The SUCCESS 25’s Legends in Personal Development

UPDATED: July 12, 2023
PUBLISHED: December 2, 2014

In the first-ever SUCCESS 25 list—which premiered in the January 2015 issue of SUCCESS— we salute 2014’s most influential leaders in personal growth. In this list, to kick off the celebration, we’ve chronicled the most successful achievement philosophers of all time.

Dive into the words from these legends that will shape your life:

Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

Writer, singer, activist, philanthropist, filmmaker: Maya Angelou was many things to many people, and when she passed away this year, the public mourning was palpable. Her message of equality, resilience and compassion inspired millions, and she wrote some three dozen books including best-sellers I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Diiie (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) and The Heart of a Woman.

Born in Arkansas, Angelou faced a broken family, poverty, sexual abuse and violence—amid the Great Depression and rampant racism—before age 10. But she worked hard and pursued her love of the arts. Around 1960, Angelou began to focus on writing and participating in the civil rights movement.

Over the next 55 years, her contributions were many and great, and she received more than 50 honorary degrees, as well as the Presidential Medal, the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

Dale Carnegie (1888–1955)

Be friendly, smile, don’t criticize. When Dale Carnegie wrote those principles in How to Win Friends and Influence People, he became a guru to millions. Since its 1936 publication, the book has sold more than 15 million copies and is one of the all-time best-sellers.

Born to a Missouri farming family, Carnegie attended college, moved to New York City and began teaching public speaking. He soon realized that people also needed training in getting along with others, but there was no working handbook on human relations. So, after 15 years of research, he published How to Win Friends and Influence People, which moved to the top of the best-seller list and has remained on the list since then.

More opportunities followed, including a syndicated newspaper column and a national radio program. Carnegie also penned another best-seller How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Carnegie’s work continues to attract some of the most successful people in the world, including a 20-year-old Warren Buffett, and Lee Iacocca when he began his automotive career; both attended Carnegie’s training course.

“Don’t be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.

George S. Clason (1874–1957)

George S. Clason, owner of a mapmaking company, began writing about thriftiness and saving money to build wealth. After the stock market crash in 1929, his message had particular relevance, and he sought to bring his financial advice to an expanded readership.

In 1930 he compiled his favorite writings in The Richest Man in Babylon, published through his Clason Publishing Company. Today, it’s considered a classic, having sold more than 2 million copies in 26 languages.

Clason repackaged his message of frugality and enterprise under several titles, including Gold Ahead, Out of the Ruins of Babylon, Seven Remedies for a Lean Purse and Seven Keys to a Full Purse. Referenced in more than 100 books as a source of inspiration, Clason clearly made a lasting impact.

“Our prosperity as a nation depends upon the personal financial prosperity of each of us as individuals.”

Stephen Covey (1932–2012)

Best-selling author, entrepreneur and leadership icon Stephen Covey became one of the most sought-after voices in business, education and government of his time, personally teaching more than 35 heads of state. He was known for helping people from all walks of life realize the greatness within them.

Born in Salt Lake City, Covey developed an early passion for teaching. After attending Harvard Business School, he set out to teach principles that had universal and timeless applications. His first book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, and was named among the top 20 business books by Forbes and the most influential business book of the 20th century by Chief Executive magazine.

His company, Franklin Covey, carries on his legacy in providing training and productivity tools to individuals and organizations.

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”

Viktor Frankl (1905–1997)

Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Emil Frankl was among the first to suggest that humans must have meaning before they have the will to live.

A survivor of Nazi concentration camps, he lost most of his family to the Holocaust, including his first wife. Yet Frankl concluded that man “can only live by looking into the future.” The author of more than 30 books in 43 languages and the recipient of 29 honorary doctorates, Frankl recognized the human need for purpose, and he worked to give that purpose not just to his patients but to the world.

His most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, published in 1946, has sold more than 9 million copies. In 1997 he finished his final book, Man’s Search For Ultimate Meaning. The American Journal of Psychiatry called Frankl’s life’s work “perhaps the most significant thinking since Freud and Adler.”

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Paul Harvey (1918–2009)

Paul Harvey, one of the great broadcasters of our time, was known for his steadfast belief in the importance of the ordinary citizen and the happenings of everyday life.

Born in a working-class neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., Paul Harvey Aurandt developed an early fascination with radios. As a teen, he landed a job at a local radio station and was hooked. His career quickly blossomed, including hosting Jobs for G.I. Joe; Paul Harvey News; and Paul Harvey News and Comment, which remained his primary newscast until his dying day.

Listeners were buoyed by his optimism, and Harvey went on to share his message via television, public speaking, newspaper columns and books. One of those books was 1977’s The Rest of the Story, which contained 82 of Harvey’s signature mystery-history anecdotes. That, in turn, inspired its own radio feature, The Rest of the Story, a series with an American history angle.

