What 25 Successful People Were Doing by the Time They Turned 25
Everyone’s measure of and path to success is different.
For some, it’s mostly linear. Others encounter more twists, turns, and bumps along the way.
Before becoming the leader of the free world, Donald Trump, was born into a real-estate development family and inherited his father’s business at 25.
Kat Cole, the group president of Focus Brands group, on the other hand, saw her 20s as more transformative years, working her way up the ladder from a Hooters waitress to the company’s vice president by the time she was 26.
To illustrate how no two paths to success are alike, we’ve highlighted what 25 highly successful people were doing at age 25.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had a cushy job in finance.
At 24, the future Amazon founder and CEO went to work at Bankers Trust developing revolutionary software for banking institutions at that time, according to “Jeff Bezos: The Founder of Amazon.com” by Ann Byers.
Two years later, he became the company’s youngest vice president.
President Trump took over his father’s real-estate-development company.
Trump grew up the wealthy son of a real-estate mogul.
At 25, the young real-estate developer was given control of his father’s company, Elizabeth Trump & Son, which he later renamed the Trump Organization, according to bio.
Shortly thereafter he became involved in large, profitable building projects in Manhattan.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence was an Oscar-winner raking in millions.
By the time she was 25, Lawrence had starred in the box-office hit “Hunger Games” trilogy and worked alongside a star-studded cast in the “X-Men” series.
At 22, she became the second-youngest winner of the best actress Oscar for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook,” and she has won many more awards for her work.
Apple cofounder Steve Jobs took his company public and became a millionaire.
By the end of its first day of trading, in December 1980, Apple Computer had a market value of $1.2 billion, making its cofounders rich men. Jobs, one of the three cofounders, was 25.
He later told biographer Walter Isaacson that he made a pledge at that time to never let money ruin his life.
Focus Brands COO Kat Cole was a star Hooters employee.
Cole, COO and president of Focus Brands, North America and former president of Cinnabon, worked at Hooters for 15 years, starting as a hostess at 17 and eventually getting promoted to vice president by the time she was 26.
A star employee, at 19 she was asked by Hooters to go to Australia to help open a franchise location there, and she spent much of her early 20s training global employees and managers, Fortune reports.
“I was lucky that Hooters wasn’t a more sophisticated company because there’s no way someone my age would have had those chances. It wasn’t like people graduating from Ivy League schools were dying to get a corporate job at Hooters.”
Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook was cash positive for the first time and hit 300 million users.
Zuckerberg had been hard at work on Facebook for five years by the time he turned 25. In that year — 2009 — the company turned cash positive for the first time and hit 300 million users. He was excited at the time, but said it was just the start, writing on Facebook that “the way we think about this is that we’re just getting started on our goal of connecting everyone.”
The next year, he was named Person of the Year by Time magazine.
Oracle founder Larry Ellison was working odd jobs as a programmer.
After moving to Berkeley, California, at 22, the college dropout turned billionaire Oracle founder used what he picked up in college and taught himself about computer programming. He found odd technical jobs at places like Fireman’s Fund, Wells Fargo, and AMPEX until finally landing at Amdahl Corp., where he worked on the first IBM-compatible mainframe system.
Businesswoman and TV personality Martha Stewart was a stockbroker for the firm of Monness, Williams, and Sidel, the original Oppenheimer & Co.
“There were very few women at the time on Wall Street … and people talked about this glass ceiling, which I never even thought about,” Stewart said in an interview for PBS’s MAKERS series. “I never considered myself unequal, and I think I got a very good education being a stockbroker.”
In 1972, Stewart left Wall Street to be a stay-at-home mom. A year later, she started a catering business.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had met mentor Larry Summers and was getting a Harvard MBA.
At age 25, Sandberg had graduated at the top of the economics department from Harvard, worked at the World Bank under her former professor, mentor, and future Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and had gone back to Harvard to get her MBA, which she received in 1995.
She went on to work at McKinsey, and at age 29 was Summers’ chief of staff when he became Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary.
“It wasn’t really that long ago when I was sitting where you are, but the world has changed an awful lot. My section, section B, tried to have HBS’s first online class. We had to use an AOL chat room and dial up service (your parents can explain). We had to pass out a list of screen names, because it was unthinkable to put your real name on the internet. And it never worked. It kept crashing … the world wasn’t set up for 90 people to communicate at once online. But for a few brief moments though, we glimpsed the future, a future where technology would power who we are and connect us to our real colleagues, our real family, our real friends.”
