A to Z of Inspirational People – Part 2

A to Z Inspirational People - Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of this A to Z of Inspirational People. People inspire me in so many different ways; whether that be through significant breakthroughs in technology, advancement in science, progression of thought or overcoming adversity to succeed. Hopefully this A to Z series will make you think about who inspires you and why.

If you missed Part 1, including; Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Charles Darwin, David Attenborough and Florence Nightingale,  please click here.


guy-kawasaki-apeGuy Kawasaki

As one of the Apple employees responsible for marketing the Macintosh computer in 1984, Kawasaki had a first-hand experience with the value of getting in on the ground floor of new ideas. Soon he would bring his evangelism for the Apple brand to the high-tech business world. He is the co-founder of Alltop.com, “an online magazine rack,” and Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm. A writer, speaker, and consultant, Kawasaki has also become a high-tech marketing guru. He has authored numerous books including: Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, The Macintosh Way and Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions – my personal favourite.

His latest book is APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book.

Kawasaki is a social media giant and has inspired me to engage, listen and grow my network, sharing insight and good news. He’s one of the reasons I started Think Oak! and started writing my first book.

“Do not write to impress others. Authors who write to impress people have difficulty remaining true to themselves. A better path is to write what pleases you and pray that there are others like you. Your first and most important reader is you. If you write a book that pleases you, at least you know one person will like it.”
― Guy Kawasaki


henry-ford-1919-smallHenry Ford

Henry Ford is a name that is respected all around the world. He is known for many reasons but most commonly for his founding of the Ford Motor Company in 1903. For over 100 years Ford Motor Company has been one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. The impact that Ford had on the car industry was more than significant. But the car industry is not the only industry that Ford’s innovative thinking touched. His ideas for the assembly line and mass production of inexpensive goods had an effect on a plethora of production industries around the world. His accomplishments should be considered incredible by anyone’s standards.

On top of his obvious contributions to the car industry, Henry Ford helped to make huge advances in engineering of wood products, such as particle / chip board, helped to develop corn as a fuel source, such as ethanol, and helped develop potential uses for cotton. Ford also paved the way for millions of people to grill their food by being an instrumental in developing charcoal briquettes, under the brand Kingsford. On top of these advances, he also made contributions to sociology with studies, inspirational references and writings. His inventions touched, and continues to touch millions of people, all around the world and shape the way that both fuels and the way that we travel.

The best quality that can be seen in Henry Ford’s life is the fact that he never lost sight of his morals, even when faced with criticism. Even in his wealth he remained humble and respected others. He treated people well, especially his workers. His workers were paid more than double of what workers at similar jobs were being paid during that time period.

My favourite Henry Ford quotes:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” 

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.” 

Hilary Clinton

An advocate for children’s rights and welfare, she became an indispensable champion of gender equality both at work and at home, and a staunch defender of reproductive rights. It is no coincidence that her tenure as First Lady coincided with the passage of key policies for American women and children. In 1995 her declaration that “it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights,” at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, electrified the world. Her run for the president of the United States made the prospect of a woman as commander-in-chief seem not only possible, but inevitable. And in her tenure as secretary of state she has proven that she doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers, speaking out forcefully on women’s rights. In her long and truly remarkable career, Clinton has been a role model to millions, an indispensable voice, and one of the most relentless advocates for women worldwide. In a recent speech in Toronto, Clinton said electing a woman president “would send exactly the right historic signal to girls, women as well as boys and men. And I will certainly vote for the right woman to be president.”

Hillary Clinton has been an inescapable American public figure for more than 20 years now – First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. In her whirlwind final year as secretary of state, Clinton became one of the most popular politicians in America and she is increasingly celebrated as a class act who has managed to reinvent herself from losing presidential aspirant to world-class problem solver. At 65, she still seems to have the passion and the energy to make a difference!


isambard-kingdom-brunelIsambard Kingdom Brunel

One of the great British engineers of the 19th century Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) built twenty-five railways lines, over a hundred bridges, including five suspension bridges, eight pier and dock systems, three ships and a pre-fabricated army field hospital. He was the only son of French civil engineer Sir Marc Brunel and under his father’s guidance Isambard was fluent in French and had a command over the basics of engineering by the age of eight.

