Who Are Your Role Models?

Who Are Your Role Models?

We all have role models. The Beatles poster you had on your wall as a kid. Your prized Michael Jordan game jersey. A signed copy of The Bonfire of the Vanities that still sits proudly on your bookshelf.

When we're growing up, it helps to have people we can look up to. The same holds true for entrepreneurs. The journey that is starting and growing a business is a bumpy one, but it can be made a little easier with someone to provide inspiration -- and a reminder of why you embarked on this crazy path in the first place.

With that in mind, we decided to ask our Board of Directors -- no doubt, role models for many an aspiring entrepreneur themselves -- who they turn to. Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of them consider fellow member Richard Branson their entrepreneurial rock star. Which begs the question, who does Sir Richard look up to?

Sir Richard Branson

Founder and President, Virgin Group

"Dr. Yes"

"The entrepreneur I suppose I most look up to Steve Jobs. I think what he's created with Apple is incredible. It's a tremendous brand, great quality, tremendous innovators, so I can't think of anybody that beats Steve Jobs.

"As somebody in the world who's made an enormous difference, I would say Nelson Mandela. I would actually put Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the same level as him. They transformed their country, they forgave the people that did atrocious things and a result, the country was unified -- and it's a great a country. The World Cup's a wonderful example of what was possible as a result of their forgiveness."

Rob Dyrdek

President, Dyrdek Enterprises

"The Skatetrepreneur"

"Obviously, I look up to our good friend Richard Branson. But more than anything, for him to be successful in everything he does, there's always that element of fun. You never question what you're doing or how much you're having or why you're doing it. You create and execute it and no one questions your motives. It's OK to be successful and be extended. I would call his space rides my Street League -- both are filled with passion. But the reality of mine isn't billions of dollars and breaking mankind barriers. It's just some skateboarding stuff.

"Someone who is close to me is Ken Block. To evolve from a magazine to Droors Clothing to DC Shoes and morphing into a pro rally career and using all the principles he used to build DC for his personal brand is truly incredible."

Bob Parsons

Founder And CEO, The Go Daddy Group

"The Renegade"

"The person I look up to is my dad. He passed away some time ago, but his ideals and advice live on in me. In fact, his words of wisdom are really the key to what success I've had. He always used to say, 'When you love something, it tells you all its secrets.' I think that principal is at the heart of what makes a successful entrepreneur. Love what you do!"

Julie Jumonville

Co-Founder And Chief Innovation Officer, UpSpring Baby

"The Mad Scientist"

"Great question, and at times, my answer rotates between different people. Today, it is Ellen DeGeneres. I have had the privilege of meeting her this year and I tell you, the woman is trying to change the world one audience member at a time. Her motto -- "Laugh, Dance, Live" -- is one I use at work, at home and even in the grocery store. As entrepreneurs, we forget to laugh, dance and live because we are trying to make the next buck or connection, and at the end of the day, there are 'no luggage racks on a hearse.'"

Gary Whitehill

Founder, The Relentless Foundation And New York Entrepreneur Week

"The Sheriff"

"My father. He founded a successful air freight trucking business that was cannibalized early on in my childhood by the growth of FedEx and UPS. From then on, my father sacrificed whatever he was personally able to, to ensure my mother and I were provided the lifestyle he had envisioned for us."

Eric Ryan

Co-Founder And Chief Brand Architect, Method

"The Soap Guy"

"Its such a cliché but I have to say Richard Branson. Sorry -- Sir Richard Branson. I love his philosophy of taking on monster challenges to inspire change and doing it with a dose of high of fun and adventure. I believe the only way to achieve work-life balance is to bring your personal life into your work life, and no one does his better than he does."

Tate Chalk

Founder And CEO, Nfinity

"The Matador"

"I'll tell you who I really respect are the thousands of people everyday who 'lay it on the line' by giving up a 'good' career for something better. For those people, who despite their friends and family telling them they are crazy, get out there and make something happen. I am always in awe when I hear those stories. Every success had to start at some point with courage. I just love those stories."

Phil Town

Investor And Author Of Rule #1 And Payback Time


"Warren Buffett is my investment idol. (Simple but profoundly rational -- buy a wonderful business when its on sale). John Mackey at Whole Foods is my favorite entrepreneur. (Who can top going from socialist radical to libertarian capitalist while running the same company?) Ayn Rand is my favorite political and business author. (The overwhelming value of moral self-interest.) Jesus is my favorite moralist. (The overwhelming value of taking responsibility for yourself and others.) By the way, just try holding Ayn Rand and Jesus together in the same head. It's a challenge."

Warren Brown

Founder, CakeLove and Love Cafe

"Cake Daddy"

"Anyone who bothers to tell honest stories of triumphs and tragedies -- without the puffery."

Steve Strauss

Columnist And Author Of The Small Business Bible

"The Mr. AllBiz"

"My dad was the best entrepreneur I ever knew. He and his partner took one small carpet store and turned it into the biggest chain in Southern California. When I was a boy and asked him to explain what he did for a living, he said he was an 'entrepreneur' -- a strange and rare word back in 1965. 'What's that?' I asked. 'An entrepreneur is a person who is willing to take a risk with money to make money,' he responded. That moment changed my life and it's still the best description of the term I have ever heard."

Lawrence Gelburd

Lecturer, The Wharton School

"The Rock 'n' Roll Professor"

"Zach Weinberg and Nat Turner of InviteMedia, Vinod Khosla, Tina Wells, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Jimi Henrdrix and Frank Zappa."

Tom Szaky

Founder, TerraCycle

"The Eco-Capitalist"

"Michael Cohl. He went from being a taxi driver to owning one of the first strip clubs in Montreal to the world's biggest concert promoter (managing the Stones, U2, etc.). Epic story and packed with jaw-dropping inspiration. I've known him since I was in high school and can say he is one of the reasons I am doing what I do now. Minus the rock-star glamour, of course."

Clint Greenleaf

Founder And CEO, Greenleaf Book Group

"The Cowboy"

"Our fellow board members are fantastic entrepreneurs, but that's too easy. Some great entrepreneurs, with no comment on their personalities, that I look up to are Sam Walton, John Rockefeller, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford."

Rob Adams

Director, Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas

"The Validator"

"My role models are presidents and CEOs of companies. Regardless of their public profiles, how they react to situations and what kind of leadership they exert provides a kind of real-time, experiential role-model experience. For example, watching Mark Hurd, Larry Ellison, Oracle, and HP provides a fascinating lesson in leadership, competitiveness and board dynamics."

Elizabeth Busch, Anne Frey-Mott And Beckie Jankiewicz

Co-Founders, The Event Studio

Anne: "I look up to so many people -- but the first that came to mind was my amazing, graceful grandmother, who turned 90 this summer!"

The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 3/1/11.

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