Celebrity investor Mark Cuban was a bartender in Dallas.
By 25, Cuban had graduated from Indiana University and had moved to Dallas. The “Shark Tank” investor started out as a bartender and then worked as a salesman for a PC-software retailer. He got fired because he wanted to go close a deal rather than open a store in the morning. That helped inspire him to open his first business, MicroSolutions.
“When I got to Dallas, I was struggling — sleeping on the floor with six guys in a three-bedroom apartment,” Cuban writes in his book “How to Win at the Sport of Business.” “I used to drive around, look at the big houses, and imagine what it would be like to live there and use that as motivation.”
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Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington was traveling to music festivals around the world for the BBC with her boyfriend at the time.
Before she was founded The Huffington Post or was even Arianna Huffington, she was Arianna Stassinopolous, and at the age of 21, she met the famed British journalist Henry Bernard Levin while on a panel for a quiz show.
For the next few years, Huffington traveled to music festivals around the world with Levin as he wrote for the BBC. Her relationship with Levin eventually ended because he did not want to marry or have children. Huffington moved to New York City at the age of 30. That year, her biography of Maria Callas was published, which she dedicated to Levin.
She told William Skidelsky at The Observer:
“[Levin] was my mentor. Our second date was to see ‘The Mastersingers’ at Covent Garden. Our first trip abroad was to Bayreuth to see ‘Wagner’s Ring.'”
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson had already started the Virgin Records record label.
At 20, Branson opened his first record shop, then a studio, at 22, and launched the Virgin Records label at 23. By 30, his company was international and Branson was a millionaire.
Those early years were tough, he told Entrepreneur:
“I remember them vividly. It’s far more difficult being a small-business owner starting a business than it is for me with thousands of people working for us and 400 companies. Building a business from scratch is 24 hours, 7 days a week, divorces. It’s difficult to hold your family life together; it’s bloody hard work and only one word really matters — and that’s surviving.”
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was an unhappy lawyer.
The Goldman Sachs CEO didn’t take the typical route to finance. He actually started out as a lawyer. He got his law degree from Harvard at 24, then took a job as an associate at law firm Donovan Leisure.
“I was as provincial as you could be, albeit from Brooklyn, the province of Brooklyn,” Blankfein told William Cohen at Fortune magazine.
At the time, he was a heavy smoker and occasional gambler. Despite the fact that he was on the partner track at the firm, he decided to switch to investment banking, joining J. Aron at the age of 27.
Author J.K. Rowling came up with the idea for the ‘Harry Potter’ series on a train.
Rowling was 25 when she came up with the idea for “Harry Potter” during a delayed four-hour train ride in 1990.
She started writing the first book that evening, but it took her years to finish it. While working as a secretary for the London office of Amnesty International, Rowling was fired for daydreaming too much about “Harry Potter,” and her severance check would help her focus on writing for the next few years.
During these years, she got married, had a daughter, got divorced, and was diagnosed with clinical depression before finally finishing the book in 1995. It was published in 1997.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had just graduated from Yale Law School.
At 23, Clinton began dating fellow Yale Law student Bill Clinton. She ended up staying at school an extra year to be with her boyfriend, and received her law degree in 1973, just before turning 25. Her boyfriend proposed marriage after graduation, but she declined.
That same year Clinton began working at the Yale Child Study Center. Her first scholarly article, “Children Under the Law,” was published in the Harvard Educational Review in late 1973, when she was 25.
After moving to Arkansas in 1975, Clinton agreed to marry Bill. She’d go on to become the first lady of Arkansas, the first lady of the US, a US Senator, and Secretary of State.
Rapper Jay Z was already in the rap scene but was relatively anonymous.
Born Shawn Carter, the rapper grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn, New York, and became known as “Jay Z” at the age of 20.
For the next few years he appeared alongside various other rappers, but “remained relatively anonymous” until he founded the record label Roc-A-Fella Records at the age of 27 with two other friends. The same year, Jay Z released his first album, “Reasonable Doubt.”
Fashion designer Ralph Lauren was a sales assistant at Brooks Brothers.
