21 inspiring business role models loved by entrepreneurs

November 20, 2020

21 inspiring business role models

Having business role models is an important part of entrepreneurship. Business role models inspire you to do and be better. They show you that success is achievable, no matter if you’re from the Upper East Side or a tiny rural town. Looking up to business role models pushes you to dream bigger and achieve more.

Although when speaking of inspiring entrepreneurs who are great business role models 90% of the time you’ll hear names like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Ma and Jeff Bezos, the number of zeros on someone’s bank account doesn’t mean they’re a good role model. On the contrary, you can find your business role model in your mother, a local entrepreneur, or even in a person with no entrepreneurial background. This list proves just that: business role models come in all forms. The only thing important is that they get the best out of you with their way of living and work.

Jump directly to: 

 1. Alan Mulally

 2. Anita Roddick

 3. Gordon Ramsay

 4. Marie Forleo

 5. Robert Kiyosaki

 6. Rachel Hollis

 7. Keith Cunningham

 8. Sara Blakely

 9. Evan Spiegel

 10. Joanna Gaines

 11. My father

 12. Emily Weiss

 13. Kate Kendall

 14. My parents

 15. Mellody Hobson

 16. Mike Adenuga

 17. Michelle Obama

 18. Reginald F. Lewis

 19. Arianna Huffington

 20. Richard Branson

 21. Chelsea Clarke

 22. Conclusion

21 business role models who inspire entrepreneurs to succeed

You’ll notice this list is made of just as much female business role models as male ones. Sadly, for this to happen we had to make extra effort to get the names of the ladies found below. 

Namely, more than 80 entrepreneurs were eager to share their business role models with us, and only 2 of them had named females that inspire them. In fact, the bigger portion of them didn’t care to look past the most famous billionaires on the planet (Elon Musk and his likes). What was surprising was that even women were dropping this type of names. 

So we had to try again and look specifically for female role models in order to make this list in compliance with our stance for gender equality.

The reason we’re sharing this with you is to encourage you to seek inspiration in the secret powers women in business have just as much as you do in men. You’ll learn so many new business lessons, and find new aspects of business to be passionate about and lead you ahead.

Alan Mulally

My business role model is Alan Mulally. From writing this piece about him a few years ago, I have been lucky enough to start up a relationship with him as he read it a few months ago.

I have had the chance to ask him my question which is, “Why don’t more people run companies like him and other highly successful leaders?” since the things they focus on are almost exactly the same. His answer was that it is hard. You have to be a loving human but also hold people accountable to the standard that was set.

Bill Flynn, Growth Coach/Teacher at Catalyst Growth

Anita Roddick

Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, has always been my business role model. We’ve always had the same vision and objectives in doing business – money shouldn’t be the priority and that passion should come in what you do. 

She’s also very brave in speaking what she thinks and I can see myself in her. In fact, I’ve always dreamt of having a team where everyone can speak their concerns and ideas without feeling bad about it. Anita has always inspired me to be ethical and see the business world in a humanitarian sense

If I could still get the chance to meet and ask her a question, it would be, “Would you be pleased to receive a gift box from The Body Shop if you weren’t the founder?”

Valentina Lopez, Co-Founder of Happiness Without

Gordon Ramsay

My primary business is a fish and chip shop takeaway fast food restaurant. I have been in this industry for over a decade now and always been inspired by Gordon Ramsay! At first glance, he may not appear to be the polished entrepreneur you would come to expect from the likes of high banking or the Silicon Valley tech wizards.

But nonetheless, Gordon is an entrepreneurial rockstar and has amassed a fortune from his restaurants, TV work and books! I think the thing that inspires me most about his journey is his tenacity and ability to adapt in the face of adversity. He was on a path to become an elite footballer, but after suffering injury, made a change into cooking, and is now one of the world’s most formidable chefs.

He spent hours upon hours, often working late into the early hours of the morning practising his cooking techniques so he could become the best. I admire this work ethic so much, and it inspires me to push through my recent Type 1 diabetes diagnosis aged 33 and continue with business to make it work (despite recent world events).

If I could ask him one question, it would be “How do you motivate yourself to work the long hours, and maintain the quality and enthusiasm that you do?”