Brunel’s international engineering status was established by his work on the Great Western Railway (GWR) linking Bristol and London. At the age of 27 he was appointed GWR’s chief engineer. And his achievements included viaducts at Hanwell and Chippenham, the Maidenhead Bridge, the Box Tunnel and Bristol’s Temple Meads Station. Not content with railways the far-sighted Brunel persuaded the company which backed the Great Western Railway to consider trans-Atlantic travel. The Great Steamship Company was established, allowing Brunel to build a steam ship to cross from Bristol to New York. At 236 feet long the Great Western was the largest steamship of its time. She made her first voyage in 1838. The journey took 15 days and was the first of more than 60 crossings made over the next eight years. Brunel’s next steamship quickly overshadowed her older sister. At the time of the SS Great Britain’s launch in 1843 she was the largest ship in the world. She was also the first screw-propelled, ocean-going, iron-hulled steam ship – a truly revolutionary vessel and fore-runner of all modern shipping.

A celebrated engineer in his era, Brunel remains revered today, as evidenced by numerous monuments to him across the UK.

Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton contributed significantly to the field of science over his lifetime. He invented calculus and provided a clear understanding of optics. Born in England in1642, Isaac Newton attended Trinity College in Cambridge. While there, he took interest in mathematics, optics, physics, and astronomy.

His most famous work came with the publication of his “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), generally called Principia. In it, he determined the three laws of motion for the universe. Newton then went on to calculate the universal law of gravity. These laws helped scientists understand more about the motions of planets in the solar system, and of the moon around Earth.

His surviving writings and letters reveal a person with tremendous powers of concentration, the ability to stand long periods of intense mental strain, and the ability to remain free of distractions.  In changing from pursuit of answers to the question “Why?” to focus upon “What?” and “How?,” he prepared the way for the age of technology.


JFK John F KennedyJohn F Kennedy

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, is one of the most celebrated and idolised figures in American history and across the globe. Born into a wealthy, well-connected family, Kennedy was bred for a life in politics. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II—JFK earned several medals for his bravery—he ran for Congress and won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1946. Kennedy served in Congress for fourteen years—six in the House and eight in the Senate—and built a real name for himself in the Democratic Party. Kennedy launched a presidential campaign in 1959 defeating Richard Nixon in one of the closest elections in decades. Though his presidency was characterized by a mixed bag of blunders (the Bay of Pigs), successes (the Cuban Missile Crisis), and indiscretions (affairs with numerous women), Kennedy’s charisma was a constant and his vision of American progress was undeniably inspiring. Although John F. Kennedy’s tenure as commander-in-chief was tragically short—only two years and ten months passed between his inauguration and his assassination in 1963—and his accomplishments in the White House relatively modest, he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential presidents of all time.

As the youngest person ever to be elected president, he charmed the nation with his charisma, injecting new energy into the federal government at a turning point in U.S. history. Kennedy ushered in the 1960s, a decade of great activism and social change, with an idealistic message of empowerment: “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Through his actions and speeches, Kennedy captured the hearts and minds of an entire generation of young people, urging them to participate in civic life, engage with the world, and fight for equality. Even though his presidency did not yield a wealth of concrete political accomplishments, his legacy in American politics has been profound. By issuing a mandate for public service and inspiring a nation to take on all the challenges of a new era, JFK helped set the stage for the major social, cultural, and political changes of the past half century.

This is my favourite JFK quote:

‘We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.’

President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas

Jeff Bezos

If you didn’t know, Jeff Bezos is the Founder and CEO of Amazon, one of my favourite brands.

Bezos is the ultimate disruptor: He has upended the book industry and displaced electronics merchants. Now Amazon is pushing into everything from fashion retailing and feature-film production to iPad-worthy tablet manufacturing with the Kindle. Amazon even sells ultra-cheap database software for businesses.  He’s willing to take risks and lose money, yet investors have embraced him, pushing Amazon’s share price up and up. And even as Amazon expands and experiments, Bezos remains zealous about delivering a good customer experience.

“We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards,” he says. “That becomes the touchstone for how we invent.” Pushing the publishing industry to make books available electronically was a customer-friendly proposition: Readers got instant gratification at lower prices. Amazon Prime, the company’s popular all-you-can-eat delivery offering, eliminates friction; if you’ve already paid for unlimited shipping, then you order what you want, when you want, in the quantities you want. Amazon Web Services, the company’s newest big division, offers business customers the same sophisticated online infrastructure technology that Amazon has developed for itself.