In 2005, Harvey was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When he died in 2009, Harvey had spent almost seven decades on the airwaves, and at one point, he had some 24 million listeners on 1,200 stations weekly.

“Every pessimist who ever lived has been buried in an unmarked grave. Tomorrow has always been better than today, and it always will be.”

Napoleon Hill (1883–1970)

As a young reporter, Oliver Napoleon Hill landed the interview of his life: steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who tasked Hill with creating a compilation of success principles from great businessmen and leaders. Hill went on to meet Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller and more.

Hill published his The Law of Success in 1928, offering wisdom from great achievers. Hill followed that with Think and Grow Rich, considered among the greatest self-improvement books of all time, with more than 30 million copies sold worldwide. His primary message: “If you can conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it.”

Soon after, Hill met businessman W. Clement Stone, and the duo produced a host of books, courses, lectures and radio and television programs, as well as Success Unlimited, the predecessor to SUCCESS magazine.

“Before success comes to most people, they are sure to meet with some success, and perhaps some failure. When faced with defeat, the easiest and the most logical thing to do is to quit. That’s exactly what the majority of people do.

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones (1927–2008)

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, a self-proclaimed “book evangelist,” discovered the power of reading as an insurance salesman in his 20s and began sharing that experience with others. At 37, he retired from insurance and created Life Management Service and Executive Books, selling books by the thousands to business leaders. He also began conducting seminars and promoting books and reading full time.

For more than 40 years, the internationally acclaimed personal-development mentor and speaker worked to help people improve their lives through reading. Jones committed his estate to a foundation to promote reading to students, and he devoted much of his time to raising money for three libraries. His book, Life is Tremendous, has sold more than 2 million copies.

“Everyone has a success mechanism and a failure mechanism. The failure mechanism goes off by itself. The success mechanism only goes off with a goal. Every time we write down and talk about a goal we push the button to start the success mechanism.

Og Mandino (1923–1996)

A famous inspirational speaker and author with book sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide, Og Mandino was once an alcoholic failure.

As a young World War II veteran, Mandino spiraled into despair and poverty. But his life took a turn for the better because of a chance encounter with the work of success experts W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill, coupled with Mandino’s own willingness to take action.

Having failed in his first job in insurance sales, he was determined to succeed as he re-entered the field, armed with the principles and techniques he had absorbed from hundreds of books. Within a year, he was promoted to sales manager, and was breaking sales records.

A pamphlet he wrote about selling gained him a job doing promotional writing, and ultimately, Mandino became editor of Stone’s Success Unlimited. Within 10 years Mandino turned this booklet into a national magazine, and his writing attracted the interest of a book publisher. He went on to become the author of 22 top-selling books, including his most famous, The Greatest Salesman in the World.

“Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.”

Orison Swett Marden (1850–1924)

Considered by some to be the father of the self-improvement movement in the United States, Orison Swett Marden survived a childhood of poverty and abuse to become a champion of self-reliance. Making his way to Boston University and later Harvard, Marden ultimately earned degrees in business, oratory, medicine and law, and he embarked on a career in hotel development and management.

Marden wrote more than 50 books, including An Iron Will, How to Succeed, Making Life a Masterpiece and Pushing to the Front, his 1894 masterpiece. His works have been translated into dozens of languages and have been on the reading lists of everyone from political leaders to schoolchildren. Marden also founded SUCCESS magazine in 1897, and his influence continues to reverberate in the works of today’s personal-development gurus.

“Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.”

Paul J. Meyer (1928–2009)

For almost five decades Paul J. Meyer inspired millions around the world to become winners, earning him recognition as one of the most influential people in the personal-achievement industry.

With an entrepreneurial spirit dating to his youth, Meyer acquired and started a variety of businesses, including building the largest insurance agency in North America. He had a knack for summarizing what he learned in life to share it with others, with the underlying message, “Attitude is everything.” That clarion was the inspiration behind his Success Motivation Institute.

Meyer sold more than $3 billion worth of materials translated into 264 languages in more than 60 countries. He wrote 28 full-length programs and courses on the subjects of goal-setting, motivation, sales and leadership. Meyer’s body of work continues to influence the lives and teachings of many in the personal-development space today.

“Success begins with an attitude. Winners habitually face the work of the day with the purpose of discovering what can be done instead of worrying about what cannot be done. When winners encounter roadblocks, they draw instantly on their positive attitude and determine quickly how to react constructively.”

Earl Nightingale (1921–1989)

Growing up in poverty, Earl Nightingale decided at a young age to find the secret of success. As a Marine, he survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor and went on to become a radio announcer. In 1950 he found the secret of success in Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich: “We become what we think about.”

