UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: March 14, 2013

You’re reading an article that took five years to write—or more than 100, if you look at it another way.

Five years ago a small group of us worked long days that turned into early mornings to produce our first issue of SUCCESS. The April/May 2008 issue would re-launch the iconic brand founded more than a century earlier by Orison Swett Marden, a self-made entrepreneur, author and proponent of personal achievement.

While recent publishers had focused more on business, our aim, under the ownership of SUCCESS Partners, was to return the magazine to its roots, providing inspiring, motivational and instructive content. We’d still cover business, but the key was to make it as relevant and practical as possible for our entrepreneurial readers. And we’d still do profiles of extraordinary people, but our focus wouldn’t be so much on what they accomplished, but how they did it.

It’s fitting that leadership is the theme of this fifth-anniversary issue because each of the people we’ve profiled over the years has been a leader in some capacity—CEOs, entrepreneurs, thought leaders and people who simply inspired us with their bold actions.

Leading Through Turbulent Times

In the winter of 2010, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz met with writer John H. Ostdick in a SoHo Starbucks. Schultz had returned to run the company as CEO, and he was ready to share details about its transformation through particulary dark days.

Starbucks had become “a poster child for excess,” Schultz told Ostdick for the April 2011 cover feature. “I sensed that our people had lost confidence and the organization had lost its swagger.” He sought to reverse what he called the “commoditization of Starbucks,” but first he had to stem the company’s financial freefall. He rejected suggestions like reducing coffee quality and cutting employees’ health care benefits. But closing hundreds of stores and layoffs were inevitable—and painful.

Schultz also ordered all 7,100 stores closed for retraining on a single evening in February 2010. “It was a shock to the system,” he said, but it proved to be a “significant galvanizing moment inside the company where people realized, ‘Not only is he back, but he’s dead serious.’ ”

Not knowing where the bottom was in the spiraling economy, Schultz’s leadership style continued to evolve. “I was effectively balancing entrepreneurial vision with patience of execution, paying the same degree of attention to the back end of the business that I was hard-wired to pay to the front end.”

Along the way, he laid out his plans in so-called Transformation Memos to all employees. “Some of the things I wrote about in the memos were that we were not going to let other people define us, that we could control our own destiny—not by just saying that we were going to but by doing the work,” he said.

While some criticized him for expressing vulnerability, “I had an intuitive sense I had to be real.” Schultz believed it was important to articulate his vision, and to remain transparent to restore confidence and to engage every employee in the fight. Starbucks also used social media to communicate the company’s message to consumers.

The turning point came in the fall of 2010, when Schultz announced healthy fiscal-year earnings, cash bonuses to 100,000 people in the field, enhancements to the 401(k) plan, retention of health care for employees and new tuition reimbursement benefits.

“These are very emotional days,” he said. “This has been my life’s work, as opposed to a job. I didn’t come back to save the company—I hate that description—I came back to rekindle the emotion that built it.”

Another big comeback we wrote about involved Ford Motor Co.’s return to profitability under the leadership of CEO Alan Mulally. In a September 2011 profile, Jim Henry and Jim Motavalli wrote that Mulally remade Ford’s disparate and undisciplined management into an effective team that, starting in 2006, rebuilt a fleet of gas guzzlers into an all-new product line of right-sized cars and trucks well-suited for a competitive world market. Under Mulally, a transplant from Boeing, Ford avoided bankruptcy in 2009, unlike General Motors and Chrysler, which required billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts.

Mulally’s “One Ford” business plan covered the whole global enterprise, from product quality and fuel efficiency to manufacturing plants, corporate culture and the company balance sheet. Yet the plan was so simple that its essence fits (along with Mulally’s autograph) on a business card, which he gladly handed out to anyone he met.

Many analysts said the Midwestern-born Mulally’s aw-shucks affability belied his discipline and depth, at least initially. “But the key to success is to make sure a company stays on course, and that’s what Mulally did,” Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at, told our writers.

At its most basic level, “One Ford” involved getting Ford’s global operations working on the same agenda. Previously, the company’s overseas subsidiaries were semi-independent and frequently duplicated effort. For instance, Ford Europe and Ford North America traditionally developed separate versions of the compact Ford Focus with almost no common components. But Mulally changed all that, streamlining production so that at least 10 different Ford models could be built on the same assembly line sharing about 80 percent common parts. The strategy wasn’t novel, but Mulally made sure the plan was driven home relentlessly and consistently to everyone in the company—and that’s why it worked.

Ingenuity and Daring

Leadership takes many forms—including that demonstrated by people who inspire us through their own innovation and bold actions. We’ve profiled many entrepreneurs who fit this description, and Richard Branson has been a favorite.

“I love to dream big. I love to try to make those dreams become reality,” the founder of the Virgin conglomerate told writer Chris Brogan in an interview for an August 2012 cover feature. “And sometimes, I throw curveballs into the air, like, ‘Let’s start a spaceship company,’ and maybe not being completely serious initially, and then it starts catching on, and you have to try and make it reality.”