Bezos is also willing to cannibalise his own companies: Amazon spent nearly $1 billion to acquire shoe retailer Zappos in 2009, but its Amazon shoe site competes directly with Zappos. As well, Bezos is adept both at changing the subject to one of his choosing and at crafting a reality that suits his purposes. Asked if Amazon’s price-comparison app, launched during last Christmas’s shopping season to the intense irritation of physical retailers, was a gentlemanly thing to do, Bezos responds, “I would broaden that to say we live in a world that is becoming more and more transparent.”

Amazon also tolerates businesses under its roof that are unconnected to one another. Amazon Web Services, for example, has nothing in common with Kindles, and that’s just fine with Bezos. He allows each to operate independently as long as they adhere to Amazon’s overall values. He calls this “distributed innovation,” and it contributes to a nimble corporate mindset that allows Amazon to branch out into new areas.
A strong strain of pragmatism, or practicality, runs through Bezos’s decision-making. Sure, he has his credos, and he cites them frequently. “The three big ideas at Amazon are long-term thinking, customer obsession, and a willingness to invent,” he says. A great mantra for any business, I would suggest!

J.K. Rowling

A phenomenon of magic and wizardry was ignited when J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels were published. Although not an obvious choice for this A to Z for many, she certainly is an inspiration to me. Rowling has been a best-selling author, generating huge interest from a global audience. Furthermore, J.K. Rowling herself has been an inspiration to many people alongside her magnificent talent for writing. With her charitable spirit and courageous personality I feel that J .K. Rowling is a worthy candidate for this A to Z.

Rowling lived quite a traumatic life, losing her mother to multiple sclerosis at a young age. She graduated from the University of Exeter and in 1990 she immigrated to Portugal, where she taught English. It was at this stage in her life that she became romantically involved, marrying a Portuguese journalist, Jorge Arantes, and having a daughter in 1993. Unfortunately, this marriage was not very long-lasting and resulted in a divorce. Rowling and her daughter, Jessica, moved back to Scotland.

As with many authors, she had to overcome the difficulties of publishing her first book. In 1999, a small, low-key publisher offered to publish the book, unaware of the exceptional success that would become of this fictional tale. She went from ‘rags to riches’ in under five years! The reaction to the books really exploded just before the release of the fourth book; ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,’ in 2000. This was noted as the fastest selling book in history at the time. She has now sold over half a billion books! Movies, merchandising, video games and a theme park followed. Rowling was involved heavily in all of them, vetoing ideas that were not true to the Harry Potter brand.

In October 2010, J. K. Rowling was named ‘Most Influential Woman in Britain’. She has become a notable philanthropist, supporting such charities as Comic Relief, One Parent Families, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain, and the Children’s High Level Group.


ken-blanchardKen Blanchard

Ken Blanchard (born in 1939) is an American author and management expert. His book The One Minute Manager (co-authored with Spencer Johnson) has sold over 13 million copies and has been translated into 37 languages. Blanchard is the “chief spiritual officer” of The Ken Blanchard Companies, an international management training and consulting firm that he and his wife, Marjorie Blanchard, cofounded in 1979 in San Diego, California. In addition to being a renowned speaker and consultant, Ken Blanchard also spends time as a visiting lecturer at his alma mater, Cornell University, where he is a trustee emeritus of the Board of Trustees. Born in New Jersey and raised in New York, Ken Blanchard received a Master’s degree from Colgate University, and a Bachelor’s and PhD from Cornell University.

Few people have influenced the day-to-day management of people and companies more than Ken Blanchard. A prominent, sought-after author, speaker, and business consultant, Dr. Blanchard is universally characterized by his friends, colleagues, and clients as one of the most insightful, powerful, and compassionate individuals in business today. Ken is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world and is respected for his years of ground-breaking work in the fields of leadership and management.

Blanchard has inspired me, probably more than any other author. He has written over 40 books, my favourite ones being; Gung Ho! Turn On the People in Any OrganizationFull Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Company and Your LifeRaving Fans a Revolutionary Approach to Customer ServiceLeading at a Higher Level: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations and Whale Done! : The Power of Positive Relationships 

I have given a copy of ‘Gung Ho’ to every manager that has worked for me and if you haven’t read it, you must!

Kelly Holmes

The Athens Olympic Games was the pinnacle of a long international athletics career for Dame Kelly Holmes. Her Double Olympic Gold triumph changed her life forever and fulfilled her second childhood dream of becoming an Olympic Champion.