Nightingale bought a small insurance agency, and the pep talks he gave to his salesmen were so popular that his manager asked him to record something. In 1956 he put the essence of what he had learned into a recorded essay, The Strangest Secret, which sold more than 1 million copies and became the first spoken-word recording to reach Gold Record status.

In 1959 Nightingale began Our Changing World, which became the largest syndicated radio show of its kind. Soon after, he recorded Lead The Field, 12 records focused on an enduring success principle, which has sold more than 1 million copies.

Shortly before his death, Nightingale wrote his first book, Earl Nightingale’s Greatest Discovery, which earned him the Napoleon Hill Gold Medal for Literary Excellency.

“Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.

Norman Vincent Peale (1898–1993)

Credited with helping millions to think positively, Norman Vincent Peale overcame childhood shyness and negativity by studying the great thinkers and the lessons of Jesus Christ while in college. He became a minister and ultimately reached mass audiences through radio (including his long-running program, The Art of Living); television; magazines and newspapers; direct mail; and 46 books, particularly his most popular title, The Power of Positive Thinking.

Peale’s message that individuals could discover hidden strengths, overcome problems and seize life’s opportunities to reach their potential made him one of the leading motivational speakers and writers in the world. Peale served on several presidential committees, was awarded five honorary doctorate degrees and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you ever do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you are.

Jim Rohn (1930–2009)

During his lifetime, Jim Rohn spoke to more than 6,000 audiences, emphasizing the importance of taking responsibility for personal growth and teaching people how to reach for a bigger, better life.

Raised on an Idaho farm, Rohn was a college dropout at age 25, barely scraping by to support his family. Then he met motivational speaker and salesman Earl Shoaff, who mentored him for five years and set him on a path of personal growth. Rohn began to build a business and, within years, became a millionaire.

In the early 1960s Rohn moved to California, where he got the opportunity to share his story at a Rotary Club meeting. It wasn’t long before he began speaking on a regular basis, hosting or keynoting at seminars across the country and the world.

Throughout his career, more than 5 million people attended Rohn’s seminars, and millions more studied his teachings through his books and audio and video programs. Some of his best-known works include Challenge to Succeed and The Art of Exceptional Living.

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.”

W. Clement Stone (1902–2002)

In a life that spanned a century, William Clement Stone became an insurance magnate, philanthropist, publisher, best-selling author and personal-development pioneer.

Raised fatherless and penniless on Chicago’s South Side, Stone started selling papers at age 6, and by 13 owned his own newsstand. He modeled his life after Horatio Alger stories about poor boys who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.

At 16, Stone dropped out of high school and went into the insurance business. Over the years he took night classes to earn a diploma, and also attended some college classes. In 1922 he established what would become Combined Insurance Company of America. He instilled in employees the importance of a positive mental attitude, and the company grew steadily.

Stone struck up a partnership with author Napoleon Hill in 1952, producing books (including Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude); courses; radio and television programs; and Success Unlimited, the predecessor to SUCCESS magazine.

By 1979 Stone’s company surpassed $1 billion in assets. In 1980 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. When he died at age 100, Stone had given an estimated $275 million to charity.

“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success—or are they holding you back?”

John Wooden (1910–2010)

Widely regarded as the greatest college coach in basketball history, garnering 10 NCAA titles during his coaching career at UCLA, John Wooden was responsible for the success of some of the most talented teams in collegiate history. He also proved himself as a committed, lifelong mentor to many, beyond just his players, imparting his simple but inspirational maxims and truly leading by example.

Wooden, also a Basketball Hall of Fame player at Purdue, was the author of nine books and created the popular Pyramid of Success, outlining 25 behaviors he believed were necessary to achieve success. He became an in-demand motivational speaker later in life, and he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.

“Never try to be better than someone else. Learn from others, and try to be the best you can be. Success is the by-product of that preparation.

Zig Ziglar (1926–2012)

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Zig Ziglar attended the University of South Carolina, eventually leaving to pursue a sales career and earn a better living for his family. For two years Ziglar struggled, until he received a verbal slap in the face from a superior that awakened him to his potential.

Within a year Ziglar became No. 2 in a company of 7,000 salespeople. He later reached the No. 1 position in another company of 3,000. He was repeatedly asked to share his expertise with other sales groups, and in the years that followed, he established himself as a sought-after speaker and trainer. In 1970 Ziglar launched a full-time speaking career.

Ziglar authored more than 25 books, including his best-seller, See You At The Top. His multimillion-dollar Ziglar Inc. offers personal-development and corporate training materials as well as certified instructors.

“You were born to win. But to be the winner you were born to be, you have to plan to win, prepare to win, and only then, can you expect to win.”

See who made the inaugural SUCCESS 25 list as 2014’s most influential leaders in personal growth and achievement.

Chelsea Greenwood has been contributing to print and online publications as an editor and writer for more than 10 years. A University of Florida graduate, she is the editor of a lifestyle magazine in South Florida.