Advances in technology in the 21st century created many Fortune 500 companies. However, the majority of the world's largest and most prominent businesses were founded in the 20th century. In this article, we review some of the most iconic firms founded in the year you were born and their often humble origins.
1960 - Domino’s Pizza
Domino’s Pizza (DPZ) was founded in 1960 when Tom Monaghan and his brother James took over an existing pizza restaurant in Michigan. The brothers initially planned to spend an equal amount of time running Domino’s. James, however, did not want to quit his full-time job delivering mail. Within eight months, he sold his share of the business back to Tom – for a Volkswagen Beetle.
1961 - Luxottica
Luxottica was founded by Leonardo Del Vecchio in Italy in 1961. It’s an integrated eyewear company and some of its most popular brands are Ray-Ban and Oakley. Luxottica merged with the French lens manufacturer Essilor in 2017 forming a conglomerate EssilorLuxottica (EL), which is now responsible for more than 25 per cent of global eyewear sales.
1962 - Walmart
Walmart (WMT) was officially founded in 1962 in Arkansas but its history can be traced back to 1950 when Sam Walton opened Walton’s Five and Dime store. The original store is now the site of the Walmart Museum. From the beginning, Sam Walton’s primary focus was selling at low prices to generate higher volumes. Today, 90 per cent of Americans live 15 minutes away from a Walmart, as the company’s stores are available all across the country.
1963 - Comcast
Comcast (CMCSA) is a telecommunications conglomerate that started as a regional cable operator in Mississippi. From its early days, the company grew mainly through acquisitions, going public in 1972. One of its recent purchases was British Sky Group, which Comcast bought in 2018 for $40bn (£32bn, €37bn).
1964 - Nike
Founded by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman in 1964, Nike (NKE) was originally called Blue Ribbon Sports. Knight came up with the name on the spot, during his first visit to the Onitsuka factory in Japan. The name was changed to Nike in 1971. Most of the early employees, including Phil Knight, were decisively against an IPO until they discovered a dual share class structure. Nike went public in 1980, finally putting behind its near-constant cash flow difficulties.
1965 - Dolby Laboratories
American engineer Ray Dolby founded the company in London in 1965 and invented a noise reduction system in the same year. The original product was designed for professional recording studios and the first consumer-orientated product came out in 1968. Since 1977, Dolby technology has featured in every movie that has won an Academy Award for sound.
1966 - MasterCard
After Bank of America (BAC) launched Visa in 1958, only 10 new credit cards were introduced in the US between 1960 and 1966. The word about the profitability of Visa eventually got out and, in 1966, several regional bank associations created the Interbank Card, changing the name to Mastercard (MA) in 1979. Its signature “Priceless” marketing campaign now runs in 53 languages.
1967 - Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines (LUV) started as a low-cost carrier operating flights in Texas. Flying only within Texas allowed Southwest to avoid multiple regulations and undercut their competitors on prices. After spending several years fighting lawsuits, the airline lost money in its first year and had to sell one of its four planes to cover payroll. To maintain the same schedule with just three planes, Southwest invented the “10-minute Turn” – the process of getting the plane ready for boarding in 10 minutes.
1968 - Intel
Founded in Mountain View, California, Intel (INTC) had to buy the rights for its name from a hotel chain Intelco. One of Intel’s founders, Gordon Moore, is probably best known for Moore’s law. Its main principle is that the speed and capability of computers can be expected to double every two years. The original observation called for doubling every year but was revised by Moore in 1975.
1969 - GAP
Gap (GPS) was founded by Donal and Doris Fisher, originally selling only Levi’s apparel in every style, size and colour. The first store was located on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco and became popular with the younger generation. Donald Fisher came up with the idea for Gap after seeing the success of The Tower of Shoes store in Sacramento.