Chris Panteli, Founder of LifeUpswing

Marie Forleo

My female business crush is Marie Forleo. I love her for her creativity, vulnerability and her ability to write copy! Marie has taught me the value and skill of being yourself. She dances at the drop of a dime and doesn’t care who’s watching. I, myself, also like to shake a leg on the dance floor. The way she has been able to grow her business, offerings and followers has been magical. She also gives away a ton of valuable content for free. And every episode of Marie TV is a burst of energy.

I would ask her, “How did you find your Niche? What one thing were you judged for that turned out to be your Super Power? What was one thing that they told you not to do, that was just what needed to be done? Would your 6 year old little girl be proud of who you became?”

Tajuana Hill, Owner and Operator at Mimosa and a Masterpiece

Robert Kiyosaki

My business role model is Robert Kiyosaki. I went to a seminar of his in 2000 while I was a university student. He talked about the benefits of being a business owner over an employee and my whole mindset (and life) shifted that day. 

When I graduated I didn’t get a job and started my own business. I had read all his books and audio programs and one of the things that stuck with me was that you don’t get rich buying shares, you get rich selling shares. What he meant by that was build a business and sell the shares. 

20 years after that seminar and one of my businesses is about to IPO on the Australian Stock Exchange. I stopped my operational capacity at that business 2 years ago also taking his advice to use your business to buy property. I am now flipping houses and building a rental portfolio to create passive intergenerational wealth. 

I actually did meet him again 2 years ago at the New Orleans Investment Conference. I didn’t ask him a question, I just thanked him for everything he had done for me.

Steve Keighery, Founder of Home Buyer Louisiana

Rachel Hollis

Rachel Hollis is my favorite business role model because of how raw and real she is. We’ve never met, but I feel like I know her and that she cheers me on my journey.

She’s taught me to stay true to my authentic self. She reminds us just how capable we are on reaching our goals. She’s taught me that it’s okay to be vulnerable on your entrepreneurial journey.

Rachel has a tattoo on her wrist that says “mogul”. Her story has reminded me that we all have to start somewhere. She’s struggled and has had her own setbacks, yet she’s still succeeding. She owns her own company, is a best-selling author, and hosts conferences on tour. She’s a huge inspiration to women all over the world.

If I could ask Rachel a question, I’d ask her how she attains a healthy work life balance? She has four kids, multiple businesses, and constant press and media tours. As someone whose business is growing, I’d like to obtain a healthy work-life balance myself. How does she get it all done?

Also, I’d ask her what my “word” should be for my wrist tattoo. Ha!

Autumn Grant, Owner and Founder of The Kind Poppy

Keith Cunningham

Someone who has had a huge impact on my business is Keith Cunningham. In a world of social media business gurus, he is a true practitioner of creating wealth through business ownership.

He’s taught me a lot about how to think strategically in my business, be long term focused, and focus on internal processes and improvements we can use to grow.

One of my favorite sayings from him is Growth is about what happens internally. That inspired me to spend less time thinking about sales, sales, sales and more time focusing on people, processes and strategic moves.

If I got a chance to meet him I would ask him what is the #1 habit he looks for in team members to make sure he hires the right people for his companies.

Brice Gump, Founder and Owner of Major Impact Media

Sara Blakely

My female business role model is Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. What I love about her is that she sees failing as something to aspire to. Apparently her father asked her every evening at dinner “How many times have you failed today?”

Most of us grow up to fear failure, and that keeps us small. But if we turn it around and make failure something to aspire to, it helps us take more risks in business and ultimately, to innovate more. Sara’s phenomenal business success based on innovation is a great testimonial for that.

If I met Sara, I would ask her what her proudest failure was, and what she learnt from it.

Bianca Riemer, Founder of the Leap into Leadership program and hypno coach

Evan Spiegel

Although he is younger than me, I greatly admire his resolve and business intuition. In the now-infamous story, Evan turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook to buy Snapchat back in 2013. Despite having $3 billion waved in front of him, which almost anyone else on Earth would take, he had the willpower to say ‘no,’ trusting himself and knowing his company would be worth much more than that someday. He believed in himself, his employees and his goals so strongly that he had the gumption to turn down the payday of a lifetime which others only dream about. This is a very telling example of how having confidence and staying the course can pay dividends.

My takeaway from that story and his career trajectory generally, is to believe in myself, my team and what we are working towards. When you combine smarts with hard work and a solid business instinct, you’re destined to go far. Be adaptive and flexible, but always keep your goals in mind and don’t get distracted by the small stuff.

