Started By A Purple Heart Vietnam Veteran

bob-parsons-godaddy-founder-marine-corps-veteran
Pinterest/Scott Kirkland/WireImage

Bob Parsons founded the largest internet domain registry in the world, but before that, he was a Marine. Parsons served as a lance corporal and rifleman in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded in action and medically evacuated. Parsons earned the Combat Action Ribbon, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and the Purple Heart.

Today Parsons is the founder and director of GoDaddy.com, with a net worth of $2.6 billion. He Told Military.com, “There is no doubt in my mind that the lessons I took away from the Corps is what has made me succeed in life.”

The Walton Brothers Are Both Veterans

sam-walton-army-captain-veteran-walmart-owner
Bettmann/Getty Images

Walmart is one of the most well-known and successful store chains in the world. The retail corporation was founded by brothers Sam and Bud Walton, both of whom are veterans. The brothers grew up on a farm during the Great Depression and did their best to help their family make ends meet.

Sam (pictured) served as an Army captain from 1942 to 1945, while his brother Bud served in the Navy as a bomber pilot in the Pacific. Sam saved up $5,000 from his Army tenure to open the first Walmart store in Bentonville, Arkansas in 1951. Today Walmart’s net worth is over $386 billion.

Sperry Shoes’ Founder Served In The Navy Reserve

paul-a-sperry-veteran-owner-sperry-shoes
Connecticut History

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Paul A. Sperry joined the naval reserve in 1917, serving as an Office Aid for Information, and then as a Seaman, First Class. Shortly after, he met his wife, who shared his love for the nautical life.

An avid sailor, one day Sperry unexpectantly slipped on his boat’s deck and fell overboard. That’s when he came to the realization that he should invent a non-slip shoe. After studying his dog running down an icy hill with ease, Sperry designed a rubber shoe sole inspired by his dog’s paw. Sperry boat shoes are still a popular footwear choice for people who love to sail.

Marine Corps Veteran Founded FedEx

frederick-smith-marine-veteran-fedex-founder
Pinterest/Ben Gabbe/Stringer

In 1966, after graduating from Yale, Frederick Wallace Smith was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served as a platoon leader and a forward air controller for three years. As a Marine, Smith took a great interest in the military’s logistics system while gaining first-hand experience.

He moved up to the rank of Captain and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying with pilots on more than 200 combat missions. Smith was honorably discharged and awarded with the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts for his service. Afterward, he used inheritance money to found Federal Express. Today the company is worth $41.59 billion.

Dolby Laboratories’ Founder Was An Army Veteran

Ray Dolby and his plane
Jim Sugar/Corbis via Getty Images

Headquartered in San Francisco, Dolby Laboratories employed 1,867 people as of 2015 and has been in business for over 50 years. Ray Dolby founded Dolby Laboratories in 1965, the same year that he invented the Dolby Noise Reduction System that changed audio recordings forever.

In the early 1950s, Dolby attended college in the San Francisco Bay Area at San Jose State College. He served in the United States Army for two years before finishing his education at Stanford in 1957. Dolby passed away in 2013 at the age of 80. As of June 2019, Dolby Laboratories is worth an estimated $6.31 billion and Dolby’s widow Dagmar Dolby has a net worth of $4.1 billion.

McDonald’s Head Executive Served 10 Years in The U.S. Navy

james-skinner-CEO-McDonalds-Navy-Veteran
Scott Olson/Getty Images

James A. Skinner is an executive and chairman to some of the largest companies in America, including McDonald’s, Hewlett-Packard and Walgreens. The son of a Navy veteran, Skinner also served in the United States Navy for a decade. He completed three tours in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War on the USS Oriskany and survived a fire onboard that killed 34 pilots and seamen.

Afterward, in 1971 Skinner found himself managing a McDonald’s– his work ethic, business strategy, and leadership skills led him all the way to President and COO of McDonald’s Restaurant Group, later serving as CEO. His business strategy increased company profits by $20 billion in just four years. In 2014 he was awarded the U.S. Navy Memorial Lone Sailor Award which honors veterans who utilize the skills they learned in the service to achieve success later in life.

An Army Veteran Co-founded Nike And Became A Billionaire

phil-knight-nike-co-founder-army-veteran
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Phil Knight is one of the richest self-made billionaires in the world. Born in Portland, Knight attended the University of Oregon where he studied journalism and ran track. After graduating in 1959, he served active duty in the U.S. Army for one year and the Army Reserve for the following seven years.

Knight enrolled in Stanford Business School in the early 1970s, which is when he started Nike (originally named Blue Ribbon Sports) and began designing athletic shoes that were soon sought-after by Olympic athletes and by 1983, the company was worth $867 million, according to Business Insider. Today Knight has an estimated net worth of $32.1 billion.

An Army Veteran Started Universal Health Services

Army veteran and business owner Alan B Miller
Universal Health Services, Inc

Alan B. Miller’s career goal was to improve the healthcare system, so he decided to take a risk and leave his position as vice president at a top advertising agency in New York City to start his own healthcare company. In 1979, Miller founded Universal Health Services and turned it into a Fortune 500 company.