The former CEO of Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx, New York, but changed his name at the age of 15. He went on to study business at Baruch College and served in the Army until the age of 24 when he left to work for Brooks Brothers.
At 26, Lauren decided to design a wide, European-style tie, which eventually led to an opportunity with Neiman Marcus. The next year, he launched the label “Polo.”
Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was raising a family while beginning her political career.
The first female US Secretary of State and current professor of International Relations at Georgetown University was launching her career in politics at 25 while also raising a family with then-husband Joseph Albright, according to Bio.
Albright graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1959, where she majored in political science, and she began studying Russian and international relations while she raised twin daughters Alice and Anne in Washington, DC.
After moving to New York with her husband, Albright completed her education at Columbia University, where she earned a certificate in Russian studies in 1968 and her MA and PhD in public law and government by 1976.
During that time she impressed a former professor so much he encouraged Albright to enter politics, and she joined him in the West Wing as the National Security Council’s congressional liaison, according to Bio.
Tesla and SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk was running his first internet company.
Before turning 25, Musk dropped out of his PhD program at Stanford to join the dot-com boom and launch his first internet company, Zip2, which provided business directories and maps, Ashlee Vance reports in “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.”
Compaq bought the company for $307 million four years later, and Musk used the money to launch his next startup venture, PayPal.
Investor and Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett was working as an investment salesman in Omaha.
In his early 20s, Buffett worked as an investment salesman for Buffett-Falk & Co. in Omaha before moving to New York to be a securities analyst at age 26. During that year, he started Buffett Partnership, Ltd., an investment partnership in Omaha.
New York just wasn’t for him, Buffett told NBC. “In some places it’s easy to lose perspective. But I think it’s very easy to keep perspective in a place like Omaha.”
Xerox Chairwoman Ursula Burns started out as an intern, but worked her way up at Xerox throughout her 20s.
Burns overcame a tough upbringing in a New York City housing project to get a degree in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and then a master’s from Columbia University.
Since then she’s been a Xerox lifer. She started as an intern at age 22 in 1980 and joined full time a year later after getting her master’s. She rose rapidly through the ranks, working in various product development roles until she was named CEO in 2009. She now serves as the chairwoman of the board at Xerox.
“When I came to work at Xerox, I just chose to work. Somebody said ‘how about this?’ And I said OK, and I would go do that in the lab,” Burns said in an interview for the PBS documentary “Makers.” “Then somebody said how about doing some business planning. Then I started leaning more towards larger global systems problems. And systems problems are the business.”
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Actress, comedian, writer, and producer Tina Fey was a childcare registrar at the YMCA before joining famed improv troupe Second City.
After graduating from the University of Virginia, Fey moved to Chicago and hung around acting workshops and even worked as the childcare registrar at a YMCA before improv troupe Second City invited her to join.
Fey told The New Yorker that she joined Second City because she “knew it was where a lot of SNL people started,” and in 1997 she sent scripts to “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels, who then hired her as a writer.
Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz was a Xerox salesman.
After graduating from Northern Michigan University, Schultz worked as a salesman for Xerox. His success there led a Swedish company named Hammerplast that made coffeemakers to recruit him at age 26.
“I learned more there than in college about the worlds of work and business. They trained me in sales, marketing, and presentation skills, and I walked out with a healthy sense of self-esteem. Xerox was a blue-chip pedigree company, and I got a lot of respect when I told others who my employer was … But I can’t say I ever developed a passion for word processors.”
America’s first lady of talk shows Oprah Winfrey was co-hosting a local talk show in Baltimore.
According to the Huffington Post, Winfrey was fired from the 6 p.m. news slot at Baltimore’s WJZ-TV in 1977 at age 23.
In 1978, a 24-year-old Winfrey was recruited to co-host WJZ’s local talk show “People Are Talking.” While there, she also hosted the local version of “Dialing for Dollars.”
Winfrey remained in Baltimore throughout her mid- and late-20s, until moving to Chicago in 1983 to host “A.M. Chicago” for WLS-TV.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was building a deep background in computer science.
He spent those summers working at the famed Xerox PARC labs, which helped create the computer workstation as we know it. There, he met the founder of Sun Microsystems, where he had his first corporate job.
In his early years as a programmer, “all of us never slept at night because computers were faster at night.”