If I ever met Evan, I would ask him what his process is for analysing new ideas that his employees bring him. I can imagine that every day he is bombarded with suggestions and proposals for new revenue channels and modifications to their current operations. How does he analyse such proposals and make a decision? I’d love to know his process, and whether he acts more off of instinct or is data-driven.

John Ross,President & CEO at Test Prep Insight

Joanna Gaines

Thinking of business role models the first person that pops to my mind is Joanna Gaines. The only thing matching her warmly polished interior design skills, is her entrepreneurial mind. Her immense love about everything she does makes it look like it’s not business, but just her way of living. And while partially that’s true, there’s no doubt she knows how to monetize her passions. Be it interior design, book writing, real estate etc.

Her mellow temperament and loving personality have taught me that you don’t have to be unscrupulous to succeed in business and in life. On top of that, she showed me that you can have a family and be present in their lives while also having several ventures under your belt.

If I ever meet her I’d probably lose my cool and my ability to think and ask her some stupid question, and later regret it.

Claudia Henry, Founder of Twelve

My father

I’m a fourth-generation owner of a commercial construction business based in St. Louis, and I grew up learning about (and eventually going into) my family’s business from my role model who also happens to be my father. 

He taught me three primary lessons that help me every single day: listen more than you talk, negotiate fairly, and treat everyone – no matter who they are or what they do – with respect. 

Those lessons have been passed down through the generations and have been the foundation for what’s kept us in business since 1904.

Tim Spiegelglass, Co-Owner of Spiegelglass Construction Company

Emily Weiss

One of my business role models is Emily Weiss, the founder and CEO of Glossier. I admire the brand that she has built from her blog Into the Gloss. She created a billion dollar beauty brand that is a favorite of millenials and gen Z make-up lovers around the globe. 

She has inspired me to be focused, determined and hire talented people who are experts in their field so that they can help bring my vision for Dr. Brite into reality. 

If I got a chance to meet her, I would ask her how and why she decided to scale from online Instagram launch to storefront?

Paris Sabo, MD, COO at Dr. Brite

Kate Kendall

Kate Kendall is one of my main business role models. Kate is a British-Australian indie entrepreneur, community builder, writer, and advisor. She’s the founding director of Indie Labs: a startup advisory studio and product firm that includes Atto.VC, The Fetch and IndieConf. She also founded CloudPeeps: a trusted freelance marketplace platform, raising $1M USD from top-tier investors. 

I admire her for her leadership, fierce work ethic and determination. If I could ask her one question, I would ask “What sparked your initial interest in entrepreneurship?”

Jordan Smyth, CEO & Founder of Gleamin

My parents

My mom and dad owned and ran a washateria for about 4 years. It was never wildly financially successful but they never sticklers over a couple of dollars.

They never worried over customers they felt were trying to pull one over on them. I specifically remember a day when a customer came up to the counter and complained that the machine did not dry their clothes. It was maybe the equivalent of $1.25. My mom apologized for the inconvenience and gave the customer their money. After they left, I noticed the customer taking their clothes out of the dryer and it looked dry – it didn’t have that wrinkle look you get when clothes are finished in the wash. 

I asked my mom why she just gave up the money when it was clear they were lying. She said something that stuck with me till this day. She said that for us it was the equivalent of running the machine for a few minutes. For that person, it was the difference in maybe having clean clothes for the first time in weeks. That if they were asking for that money back, maybe they really needed it. It’s made me more empathetic running my business these days.

Hana A., Owner of Giftsfor

Mellody Hobson

Mellody Hobson is my business role model. She doesn’t seek the spotlight but has a magnetic personality and passion that captures everyone around her. She comes from a very humble working class (and Midwest) background like myself. I’ve loved watching her rise up and break so many stereotypes. 

I’ve had the chance to present to her recently but didn’t have a “real” conversation. If I had that opportunity, I would love to dig into how she is raising her 7 year-old daughter in light of all of the opportunities more accessible to females and minorities. Also, I’d like to ask about times she was ready to give up whatever she was she was doing. I believe knowing the hardships one encounters (not always public) and the way they overcome shows such true character.

Kelly Parthen, Co-founder of Bean Sprouts

Mike Adenuga

The Nigerian billionaire, Mike Adenuga, is my business role model. I admire how his modesty overshadows his riches. Nothing more strikes my core than watching someone rich and powerful yet bowing down. 