1970 - Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters (URBN) was founded as a project for an entrepreneurship class by anthropology graduate Richard Hayne, his roommate Scott Belair and Judy Wicks. Originally called Free People, the first store sold second-hand clothing, jewelry and furniture in a casual college environment. In 1992, Hayne came up with Anthropologie, naming the brand after his college studies and targeting an older demographic.
1971 - Starbucks
Starbucks (SBUX) was founded in Seattle by three partners who met while studying at the University of San Francisco. Howard Schultz, who is often described as a founder of Starbucks, actually joined the company in 1982 as its head of marketing and operations. After a trip to Italy, Schultz left Starbucks to open Il Giornale and eventually merged the two in 1987.
1972 - Carnival Corporation
Founded in 1972 as Carnival Cruise Line, the company used acquisitions to grow quickly. Between 1989 and 1999, Carnival bought six different cruise lines. Today Carnival (CCL) encompasses 10 different brands and is the largest travel leisure company in the world. It was the first to bring an IMAX theater to a cruise ship.
1973 - Patagonia
Patagonia was started by a rock climber, Yvon Chouinard, to design sustainable clothing for rock and alpine climbing. The company always had environmental activism as one of its core values. In 2002, Chouinard launched One Percent for the Planet, an organisation that encourages businesses to donate a share of profits to environmental causes. Patagonia itself donates 1 per cent of sales or 10 per cent of revenue, whichever is greater, and was awarded the Eco Brand of the Year award in 2008 in recognition of its mission.
1974 - Zara
Amancio Ortega started Zara in 1974 with the first store featuring low-priced clothing items that looked similar to those of the popular brands. Throughout the 1980s, Ortega redesigned the manufacturing and distribution of Zara to reduce lead times, creating what he called “instant fashion”. As of 2017, Zara manages nearly 20 collections per year. It trades under Inditex (ITX), a holding company that was created in 1985 to manage Zara and its manufacturing plants.
1975 - Microsoft
Microsoft (MSFT) is currently the largest company in the world with the market capitalisation of close to $1.4tr. Founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Microsoft is well known for its suite of office products, Xbox, LinkedIn and its Azure cloud services business. One of the key moments in Microsoft’s history was the antitrust lawsuit brought by the US government in 1998. Some argue that the suit significantly slowed the development of Internet Explorer and allowed companies like Google (GOOGL) to grow.
1976 - Apple
Apple (AAPL) was the first company to create a personal computer when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built Apple I and later Apple II. Ronald Wayne, who was one of the co-founders of Apple, sold his share of the business back to Jobs and Wozniak for $800 just 12 days after creating the company.
1977 - Oracle
Larry Ellison co-founded Oracle (ORCL), initially Software Development Laboratories, after being inspired by a paper on database systems. One of the most influential database systems ever built was IBM’s System R, which first used SQL language. Ellison initially tried to make Oracle’s products compatible with System R but couldn’t. Oracle almost went bankrupt in the 1990s after a string of class-action lawsuits.
1978 - Home Depot
Home Depot (HD) is the largest home improvement retailer in the world although it only operates in the US. It was founded in Georgia with the vision of building home-improvement superstores targeting the DIY market. The company’s trademark orange colour originally came from circus tents, which the founders used for early signage. In 2005, it tried to enter the retail convenience market by opening up four gas stations next to their stores. The effort quickly faded.
1979 - Activision Blizzard
Well known to anyone who likes video games, Activision Blizzard (ATVI) was founded through a merger of Activision and Vivendi Games. In 1979, Activision became the first independent video game developer, its first product being cartridges for the Atari 2600 game console. The company struggled through the 1980s and early 1990s until Bobby Kotick bought it for $500,000 in 1991. He successfully took Activision through bankruptcy and an IPO in 1993.
1980 - Whole Foods
Whole Foods was founded in Austin, Texas as a small vegetarian natural foods store. Originally called SaferWay, the first Whole Foods Market was created through a merger with a local food store. It almost went out of business in 1981 when a devastating flood ruined all the inventory, resulting in $400,000 of damages. With no insurance, Whole Foods was rebuilt with help from the community and the company went public in 1992. Amazon (AMZN) purchased it in 2017 for $13.7bn.