But before that, while attending college on a full scholarship for basketball, Miller joined the U.S. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and afterward was commissioned as a Captain in the U.S. Army, serving in the 77th Infantry Division. He’s won a long list of awards for his work in healthcare and has an estimated net worth of $172 million.

RE/MAX Was Started By An Air Force Veteran and His Wife

Dave Liniger and his German Shepard
RE/MAX

Co-founded by Dave and Gail Liniger in 1973, the RE/MAX real estate company now operates in 100 countries and has more than 100,000 agents in 6,800 offices. But before he dipped his toe into real estate, Dave Liniger served in the Air Force in the Vietnam War.

Stationed at an Air Force Base in Tempe, Arizona, Liniger “didn’t like the heat” and sought property in Colorado, never looking back. That’s where he and his wife started their business, which today is worth $177 million.

An Air Force Veteran Founded Sports Clips

Gordon-Logan-veteran-sportsclips-business-owner
SportsClips

As any veteran knows, you have to keep your hair high and tight on active duty. Founder and CEO of SportsClips Gordon Logan knows this as a veteran of the Air Force. He served in the Air Force for five and a half years in the late 60s and early 70s and flew in the Reserves while earning his MBA. That’s when Logan came up with the idea of creating a hair salon franchise that made men and boys feel right at home.

He told Center for Business Acceleration, “Veterans really have an advantage going into franchising. One of the things you learn in the military is to follow systems, and that’s what franchising is all about – executing proven systems. Veterans have been trained to do that for many years in the military. I wouldn’t exchange my experience in the Air Force for anything.”

Former CEO of GM Was a Naval Officer First

dan-akerson-veteran-ceo-general-motors
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Dan Akerson graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1970 and served as an officer on a Naval destroyer from 1970 to 1975. Since then he’s had a massively successful career as the former Chairman and CEO of General Motors, and the former Managing Director of The Carlyle Group.

Akerson currently serves as a member of the board for American Express and the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation. His father is also a veteran who served as a Naval officer during World War II aboard the destroyer DUPONT.

FootLocker’s CEO Served in the Korean War

CEO of Foot Locker Ken Hicks
Veterans Advantage

Former Chairman and CEO of Foot Locker, Ken Hicks credits his career success to his time spent serving in the Army as an artillery officer in Korea. He told Veterans Advantage, “Veterans have the advantage in that they are more comfortable being leaders of people because they have done it before.”

He helped lead Foot Locker to its best-ever fiscal year with sales of $6.5 billion. He recommends that other veterans “take advantage of what you learned, or what the opportunities are for what you did. You have the ability in the service to learn and develop skills that are applicable in the business world.”

Former Chairman, CEO, And President of Lockhead Martin Is A Marine Veteran

robert-stevens-ceo-veteran
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Retired executive chairman, CEO, and president of Lockheed Martin, Robert Stevens has an impressive resume. His background includes a master’s degree in engineering from the Polytechnic University of New York, a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia Business School and he is a graduate of the Department of Defense Systems College Program Management. On top of it all, Stevens is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.

He’s been awarded both the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s inaugural LeJeune Recognition for Exemplary Leadership and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation’s Globe and Anchor Award.

Former U.S. Army Captain Runs The Largest Energy Company In North America

richard-kinder-us-army-veteran-ceo
Bob Levey/Getty Images

U.S. Army veteran Richard Kinder is executive chairman of Kinder Morgan, Inc. One of the largest energy companies in North America, Kinder Morgan is worth an estimated $115 billion, running 84,000 miles of pipeline. The company is on track to help the U.S. rise above Saudi Arabia and become the world’s top oil producer.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Kinder served in the U.S. Army as a Captain in the Vietnam War before attending college. Today Kinder’s net worth is an estimated $8.6 billion.

Lumeta Logistics Was Led By A Decorated Fighter PIlot

tom-dent-veteran-ceo
LinkedIn/Tom Dent

Tom Dent is a former CEO and Chairman of Lumeta Logistics, whose client list includes several Fortune 500 companies. Dent is a veteran who completed three tours in Vietnam while serving in the Navy.

Dent is a decorated U.S. Navy fighter pilot who flew in a squadron that saw a lot of combat. Dent attributes his strong leadership skills to his time spent in the military. He also admits that he still keeps a copy of Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach by his office desk.

Former CEO of Quaker Oats Earned a Purple Heart

Robert Morrison CEO
tcpalm

Robert S. Morrison has held the position of CEO for top companies like Pepsi, Kraft Foods, and Quaker Oats. But before he had the corner office, Morrison was a Marine. He served in the Marine Corps, working his way up to the rank of Captain during the Vietnam War.

During his service from 1963 to 1967, Morrison saw a great deal of combat and left the Marines with a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. After serving he earned his B.A. in English at Holy Cross and his master’s in business from the Wharton Graduate School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.