We can’t seem to go a day without news of a tween singing sensation signing a record deal or a toddler selling her finger paintings for thousands of dollars. From those young whippersnappers who founded Facebook to the latest viral video sensation, it sometimes seems as though if you haven’t made it by the age of 20, you’re nowhere and no one.
If you are in your fourth or fifth decade (or even just thinking ahead), and still planning to make your millions, we have some inspiration for you. These fearless, foxy and over 40 women used their wisdom and savoir-faire to carve out their own places in the world – and were handsomely rewarded for their efforts.
1) Ursula Burns
Early life: Joined Xerox in 1980 as a summer intern. She took time off to pursue her Master’s Degree, but continued to work at Xerox’s corporate office in various roles throughout her 20s.
The turning point: In 1990, a male senior executive at Xerox offered her a job as his executive assistant. No doubt, anyone might have thought of this as a dead end for career aspirations. However, Ursula took the job and then went on to climb the ladder of executive assistant-dom, working for the Chairman and CEO within a year. Finally, at the age of 41, she was appointed as a vice-president and then senior vice-president.
The breakthrough: Ursula worked closely with Xerox’s first female CEO, Anne Mulcahy, and went on to succeed her as CEO in 2009. Ursula was 50 years old at the time.
Why we love her: The first woman to succeed another woman as CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the first African-American woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Mostly though, we admire Ursula’s confidence in taking a job she probably felt was beneath her, while recognizing that she would use the opportunity to her great advantage.
2) Arianna Huffington
Early life: Born in Greece and educated in England, Arianna wrote several books, magazine articles and was often a commentator on news talk shows. For many years however, her biggest claim to fame was as “wife-of” politician Michael Huffington, whom she divorced in 1997, at the age of 47.
The turning point: In 2003, she ran for the office of governor of California and lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger (insert your own joke here!). She needed a new focus and realized the future was the internet, so the 53-year-old launched Arianna On Line and became a pioneer among female internet bloggers. At the time, most internet bloggers were introverted males, but this did not deter her vision.
The breakthrough: In 2005, Arianna re-launched her site to become The Huffington Post. Known as HuffPost among its fans, the site rapidly became a forum for discussion on current events as well as a gathering place for bloggers. It grew to become one of the biggest media brands on the Internet. In February 2011, AOL acquired the site for US $315 million.
Why we love her: Arianna never shies away from an opinion or a debate and she encourages the same in others. At a TED Talk, Arianna gave her top advice for women who want to succeed – get more sleep!
3) Carolina Herrera
Early life: Grew up in Colombia, in a privileged family where she was not expected to work, and instead was married off at the age of 18. Though she had two daughters, the marriage did not last. She was the first person in her family to divorce and humbly moved back in with her parents. She married again, to the love of her life, a few years later and had another two daughters.
The turning point: While she had always loved fashion, Carolina had only worked briefly in the industry as a publicist for Emilio Pucci in the mid-1960s. At the age of 40, she decided to get serious about her passion. She thought about designing a line of fabrics, but was encouraged by a good friend to think bigger.
The breakthrough: Despite her family’s skepticism, Carolina sketched 20 gowns and had a dressmaker in Caracas sew them up. She carted them to New York and started showing them around. She was shocked when the orders started flying in. Unfortunately, she only had the samples and no plan for production. She returned to Caracas, found an investor and then in 1981, set up an atelier and showroom in New York, under the brand Carolina Herrera Ltd. She was 42 years old.
Why we love her: Carolina came from a traditional world where it was not looked upon favourably for a woman to have a job. She defied the traditions and believed in herself, despite the shaking heads around her, and become an international success. Yet she retains her Latin poise, grace and mannerisms. She never works late or on weekends and does not expect her staff to either. She says, “If it can’t be done between 9 and 5, something is wrong.”
4) Liz Claiborne
Early life: On a family trip to New York City in 1951, Liz declared she was staying. The Belgian-born 21-year-old got out of the car, and with $50 from her father, went to stay with her grandmother. She found a job working for a clothing designer and for 20 years she apprenticed, listened and learned from the best of New York’s fashion scene.
The turning point: When her son reached the age of 18, Liz felt that if anything happened to her, he was now of an age where he could support himself. She decided the time was right to take a risk. She gathered up $50,000 of her own savings, plus $200,000 invested by friends, family and business associates.
The breakthrough: Liz launched her eponymous fashion line at the age of 47. In the first year, she experienced sales of $2 million. Within two years, her profits were $23 million and she went public in 1981, making the Fortune 500 in 1986. Not only was this sweet recognition for the company’s 10th anniversary, it was the first time that a company founded by a woman made the Fortune 500 list.
Why we love her: As a working mother, Liz was dialed in to the growing number of women in the workforce who needed practical yet good-looking corporate clothes. She trusted her instincts and bided her time. Her rule of thumb was that she would never price her items higher than what she would be willing to pay and was known to pose as a sales clerk in order to get objective opinions from the women buying (or not buying!) her clothes.
5) Julia Child
Early life: Worked as a copywriter, served in the military during World War II, then married an American diplomat and was posted to France.
The turning point: In her late 30s, Julia was looking for a way to integrate with the French culture. With an adoration of dining out in French restaurants, she decided to learn the secrets behind the entrees she loved to eat. She signed up for cooking school at the famous Le Cordon Bleu and joined a women’s cooking club. Her new friends asked for her help to create a cookbook of French recipes they could market to Americans. She happily joined them and for ten years worked part-time teaching American tourists what she had learned while testing and perfecting recipes.
The breakthrough: In 1961, the cookbook was published, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia was 49 years old and her stardom was just beginning. In 1963, she was asked to host an American television cooking show and by 1966, TIME magazine honored her as “Our Lady of the Ladle.”
Why we love her: Julia perfectly demonstrates that no matter your age, if you start with your passion and work hard to deepen your knowledge in that area, money and success are sure to follow. (And even if they don’t, you’ll still be happy doing what you love!)
Of course, we still encourage young people with talent. It’s just nice to remember that “women of a certain age” have their own star power too.