1981 - Michael Kors
After dropping out of the fashion institute in 1977, founder Michael Kors went to work for Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan and launched his Michael Kors label at Bergdorf’s in 1981. The company was forced into bankruptcy in 1993, and Kors designed for other brands until he could relaunch in 1997. The company went public in 2011 and was renamed Capri Holdings (CPRI) after acquiring Jimmy Choo and Versace.
1982 - Adobe
Founded by John Warnock and Charles Geschke in John’s garage, Adobe (ADBE) was almost bought by Apple in 1982 for $5m. Refusing to sell the company, the founders allowed Steve Jobs to buy a 19 per cent stake. Adobe’s early success came from the development of the computer language, PostScript, which became an international standard for printing.
1983 - Costco
When it was founded in 1983, Costco (COST) gave birth to a new concept of a retail warehouse club. Initially operating under the name Price Club, Sol Price and his son Robert, opened the first warehouse inside an old airplane hangar. Price Club Warehouse #1 is still operational today. Price Club merged with Costco in 1993 after declining an offer from Sam Walton, founder of Walmart.
1984 - Cisco Systems
Cisco (CSCO) was founded by Sandy Lerner and her husband, both employees at Stanford responsible for its computer facilities. Cisco’s first product was a router that allowed Stanford computers to talk to each other. The original software was written by Stanford’s research engineer who, allegedly, was never permitted to sell it outside of Stanford. Stanford contemplated criminal charges against the founders before eventually licensing the software and hardware back to Cisco.
1985 - Blackstone
Blackstone (BX) was set up in 1985 by two ex Lehman Brothers bankers, Stephen Schwarzman and Peter Peterson. Now the largest alternative investment company in the world, Blackstone was founded with just $400,000. It was one of the first private equity companies to go public.
1986 - Celgene
In 1986, Celgene was spun-off from its parent company, Celanese, becoming an independent biopharmaceutical company. During its first 17 years, Celgene made no money until in 2003 it made $13.5m. It grew through acquisitions, buying 14 businesses between 2010 and 2018. In 2013, Celgene was ranked by Forbes as the number two drug company of the year. In the largest pharmaceutical acquisition ever, Celgene was bought by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) in 2019 for $95bn, including debt.
1987 - Gilead Sciences
Gilead (GILD) is fast becoming a household name during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its antiviral drug remdesivir, originally developed to treat Ebola, is one of the most promising treatments in clinical studies. The company was founded by Michael Riordan, a medical doctor, who started Gilead after working at Menlo Ventures, a venture capital firm. Riordan became interested in antiviral medicines after contracting dengue fever.
1988 - BlackRock
BlackRock (BLK), a global investment management business, today manages more funds than anyone else in the world, $7.4tr at the end of 2019. The initial focus of BlackRock was on sound risk management, after one of its co-founders, Larry Fink, lost $100m in mortgage-backed securities at his previous job. Some of the early funding for the venture came from Blackstone co-founder Pete Peterson.
1989 - Garmin
Garmin (GRMN) was founded by engineers Gary Burrell and Min Kao in Kansas. The company’s first product was a GPS navigator that cost $2,500, and its first client, in 1991, was the US military. More recently, Garmin entered the consumer wearables market and its line of Forerunner fitness watches has been a success.
1990 - Ulta Beauty
Ulta Beauty (ULTA) was founded by a couple of Osco Drug employees, who pioneered a new retail concept offering simultaneously higher-end and lower-end products. After starting with one store, Ulta is now the largest beauty retailer in the US. It also has beauty salons in every store nationwide.
1991 - Vodafone
Vodafone (VODI) was officially formed through a demerger from Racal Electronics in 1991. The multinational telecommunications conglomerate got its start by figuring out commercial applications of battlefield radio technology. The first commercial mobile call in the UK was made by Vodafone and it also carried the first-ever text message in 1992.