As a child, Branson battled dyslexia and unsympathetic teachers who judged him stupid and lazy. He struggled with reading and understanding some concepts. But his parents encouraged his independence, and he found ways to compensate for what he lacked, honing his people skills and his instincts. Branson is famous for his showmanship, record-setting adventures and business risk-taking—like going up against behemoth British Airways with his Virgin Atlantic Airways and later founding Virgin Galactic to send tourists into space. But here on Earth, he’s accomplished something just as noteworthy: At the helm of the Virgin Group, he’s discovered how to foster individuality and innovation among some 300 diverse companies that constitute his eclectic empire. Each of the companies operates by its own rules, with different shareholders and boards, but shares the same brand, as well as the resources and collective knowledge of Virgin.

“From a very young age, I had to learn the art of delegation because I’m inquisitive and I love to do new things, but obviously, if you’re doing new things, you can’t do everything yourself,” Branson said.

He advises other leaders to hire people who can take over 99 percent of what they do and then empower them. With that extra time, “most likely, you’ll come up with ways of helping the person you put in charge in a better way than you would have done had you tried doing it yourself.”

Building Leaders

“Mentoring is why you should get up every day—to teach and be taught,” John Wooden, then 97, told writer Don Yaeger in a 2008 interview. One of the greatest college basketball coaches in history, with an unprecedented 10 national championships during his career at UCLA, Wooden liked to think of himself, first and foremost, as a teacher whose highest calling was to show his players how to become men of character.

Wooden often recited his father’s “two sets of three”: “Never lie, never cheat, never steal” and “don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t make excuses.” He also cited a seven-point creed passed along from his father, the most frequently cited point being “make each day your masterpiece.”

Even after his retirement, Wooden regularly went to a little diner in Encino, Calif., near his home where people would seek him out. Yaeger was one of them who considered “Coach” his mentor. Others included some of the greatest stars in basketball, including Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Bill Walton. But Wooden’s definition of mentoring was broad: “Mentoring can happen at any time or any place,” he told Yaeger. “Every time you greet the grocery store checker with a smile or pick up a piece of litter or pat someone on the back, you very well might be mentoring someone who is watching you.”

In a moving tribute published in September 2010, following Wooden’s death, Yaeger wrote that Coach taught his players the importance of basic preparation, starting with the proper way to put on shoes and socks to avoid blisters. He taught his teams respect by insisting they leave opposing schools’ locker rooms as clean as they found them. He taught other coaches the power of a calm demeanor and humble spirit, and “he taught the world that integrity and character are not old-fashioned notions or incidental aspects of success—they are its cornerstones.”

Wooden is just one of many people we’ve featured who devoted their lives to inspiring the best in others. Best-selling author John C. Maxwell, himself a Wooden mentee, has been a SUCCESS columnist since our early days. Month after month, Maxwell has brought readers lessons in leadership drawn from his studies and experience, as well as anecdotes from the lives of many others. He’s also helped to articulate a broader definition of leadership, inspiring all of us—regardless of title or walk of life—to be leaders.

Maria Shriver is another of our favorites who found her own unique way to empower others—through her California Women’s Conferences while serving as the state’s first lady and through best-selling books including Just Who Will You Be? published in 2008.

Growing up in the Kennedy clan, Shriver struggled to figure out her own life’s purpose. She chose journalism and loved the work, but had to give up her NBC reporting job and find a new path when her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor. Early on, she asked whether there was a job description for first lady and was told she could pick out the Christmas ornaments. Her reaction, she told writer Erin Casey, was, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Shriver’s idea to expand The Women’s Conference, which had been a small annual event, came out of her desire to help as many people as possible in a state beleaguered by budget problems. The conferences covered a wide variety of topics, from health and self-improvement to entrepreneurship and social activism. By targeting women, Shriver knew she could help families, too. Proceeds and sponsorships from the annual events, which drew tens of thousands of people from around the country, paid for year-round programs benefiting women and families. In addition to the conferences, Shriver’s team created an interactive online community providing resources and encouraging a free exchange of ideas.

For a December 2010 cover feature, she described The Women’s Conference this way: “We’re a movement; we’re a main event; we’re about personal transformation. But we’re also about giving you the tools to go out and become an architect of change, not just in your own life, but in the world around you.”

Another influential leader whose insights and quotes we’ve shared many times is the late Jim Rohn, a best-selling author and speaker. Rohn spoke to more than 6,000 audiences in his lifetime, emphasizing the importance of taking responsibility for personal growth, and teaching why and how to reach for a better and more vital life.

Born and raised on a farm in Idaho, Rohn said he lacked drive as a young adult until attending a seminar conducted by Earl Shoaff, a motivational speaker and salesman. Rohn knew he wanted what Shoaff had, and he set out to achieve it. His best-known works include The Challenge to Succeed and The Art of Exceptional Living.

Among his best-known sayings:

“Leaders, whether in the family, in business, in government or in education, must not allow themselves to mistake intentions for accomplishments.” “Success is something you attract by the person you become.” “Profits are better than wages. Wages will make you a living; profits can make you a fortune." “Friends are those wonderful people who know all about you and still like you.” “Don’t wish it was easier; wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems; wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom.”