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From founder to 500: 21 current CEOs who now lead empires

May 24, 2022, 4:07 PM UTC

Leading a Fortune 500 company isn’t easy. Starting a new company and building it up to be one of the largest and most successful businesses in America is even harder.

But these 21 current CEOs are living proof that it isn’t impossible. Some were solo start-up creators, others co-founded a promising enterprise, and a few had to wait a few years between starting their companies and taking the helm. 

Some of these current CEOs are still relatively young, heading up companies capitalizing on new and emerging trends like cryptocurrency and blockchain, with others having spent decades in their role steering companies that have now become institutions. Brian Armstrong’s cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase became the first crypto company to break into the list this year, despite virtual currency’s rough start to 2022 creating some serious headaches for Armstrong’s company.

Several of these companies are on a meteoric rise this year, such as electric car manufacturer Tesla, co-founded by current CEO Elon Musk. The company climbed 35 spots in this year’s rankings, as the electric vehicle industry continues to grow with Tesla at the head.

Other companies have recently made their founders new chief executives, such as FedEx’s Rajesh Subramaniam, or even welcomed back founders to the company as CEOs to handle a rapidly evolving business environment. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz returned to run the company for the third time last March, as the company navigates unionization demands from workers and even a possible foray into the NFT space.

The average age of the founder-turned-500 CEO was 54 years, with some as young as 37 and others as senior as 74. Despite the record-breaking year for women leading Fortune 500 businesses, all this year’s founders-turned CEOs are men, making this founder to CEO track another glass ceiling yet to be shattered.

Chief executive tenures have been becoming shorter in recent years. The average CEO spent 6.9 years in the role in 2020, down from eight in 2016, according to a 2020 survey by recruiting and consulting company M&A Executive Search. The trend carried on into the pandemic, with one report finding that 11.6% of 3,000 companies surveyed had a CEO change in 2020.

Which makes the founders-turned-CEOs of this year’s list stand out even more by bucking the trend and sticking with their companies through the good and bad times, sometimes for decades. Here are the 21 founders-turned-CEOs on this year’s Fortune 500

1. Mark Zuckerberg

Company: Meta (formerly known as Facebook)

Fortune 500 rank: 27

Year company was founded: 2004

CEO since: 2004

2. Michael S. Dell

Company: Dell Technologies 

Fortune 500 rank: 31

Year company was founded: 1984

CEO since: 2007

3. Rajesh Subramaniam

Company: FedEx

Fortune 500 rank: 39

Year company was founded: 1971

CEO since: 2022

4. Elon Musk

Company: Tesla

Fortune 500 rank: 65

Year company was founded: 2003

CEO since: 2008

5. Richard D. Fairbank

Company: Capital One Financial

Fortune 500 rank: 108

Year company was founded: 1988

CEO since: 1994

6. Howard D. Schultz

Company: Starbucks

Fortune 500 rank: 120

Year company was founded: 1971

CEO since: 2022 

7. Jensen Huang

Company: Nvidia

Fortune 500 rank: 134

Year company was founded: 1993

CEO since: 1993

8. Marc R. Benioff

Company: Salesforce

Fortune 500 rank: 136

Year company was founded: 1999

CEO since: 2001

9. Stephen A. Schwarzman

Company: Blackstone

Fortune 500 rank: 159

Year company was founded: 1985

CEO since: 2007

10. Mark D. Millett

Company: Steel Dynamics

Fortune 500 rank: 196

Year company was founded: 1993

CEO since: 2007

11. Jack Dorsey

Company: Block (formerly Square)

Fortune 500 rank: 208

Year company was founded: 2009

CEO since: 2009

12. Leonard S. Schleifer

Company: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

Fortune 500 rank: 231

Year company was founded: 1988

CEO since: 1988

13. Niraj S. Shah

Company: Wayfair

Fortune 500 rank: 275

Year company was founded: 2002

CEO since: 2002

14. Ernest C. Garcia III

Company: Carvana

Fortune 500 rank: 290

Year company was founded: 2012

CEO since: 2012

15. Jeffrey C. Sprecher

Company: Intercontinental Exchange

Fortune 500 rank: 384

Year company was founded: 2000

CEO since: 2000

16. Marc Rowan

Company: Apollo Global Management

Fortune 500 rank: 386

Year company was founded: 1990

CEO since: 2022

17. Richard N. Barton

Company: Zillow Group

Fortune 500 rank: 424

Year company was founded: 2004

CEO since: 2019

18. Eric Wu

Company: Opendoor Technologies

Fortune 500 rank: 425

Year company was founded: 2014

CEO since: 2014

19. Brian Armstrong

Company: Coinbase Global

Fortune 500 rank: 437

Year company was founded: 2012

CEO since: 2012

20. Jure Sola

Company: Sanmina

Fortune 500 rank: 482

Year company was founded: 1980

CEO since: 2020

21. Robert L. Reffkin

Company: Compass

Fortune 500 rank: 495

Year company founded: 2012

CEO since: 2012

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