1992 - Boston Dynamics
The robotics company was founded by Marc Raibert as a spin-off from MIT. Some of its early successes like a quadruped robot, BigDog, were funded by DARPA. From 2013 to 2017, Boston Dynamics was owned by Google. In 2017, the company was sold to Softbank, the Japanese conglomerate known for its recent investments in WeWork, Uber and Slack.
1993 - Nvidia
Nvidia (NVDA) designs graphic chips or graphic processing units (GPU) for gaming and professional markets and has revolutionised graphics in consumer electronics. It is credited with creating the first chip that allowed images to appear in games. Today, Nvidia has more than 370 self-driving partnerships using its artificial technology to do the same in the transportation industry.
1994 - Amazon
Jeff Bezos started Amazon (AMZN) in Seattle after leaving a job on Wall Street. Eager to participate in the emerging internet boom, Jeff chose Seattle because of the technical talent in the city, which was also the headquarters of Microsoft. Starting as an online bookstore, Jeff Bezos always envisioned Amazon as “the everything store”. Today, Amazon is one of only three companies with a market capitalisation above $1tr.
1995 - eBay
eBay (EBAY) was founded as AuctionWeb by Pierre Omidyar, a French-born Iranian-American. Initially part of Omidyar’s personal site, eBay was a free service and largely a hobby. The site generated significant traffic, forcing Omidyar to upgrade his technology and start charging for the service. Its popularity in the early days was partly due to eBay charging no commission while other auction sites often charged up to 30 per cent.
1996 - AutoNation
AutoNation (AN) is an automotive retailer with 360 retail outlets in the US, selling new and used cars. In 1997, Autonation was part of Republic Industries and tried to purchase ADT, an electronics security business, to diversify its revenue base, but the acquisition did not go through. Republic then took its core waste business public in 1998 and used the proceeds to focus on growing AutoNation.
1997 - Netflix
Netflix (NFLX) was founded by Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings after Hastings sold his previous business venture for $700m in 1997. The founders took advantage of DVDs to invent the rental by post model and take on Blockbuster, the dominant industry player at the time. Hastings often talks about having the vision for on-demand entertainment from the early days of the company, but having had to wait for technology to catch up to his ambitions.
1998 - Google
Founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin out of Stanford, Google (GOOGL) took a different approach to ranking search results by analysing relationships between websites. The name refers to the word “googol”, a mathematical term for 1 followed by 100 zeros. Following the dot.com crash, Google came up with the advertising model that showed ads based on what people searched for. This invention revolutionised the online advertising business.
1999 - Alibaba
Jack Ma is often identified as the founder of Alibaba (BABA) but he started the company with 17 of his friends and students. The business originally focused on the Chinese e-commerce market, targeting small and medium-sized businesses and helping them export Chinese products overseas. Alibaba raised early-stage capital from Goldman Sachs (GS) and Softbank. After launching Taobao Marketplace and Alipay, it is now expanding into cloud services for enterprises.
2000 - Baidu
One of the co-founders of Baidu (BIDU), Robin Li developed his algorithm to rank search engine results in 1996 while working in the US. The algorithm was similar to the one used by Google founders and was based on a similar concept. Robin moved back to China in 1999 and launched Baidu in 2000 with Eric Xu. Its early funding came from American venture capital firms Integrity Partners and Peninsula capital. The largest search engine in China, Baidu offers nearly 60 other services, and in 2015 began working on autonomous vehicles.
Note that the vast majority of the companies mentioned above are available for trading at Capial.com through contracts for difference, or CFDs.
A contract for difference is a financial instrument between a broker and a trader, in which one party agrees to pay the other the difference in the value of the security between the start and end of the trade. When you trade shares using CFDs, you speculate on the direction of the underlying asset without actually owning it.
You can either take a long or short position, depending on whether you expect the price of an asset to rise or fall, therefore, giving you an opportunity to profit from both negative and positive price fluctuations.
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