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7 Successful Icons Who Had a Brush With Bankruptcy

These business leaders overcame early bankruptcy to become icons

By Wayne Duggan, InvestorPlace Contributor

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Source: Photo by CafeCredit.com via Flickr

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton held their third and final debate last week in Las Vegas. Once again, Trump attacked Clinton’s lack of productivity in Washington, and Clinton bashed Trump for his issues with bankruptcy.

Donald Trump has argued repeatedly that the economy needs a business leader, not a politician. Hillary Clinton has argued that her resume of political experience makes her most qualified for office.

While Donald Trump certainly has his fair share of business experience, Clinton and others have repeatedly pointed out that his track record is far from pristine. In fact, Trump’s companies have filed for bankruptcies four times under his leadership.

Now that the debates have come and gone, voters have less than three weeks to decide which candidate is best qualified to lead the country. The word “bankruptcy” certainly makes people cringe, and for good reason. Trump’s bankruptcies, however, don’t necessarily mean he’s a poor leader. In fact, there have been a number of incredibly successful leaders and entrepreneurs whose pasts are littered with bankruptcies.

Here’s a look at seven business leaders other than Donald Trump who overcame bankruptcies.

Bankruptcy Icons: Henry Ford

When you break the mold like Henry Ford did, there are no blueprints for success. Often, entrepreneurs have to figure it out as they go by trial and error.

Ford clearly saw value in the “Quadricycle” he created in 1896. He was so convinced of its potential that he quit his day job as chief engineer at Edison Illuminating Company to launch the Detroit Automobile Company back in 1899.

Unfortunately, Ford’s obsession with the details of car designs resulted in major production delays. The Detroit Automobile Company declared bankruptcy in 1901, and Ford eventually left the company all-together.

Ford’s business struggles serve as a lesson that there’s more to running a successful business than simply having a great product. In 1903, Ford founded the Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F). The Model T was introduced in 1908, and the rest is history. Today, Ford has a market capitalization of more than $47 billion.

Bankruptcy Icons: George Foreman

George Foreman made millions of dollars during his career as one of the greatest boxers of all time. However, by 1983, it was all gone.

Foreman attempted to transition into a career as a minister, but his poor money management left him on the verge of complete bankruptcy and turning back to boxing. In 1994, at the improbable age of 45, Foreman once again became heavyweight champion of the world.

This time around, Foreman had decided he would be more careful with his money. Foreman again made tens of millions of dollars in the ring, but it was his George Foreman Grill endorsement deal that earned him the majority of his fortune.

Foreman’s original deal had him taking 40% of the profits from the grill, but he later sold the rights to his name to Salton Inc. for $127.5 million in cash and $10 million in stock.

In 2014, Foreman topped TheRichest’s list of the top athlete entrepreneurs of all time.

Bankruptcy Icons: Walt Disney

Long before Disneyland, ESPN, Star Wars or even Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney started his first company back in 1920. The animation company was called Laugh-O-Gram Studio. In addition to Disney, the company employed several of the pioneers of animation, including Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Friz Freleng and Carman Maxwell.

One of Disney’s early deals was an agreement to produce six animated shorts for Pictorial Clubs, Inc. for $11,000. Laugh-O-Gram only got $100 up front, however, and Pictorial went bankrupt only a few months later.

Despite the incredible talent at Laugh-O-Gram, Disney struggled financially and reportedly even lived in the studio. The company declared bankruptcy in 1923.

Disney wasn’t discouraged, however. He founded Disney Brothers Studios later that year. In 1928, Disney created Mickey Mouse, and Disney Brothers eventually evolved into the $150 billion Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) it is today.

Bankruptcy Icons: Milton Hershey

Hershey Co (NYSE:HSY) is one of the largest and most successful candy companies in the world. But founder Milton Hershey paid plenty of dues before finding his footing in the business world.

Hershey started his first caramel business back in 1876 at age 19. It took Hershey 10 years and two bankruptcies to figure out a caramel recipe and business strategy that worked. Luckily, Hershey’s bankruptcies protected his basic assets and allowed him to continue to pursue his dreams of making it in the candy business.

He founded the Lancaster Caramel Company in 1886, and sold the company for $1 million 14 years later. Thankfully, Hershey kept ownership of subsidiary Hershey Chocolate Company.

In 1900, roughly 24 years after he started in the candy business, Hershey produced the first Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars. To this day, the Hershey’s name is synonymous with chocolate.

Bankruptcy Icons: H.J. Heinz

Many times the key to business success is simply finding the right strategy. This process is more painful for some business leaders than for others. Of course, we all know H.J. Heinz as the developer of Heinz Tomato Ketchup.

At age 25, Heinz co-founded his first company, Heinz Noble & Company. But the company’s main product wasn’t ketchup … it was horseradish.

Unfortunately, the horseradish business wasn’t nearly as lucrative for Heinz as the ketchup business would end up being. Heinz Noble & Company declared bankruptcy in 1875.

Undeterred, Heinz co-founded F & J Heinz with his brother only a year later. One of the company’s early products was ketchup. By 1896, the company was producing more than 60 different products.

The company recently merged with Kraft to form Kraft Heinz Foods Co (NYSE:HNZ) — a $23 billion company.

Bankruptcy Icons: P.T. Barnum

Bankruptcy Leaders: P.T. Barnum
Source: Photo by Boston Public Library via Flickr

Barnum’s business career seems as wild as his circus acts. Long before Barnum & Bailey Circus, Barnum created his first exhibit featuring a 160-year-old woman in New York City in 1835.

Barnum soon took his exhibits on the road. By 1842, he had earned enough money to buy a museum in New York. He soon became one of the wealthiest men in the world.

A disastrous venture into real estate, however, left Barnum half a million dollars in debt by 1855. He eventually opted for bankruptcy. Ironically, one of the ways Barnum began building back his fortune was by going on lecture tours where he discussed The Art of Money Getting: Golden Rules for Making Money.

Like Trump, Barnum even tried his hand at politics, unsuccessfully running for Congress in 1867.

Although it may be his most enduring legacy, Barnum did not enter the circus business until he was 60 years old.

Bankruptcy Icons: Abraham Lincoln

There’s no doubt that the best example that Donald Trump can point to of a great leader overcoming bankruptcy is the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

When Lincoln was in his 20s, the general store at which he worked closed down. Lincoln decided to open his own store in New Salem, Illinois in 1832, but the store soon began to flounder. According to Lincoln, he and his partner “did nothing but get deeper and deeper in debt.”

When Lincoln was eventually sued by creditors, even his horse was seized during the bankruptcy proceedings.

Lincoln did not immediately transition into a career in politics, instead opting to get his law license at age 26. He and his partners handled more than 5,000 cases. Lincoln himself argued hundreds of cases in front of the Illinois Supreme Court.

By the time he became president at age 51, his early bankruptcy was likely long forgotten.

As of this writing, Wayne Duggan did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.


Article printed from InvestorPlace Media, https://investorplace.com/2016/10/bankruptcy-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-2016-election/.

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