I learned about Mike Adenuga’s modesty, but when I read in the papers that he once went to his knees and lay face down before somebody he was much wealthier than, I made up my mind to be like him.

Matt Scott, Owner of Termite Survey

Michelle Obama

My female business role model is Michelle Obama. Though she does not like politics and is a successful lawyer herself, she supported her husband completely during his run for the presidency and while in office to the point where she made almost as much positive impact as he did.

I’ve learned from her that no matter how humble your beginnings, what matters is to discover your passion, be true to your own heart, be kind to others, and walk the walk. She inspires me every day as I run Speakfully, an HR tech tool to ensure a healthy workplace culture, and to bring a more positive, just, and fair work environment to our corporate communities.

If I ever got to meet her, I would ask what has helped her when she felt most depleted to continue forward.

Jana Morrin, CEO and Co-founder of Speakfully

Reginald F. Lewis

My business role model is the late Reginald F. Lewis. He was a lawyer and businessman and had the first billion-dollar transaction by a Black man in America. He was also a philanthropist, husband and father. He wrote his autobiography “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?” and passed away at a relatively young age.

He inspires me because he was unapologetically himself at all times. He embraced his culture and always remembered his beginnings. He didn’t cower under pressure or when people questioned his confidence, and he was thoughtful and decisive. Somehow he ‘knew’ his time was limited and he accomplished a great deal before his death (much like the late Chadwick Boseman). 

If I had the chance to meet him, I’d ask him what he thinks is the most important characteristic or skill for success in business. And whether he believes business people/entrepreneurs are born or made.

Michelle Y. Talbert, Esq., Founder/Chief Curator at Her Power Space

Arianna Huffington

Even before I became an editor, I am fond of reading a lot of books and news made by famous people. One of my great inspirations as an editor is Arianna Huffington, the founder of one of my favorite sites, The Huffpost. 

She was my great influence because by reading all her contents and books, I was inspired to build up my own career. Aside from being a founder, she was also an editor, columnist, author and a businesswoman and I just can’t imagine how she had struggled all these roles together all at once. 

If ever I will have a chance to meet her, I will thank her for being an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and writers like me. I will also take this opportunity to ask her for advice and tips on how to handle all the challenges with grace, and how to keep on hoping despite the setbacks one has to face in building her own business. 

Samantha Moss, Editor and Content Ambassador at Romantific

Richard Branson

My business role model is Richard Branson for obvious reasons. Business should be fun. It should be about creating something that doesn’t exist by bringing together people of various backgrounds to grow and progress with the idea itself. It can be a beautiful thing and after reading Richard Branson’s autobiography for the 4th time, it’s clear this is how he approaches life and business. 

Whether it’s circumnavigating the globe in a hot air balloon or breaking the US to England crossing boating record, the man knows how to have some fun. When I make decisions or even go back to the basics of why we do what we do to begin with, I recall his experiences to remind me that business is a creative process that should be filled with the love and cooperation of a multitude of talented individuals.

If I have the chance to meet them, I’d probably inquire about societal problems he thinks are the most important and how he’s going about solving them. I’d also ask what he believes to be the point of life. A bit more in the clouds but an important question nonetheless.

Rishav Khanal, CEO of inPerson

Chelsea Clarke

My current role model is Chelsea Clarke, a female business owner and the founder of Her Paper Route. This year alone, she’s on track to bring in nearly $500,000 (in a pandemic!) with her blogging businesses. 

But my reasons for looking up to her go a little beyond just the income generated. She’s truly a visionary in the blogging industry, and her approach to growing her own platform, as well as other blogs that she then sells, has helped me understand that every website is a valuable piece of online real estate. And just like fixer-uppers, you can turn a dead blog into a profitable one! 

She’s a true inspiration for me and has pushed me to think bigger when it comes to my own online business. If I would get a chance to meet her, I would ask her: “What is the one non-negotiable task that you do every single day that has greatly impacted your business growth for good?” 

Ana Skyes, Founder of The She Approach

Conclusion

You may have started reading this list thinking you don’t have a business role model. But slowly, as you progressed through it a few names of people that inspire you came to your mind. The good thing about business role models is that you can have them as many as you want. They can change as you reach different stages in your entrepreneurial journey. Or it can be one role model forever. There’s no wrong or right in having business role models.

More must-read stories from Enterprise League:

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