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America’s richest self-taught women start businesses after 40

VSathie Wood decided to take the biggest risk of his career at the age of 57, leaving his position as chief investment officer at mutual fund and investment firm AllianceBernstein to start his own business. She got the idea in 2012 when her three children, aged 15, 19 and 21, were away, leaving the house unusually quiet. “I realized I was alone for the next two weeks, which had never happened to me before,” recalls Wood, now 64. “As soon as I thought about it, this idea occurred to me. I wasn’t even thinking about work, but I was like, “You’ve been studying disruptive innovation all this time. Why not take these lessons and disrupt the financial sector in one way or another? ‘ “

When Wood’s idea for actively managed exchange-traded funds or ETFs did not catch on at AllianceBernstein, she went to found Ark Invest in 2014. It took three years to break even and Wood broke even. invested over $ 5 million of his savings in the business. . “Most people thought I was crazy because active management was dead,” she says. “A close friend of mine called it a vanity project… It upset me, but it also made me even more determined to prove him wrong.” Today, Ark is one of the fastest growing and most successful investment companies in the world. Wood’s $ 29 billion stake in the company (assets) puts his net worth at $ 250 million. One of her mentors had encouraged her to start a business a decade before she founded Ark, but Wood doesn’t think it would have worked. “At the time, I didn’t think it would be good not to be home at night,” she says. “By the time I started Ark, my children were quite capable of taking care of themselves. Ark was my new baby.

Wood’s origin story clashes with the story of the courageous young founder making headlines, but her trajectory is much more common. Average age of American business founders is 42, according to a 2019 MIT-Northwestern to study data from the US Census Bureau. The average age of the fastest growing startups is even higher, at 45. In North America, a higher percentage of men have started new businesses than women in all age groups except 55 to 64, according to a report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. So maybe it’s no surprise that Wood is one of 23 members on Forbes’ 2020 list of richest self-made women in America who started a business when they were 40 or older.

Cordia Harrington decided to start a bakery at the age of 43, when the youngest of her three sons was 11. Her accountant and lawyer begged the single mother to reconsider giving up her $ 600,000 in annual income from her three successful McDonald’s franchises.

Harrington took the plunge anyway, selling the franchises and taking a $ 15.3 million loan to found the Tennessee Bun Company in 1996, which supplied hamburger buns to several McDonald’s franchises. The sales got off to a bad start and she started to panic.

“I thought I would watch myself slowly go bankrupt,” she recalls. “But at that point, I was so far into it. I sold the restaurants and took [on] huge debt, so I had to make it work.

Almost three decades later, the bet is more than won. Harrington, nicknamed “The Bun Lady,” is worth $ 180 million, after selling a controlling stake in the bakery company of more than $ 100 million (in revenue) to private equity firm Arbor Investments in October 2019 for an undisclosed amount.

“Ray Kroc was 52 when he founded McDonald’s,” says Harrington. “Your age doesn’t matter. It is your energy and your determination.

When Suzy batiz launched the Poo-Pourri bathroom spray brand at age 41, she was well aware of the risks. She had filed for bankruptcy twice previously, losing her bridal boutique business at 20 and closing a recruiting site at 38. Batiz had initially vowed to never go into debt or investor and start another business, but the serial entrepreneur gave in to the temptation about four years later. . After a family dinner in 2006, when his brother-in-law wondered if the bathroom smell could be trapped, Batiz began experimenting with essential oils and testing the concoctions in his own bathroom.

No one in her life supported her in starting another business, but Batiz, having failed twice before, took the plunge anyway. “I didn’t need the external validation that I needed when I was younger,” says Batiz, now 56. “I was always trying to prove something to everyone, including myself. But most of us go through a crisis around 40 and that’s when we wake up to ourselves. I had found happiness in myself.

She started giving bathroom sprays to her friends in 2007. Since then, Poo-Pourri has sold over 100 million bottles and Batiz, who owns 97%, is worth $ 215 million. “Sometimes I’m still scared now,” says Batiz, who grew up in poverty in Arkansas. “But I sit down with myself and ask, ‘Am I going to be okay if it all goes away? And I know I will … I call the second bankruptcy “the luxury of losing everything” because I was no longer afraid.

When Barbara Bradley Baekgaard was in her twenties and thirties, starting a business was the farthest thing on her mind. She got married straight out of college in 1962 and had four children in five years. The stay-at-home mom got into creative pursuits, hanging wallpaper and monogramming tennis racket covers, but didn’t consider a career until three of her children left the nest. In 1982, then 43, she started designing colorful luggage bags with neighbor Patricia Miller, using fabrics from JoAnn’s fabrics and a ping-pong table as a workspace. They named the company Vera Bradley after Baekgaard’s mother.

Almost four decades later, Baekgaard is worth $ 210 million thanks to its stake in the publicly traded fashion brand. Since the founding of Vera Bradley in 1982, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States has grown from 2.6 million to almost 13 million. The 81-year-old, who is one of America’s richest self-taught women, is glad she didn’t start the business earlier in her life. “It was the perfect age to start,” she says. “I was very lucky because I didn’t have to choose between staying home with the kids or going to work.

Baekgaard, a sociology student who says she was not good at finance, took advantage of unsolicited advice from men on how to run her business. “Every man I met wanted to tell me how to do it,” she says. “Sometimes they had a good idea.

Starting a business did not happen without sacrifice. Eight years after leading Vera Bradley, Baekgaard separated from her husband for 28 years when he wanted to retire in Florida. “The business was really starting to have legs,” she recalls. “Plus, I was having a blast. I would never have moved to Florida!

She hasn’t slowed down yet, still serving on Vera Bradley’s board and building a boutique inn in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the company’s headquarters are located. Baekgaard advises women to act quickly if they stumble upon a niche in the market. “Don’t waste too much time thinking about it or someone else might find the same thing,” she says. “I started this [hotel] project at 80, so 40 is a baby for me!

Wood agrees that addressing an unmet need is crucial and says starting a business could be a good option for those facing ageism. “So many businesses are rationalizing and these are the costliest people in their businesses,” she says. “If you’ve got the right idea, you’ve got the right kind of experience, and you’re trying to make a difference, I say go for it. But make sure you have a really good idea that isn’t encountered there. “

Batiz advises not to start a business without a full commitment to the project. “Will it be okay if you don’t do this?” ” she asks. “If so, don’t do it… You’re going to need that motivation because there are always problems in business. You’ll never have that smooth ride on the highway.

Harrington admits she cried for many nights, raising three children while starting a new business, but says it was worth it. “Don’t let age be a barrier, don’t let a mother be a barrier,” she says. “We can only walk around this life once. Know that you are going to have problems, but that’s okay. When you pass to the other side, that’s part of the joy you’ll feel as you overcome them.