Sales & Marketing

5 of the biggest personal brands in business

5 min read

22 December 2014

Getting a bit of the founder's personality into a business can help enormously with market penetration – and for these five companies brought untold riches.

The rise of social media and the popularity of entrepreneurialism means the personality behind a growing business more important than ever. We had a look at the iconic entrepreneurs whose personal brands helped create some of the most famous companies in the world.

Burt Shavitz from Burt’s Bees

Burt’s Bees started with Maine artist Roxanne Quimby, who Burt had picked up hitchhiking, making candles with the unused wax from his beehives in the 1980s. Burt Shavitz’s hallmark beard and engineer’s cap created the business’ brand and, as the scenes from the 2014 documentary show, his everyman down-to-earth style remains hugely popular today.

It’s pretty clear Shavitz never wanted to build a billion-dollar business, as he once said: “There was no company, the bees are my company, the truck was my company, my chainsaw was the company.” What’s not so clear is why and how he excited the company. Burt’s Bees was sold to Clorox for $925m in 2007, but Shavitz continues to do promotional spots and remains hugely popular, particularly in South East Asia.

Eddie Stobart’s haulage company

Eddie Stobart started out as an agricultural entrepreneur in the late 1940s. The business was expanded to a haulage in the 1970s with the help of his son Edward Stobart. It’s become one of Britain’s biggest brands, largely because of the trucks which proudly bear its name on the side.

After the turn of the millenium Eddie Stobart expanded into rail freight services and port businesses, and by 2009 it had entered the FTSE 250, a year before its 40th anniversary. Eddie Stobart retired in 1989.

Harland Sanders’ KFC

KFC is another mega restaurant chain built by one man with a simple and popular food offering, and an eye for franchises. Before Harland Sanders started cooking his famous chicken recipe he was a sixth-grade dropout, an army mule-tender, a locomotive fireman, an insurance salesman and a political candidate. He didn’t open the first restaurant until he retired.  

Speaking in his customary white suit and black neck tie, his words epitomised entrepreneurialism: “If you’re a dreamer do it, back up your dreams. I think a dream is just a suggestion to you, to start something out and do something about it. You can always related it to something in your life and make it better.”

Today there are more than 18,000 KFC outlets in 115 countries and territories around the world.

Mary Kay Ash’s make-up business

When Mary Kay Ash retired from a successful career in direct sales in early 1963, she decided to write a book to help women survive in the male-dominated business world. Listing the failings and successes of former employers inadvertently led to the creation of a business plan. With her life savings of $5,000 and the help of her 20-year-old-son Richard Rogers, Ash launched her dream company in 1963.

The business is now one of the largest direct sales companies in the world, with distributors – beauty consultants – making money by selling to people in their communities and getting a share from the people they recruit into the distribution network. Worldwide wholesale sales reached $3bn in 2013 and products were sold in more than 35 markets.

Tim Horton’s Tim Hortons

Coffee and ice hockey are Canadian staples, so it’s not surprising the nation’s favourite café chain was launched by a hockey Hall of Fame star. Tim Horton started with a single location in Hamilton, Ontario, offering coffee and donuts in 1964. By 1967 the business had become a multi-million-dollar franchise system. Horton died in 1974 leaving his business partner to buy out his family’s shares.  

The 1980s saw a huge expansion to its product line, but its bite-sized Timbits from the 1970s still remain one of the most popular items. In 1995, Tim Hortons merged with Wendy’s International. At the end of at the end of 2013, Tim Hortons had 4,592 restaurants in Canada and 807 in the United States.