Creative, colorful, sometimes controversial--the entrepreneurs who died in 2018 left indelible marks on the economy and on our lives.
Bruce Halle (January 4, age 87)
Discount Tire--the nation's largest independent dealer with more than 1,000 stores--started with an inventory of just six tires. Halle, the company's founder, grew up digging graves, among other jobs, to help his family during the Great Depression. After serving as a Marine in Korea, he launched Discount Tire in an old plumbing supply store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1960. Ten years later he moved the business to Arizona. In 1975 the company aired a commercial--a 10-second spot of a little old lady hurling a tire through a Discount Tire store window--that entered the Guinness Book of World Records for longest-running TV ad.
Ingvar Kamprad (January 27, age 91)
Students and urbanites everywhere have Kamprad to thank for making stylish furniture affordable. Kamprad, whose reputation was tainted by past fascist affiliations, started IKEA at age 17, selling household goods and delivering them by milk truck. The first IKEA furniture showroom opened in Sweden in 1958. (Those meatballs debuted the next year.) After local manufacturers boycotted the company because of its low prices, he began sourcing from Poland and eventually brought design in-house. His signature innovation was flat-packing: a way to make furniture easier to transport and cheaper to store in warehouses. IKEA became the world's largest furniture seller, with 2017 revenues north of $40 billion and more than 400 stores. Throughout his career Kamprad embodied thrift and simplicity, virtues that he credited for IKEA's success.
Charles Lazarus (March 22, age 94)
As Toys "R" Us, under bankruptcy protection, announced the closing of all U.S. stores in March, it was tough to remember how innovative this business once seemed. One of many returning World War II veterans starting families, Lazarus began selling children's furniture in Washington, D.C. in 1948. Realizing toys generated more repeat business, in 1957 he founded Toys "R" Us, a pioneering big box retailer that transformed toy shopping into a yearlong rather than seasonal activity. Lazarus kept diaper prices low so shoppers had more money to spend on toys. Over the years, the company's deep discounts and vast variety put paid to many small independent toy sellers. Toys "R "Us went public in 1978; Lazarus stayed on as CEO until 1994. His iconic branding--from mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe to that backward "R" (designed to appear scrawled by a child)--survives, even as the company's new owners mull its future.
H. Wayne Huizenga (March 22, age 80)
Huizenga was the roll-up king. The grandson of a garbage hauler, he started his own trash company, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1962. Six years later he merged that business with other trash companies to create Waste Management, and continued sweeping up small, undercapitalized waste haulers across the country. After Waste Management went public in 1971, Huizenga used a similar strategy to grow Blockbuster, a company he had bought into and later sold to Viacom. In the mid-'90s Huizenga began rolling up small car dealerships to create AutoNation, which became America's largest car retailer. He also co-founded Extended Stay America, a hotel chain that fit his preference for service industries with repeatable business. Huizenga insisted on running his ventures from South Florida, where he was founding owner of the Marlins baseball and Panthers hockey teams, and owner of the Dolphins.
Kate Spade (June 5, age 55)
Young women loved their adorable, affordable Kate Spade bags. And they loved Spade, with her Jackie Kennedy-inspired style and sunny disposition. Spade started her eponymous business in 1993 in a New York City attic, designing the fun, functional accessories she'd missed while working as a fashion editor at Mademoiselle. Sewing the label (a black rectangle with white letters) on the outside of the bags made the brand even more recognizable. Together with her husband and co-founder Andy Spade (Elyce Arons was a third founder), Spade broke into retailers like Barney's before opening her first shop in SoHo. In 2006, Spade sold what had become a more diverse accessories business to Neiman Marcus Group in order to spend more time with her daughter, Frances. Ten years later she launched a new handbag and shoe company: Frances Valentine.
Richard DeVos (September 6, age 92)
The name Amway reflected its founders' belief in the primacy of the "American way" of private enterprise. DeVos launched the business--the world's largest direct-selling company--in 1959 with former high-school classmate Jay Van Andel. The company was an early entrant in the multilevel marketing industry, which eschews stores and instead deploys independent distributors to sell directly to people in their neighborhoods. Starting with a liquid cleaner, the partners expanded into hundreds of products including vitamins and household goods. In 1979 the FTC cleared Amway of being a pyramid scheme. Other MLM companies soon adopted its practices to stay on the right side of regulators.
Paul Allen (October 15, age 65)
Before the Internet changed everything, personal computing had already changed it. Among the pile drivers of that industry was Microsoft, founded in 1975 by Allen--who named the company--and his former prep-school pal Bill Gates. The company ascended to dominance in the early '80s by providing an operating system for IBM's nascent PC business. But Allen, diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, left in 1983, the year Word was introduced. He launched Vulcan Inc. in 1986 to manage a vast, varied array of philanthropic, investment, and development efforts ranging from wildlife conservation to global health to space travel (he wanted to be an astronaut). In Seattle Allen's legacy is everywhere--from the Seahawks, which he owned, to the suffering South Lake Union Neighborhood, reinvented as a flourishing creative district. Tech entrepreneurship made him rich. What came after is still changing lives.
Earl Bakken (October 21, age 94)
When Earl Bakken co-founded Medtronic in a Minneapolis garage in 1949, it was just a repair service for electronic medical equipment and TV sets. Eight years later a baby using a pacemaker that plugged into an outlet died during a blackout in the city. The child's surgeon asked Bakken to create something that would prevent such a thing from happening again. Four weeks later Bakken had a prototype of the first battery-operated, wearable pacemaker. Soon after he won a license to make the first implantable pacemakers (designed by someone else). Medtronic grew into a medical device giant, reaching almost $30 billion in revenues. Bakken retired as chairman in 1989 and moved to Hawaii, where he helped run a hospital.
Charles Wang (October 21, age 74)
Computer Associates, Wang used to say, was "the biggest software company no one ever heard of." The company, whose name changed to CA Technologies, was for a period in the '90s the world's third-largest software business after Microsoft and IBM. An immigrant from China, Wang and Russell Artzt, a classmate at Queens College, founded Computer Associates in 1976 to develop software for mainframes. It went public 11 years later. As CEO, Wang oversaw rapid expansion, much of it propelled by acquisitions. The company's purchase of Legent Corporation in 1995 for $1.78 billion was, at the time, a record-setter for the industry. Later CA ran into legal problems; Wang stepped down in 2000. At his death, Wang was best known as the former owner of the New York Islanders.
Gilberto Benetton (October 22, age 77)
The fashion brand Benetton Group--which operates the United Colors of Benetton retail stores--was always a family affair. Benetton founded it in Italy, with his three siblings, in 1965. (Carlo Benetton, a younger brother, died in July.) Soft woolen sweaters in bright colors brought the business fame. Its ad campaigns brought it notoriety. In support of values like diversity and sustainability, the ads had nothing to do with the company's apparel. Instead they included such images as a newborn baby covered in blood and still attached to an umbilical cord; a nun and priest kissing; and a nude rear end stamped with the words "HIV positive." Although sales have declined, the company operates around 5,000 stores worldwide. Benetton led the family's expansion into transportation, construction, and catering.