These are some of the most impactful veteran founders of successful businesses

Joel Searls
Mar 7, 2023 6:00 AM PST
5 minute read
enterprise business


Veterans have continued to shape our culture in many ways post-service, from different sectors such as wholesale goods, athletic shoes,…

Veterans have continued to shape our culture in many ways post-service, from different sectors such as wholesale goods, athletic shoes, fast food, ice cream and car rental. Here is another listing of some interesting entrepreneurs who have changed the face of American culture which has spread to the entire world. You may wear their shoes, shop at their stores, eat their multi-flavored ice cream or ride around in one of their cars.

Here are some of the most impactful veteran founders of successful businesses

Wal-Mart and Sam's Club: Sam and Bud Walton

Sam and Bud Walton.

Sam Walton is known to the world as the founder of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, which are still readily active in the business today nearly three decades after his death. Both stores are mainstays in American culture and are places people of backgrounds work, shop and rely upon for their consumable needs. Well before Sam and his brother Bud Walton co-founded Wal-Mart, both of them served in World War II. Sam served in the U.S. Army as an officer in the Intelligence Corps with the role of supervising aircraft plants. He was stationed at Fort Douglas and left the service as a captain.

Bud served in the US Navy as a pilot in World War II. The brothers started in retail with the Ben Franklin stores and with some time in the "pilot seat" eventually moved on to starting their own company, Wal-Mart in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas. Both brothers faced challenges throughout the franchise's early years and many times were strapped for cash. Sam emphasized logistics for his stores and key locations in small towns which inhibited other chains from entering the location. The chain bought in volume and utilized efficient delivery which allowed them to sell name brands at a significant discount. The first Sam's Club started in 1983 and the rest is history. The franchise bearing their names even has an economic term named after it the "Wal-Mart effect."

Nike: Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman with Steve Prefontaine.

Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman created and built one of the most revolutionary shoe and athletic wear companies in the world, Nike. Their company has partnered with athletes from across the globe such as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Romario Eric Cantora, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis and Spike Lee. The company currently brings in above $46B per year with a net income of $6B and an overall equity value of $15B.

Knight grew up in Portland, Ore and after college at the University of Oregon where he was a runner, he enlisted in the US Army. He spent a year on active duty and then seven years in the Army Reserves. He also spent time as a CPA with Price Waterhouse. While a reservist he attended the Stanford Graduate School of Business where traveled to Japan to learn more about athletic shoes. Through the trip, Knight secured U.S. distribution rights for Tiger brand running shoes which are now called Asics. Knight sold them out of the back of his Plymouth Valiant at track meets and partnered with the famous Bowerman at the U of O. Bowerman grew up in Oregon, attended the U of O and served as an officer in World War II in the U.S. Army across the European Theater.

He was highly decorated with a Silver Star and four Bronze Stars and achieved the rank of Major. Post-service in the war, Bowerman returned to coaching, which eventually led to him meeting with Knight and the rest is history. Bowerman and Knight created the Blue Ribbon Sports company which is now known as Nike.

Jack in Box: Robert O. Peterson

Robert Oscar Peterson, founder of Jack in the Box.

If you have ever traveled to the West Coast, you are familiar with Jack in the Box. It has been a mainstay in places like California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. The company began with the concept of Robert O. Peterson. He helped to make drive-thru fast food legitimized in the culture and is the first to pair the drive-thru window with an intercom. He served as an officer in the U.S. Navy in intelligence during World War II. Upon his return, he went back into the restaurant business in San Diego where he ran carhops. He converted one of his carhops into the first Jack in the Box in 1951.

The drive-thru with an intercom was the main focus for him and he put his trademark clown, Jack, to let customers know to speak into the device. He built the chain to 300 locations and then sold it in 1967 to Ralston-Purina. After selling the chain he donated a considerable amount of time and money to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego.

Baskin Robbins: Irv Robbins and Burt Baskins

Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins.

Irv Robbins and Burt Baskin's name lives on with every scoop and cone of Baskin-Robbins's ice cream. It is known as part of America's pastime and worthy of a visit just to see what their newest flavor is this month. Baskin-Robbins has introduced over 1300 flavors since its founding. The company was founded in 1945 in California as Burton's Ice Cream shop and as Snowbird Ice Cream, which was later merged in 1948 to become Baskin-Robbins. Robbins had been in the ice cream business and convinced Baskin to join him in the endeavor as opposed to running a men's clothing store.

The chain grew continuously to nearly 500 when the United Fruit Company bought them out for $12M in 1967. Both Robbins and Baskin served in World War II. Robbins was a Staff Sergeant in the US Army in California and Baskin in the US Navy with Patrol Wing 1 in Vanuatu.

Enterprise Rent A Car: Jack C. Taylor

Taylor with Enterprise Holdings Scholars in 2011.

If you have ever used Enterprise Rent-A-Car well you might be surprised that it was founded by a World War II U.S. Navy veteran and pilot of an F6F Hellcat fighter who earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Navy Air Medal. He even flew off of CV-6, the USS Enterprise, which is where the company's name originates. Once Jack C. Taylor returned from the service he founded a delivery service company. He then went into auto sales for a local Cadillac dealership in St. Louis. Taylor made his way into a leasing car business with his boss which was a considerable business risk that paid off. He expanded the leasing business outside of St. Louis and changed the name to Enterprise, what a surprise! He used the famous phrase, "We'll Pick You Up," as well.

The company eventually took on its current name and by 1995 it had over $1B in revenues. Taylor believed in taking care of your customers and employees first, and profits will follow. He was big on giving too where he donated usually tens of millions to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Washington University in St. Louis to support scholarships for minority and financially disadvantaged students, 10 charities and educational organizations to support underserved children in the St. Louis area, and 13 cultural institutions and charities also in the St. Louis area. Needless to say, Mr. Taylor left behind a legacy of leadership, service and charity.


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