Her first dream was joining the British Army which she realised at the age of 17; Kelly turned her back on an early athletics career to forge a successful military career and become a Training Instructor in the British Army. She was later recognised for her services to the Military when she received her MBE after almost ten years’ service. However, she was decided to return to the track in 1992.

The build-up to the Athens Olympic Games was the first year in seven, that Kelly wasn’t injured and she made the brave decision to double up in the 800m and 1500m, and the rest is history. She finished her illustrious career with twelve major championship medals from the Olympics, Worlds, Commonwealth Games and Europeans.

As well as her athletics achievements, she ranks one of the proudest moments of her life as receiving her Damehood from the Queen in March 2005. Since retiring from international athletics, Kelly has started a new chapter in her life in the business world; establishing her own company Double Gold and her charity the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust. She has also been active in raising the profile of school sport up the political agenda. Kelly became National School Sport Champion in 2006 for three years and pioneered the creation of National School Sport Week. She also led the creation of Girls Active set up with the Youth Sports Trust to capture the interest of disengaged female teenagers.

She also fulfils speaking engagements to the corporate industry sharing her stories of overcoming adversity, setbacks and desperation to finally achieve her lifelong dreams. In her limited spare time, Kelly devotes time to supporting her chosen charities the Laureus Sports Foundation, Hospice in the Weald and Sport Relief, alongside her own charity.


Larry Page GoogleLarry Page

Google has become as much as a part of our culture as it has a leading site for finding information. It’s even become a verb – I google, you google, they google! Offered in multiple languages, Google – and its products and services – has become a part of our every day lives. Google has expanded dramatically since it was founded in 1998. What is now a multi-billion dollar company, with thousands of workers and offices, originally began in a very different place: a dorm room with just two employees. One of these staff members was Larry Page.

With a love of computers that began at age six, Larry Page went on to develop his passion and talent at The University of Michigan, where he graduated with honours and a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Larry then went on to the ph.D. program in computer science at Stanford University, where he met future business partner Sergey Brin.

Since co-founding Google in 1998, Larry Page has won numerous honours and awards, including being named a World Economic Forum Global Leader for Tomorrow. Page was also awarded the Marconi Prize in 2004 – an annual award recognizing advancements in communications. Page moved into his role as President of Products in April 2001 and continues to run the company along with partners Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt.

Page has never swayed from his desire to provide us easy access to all of the world’s information. His belief in the power of the internet to deliver information instantaneously has led him to a high status on the Forbes Richest American’s list – a $15 billion dollar status to be exact.

As a co-founder of one of the most famous brands on the planet, Larry Page has become an inspiring entrepreneur who has helped his business to grow from a dorm room business run by two students to the multi-billion company it has come to be today.

Leonardo da Vinci

The fame of Da Vinci’s (1452 -1519) surviving paintings has meant that he has been regarded primarily as an artist, but the thousands of surviving pages of his notebooks reveal the most eclectic and brilliant of minds. He wrote and drew on subjects including geology, anatomy (which he studied in order to paint the human form more accurately), flight, gravity and optics, often flitting from subject to subject on a single page, and writing in left-handed mirror script. He ‘invented’ the bicycle, airplane, helicopter, and parachute some 500 years ahead of their time.

If all this work had been published in an intelligible form, da Vinci’s place as a pioneering scientist would have been beyond dispute. Yet his true genius was not as a scientist or an artist, but as a combination of the two: an ‘artist-engineer’. His painting was scientific, based on a deep understanding of the workings of the human body and the physics of light and shade. His science was expressed through art, and his drawings and diagrams show what he meant, and how he understood the world to work. I’ll leave you with 3 of my favourite Da Vinci quotes:

“It has long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

“There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see.”

“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.”

I hope you enjoyed part 2 of this A to Z. If you missed Part 1, click here. Part 3 coming soon!


Six of the Best …. Failures

Following on from my last post Fail to Learn, Learn to Fail, I’ve done some research into some famous business people to see how rocky their road to success was. I was surprised by a few names and fascinated by others, so I thought I’d share some of them with you:

Walt DisneyWalt Disney

‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them’

Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney himself had a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. Legend has it he was turned down 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World. He kept going with his mantra – Dream, Believe, Dare, Do and eventually found a recipe for success that transformed the dreams of millions of children and adults alike. Unfortunately he wasn’t alive to see his Walt Disney World vision become reality.

Winston Churchill

‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’

This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom wasn’t always as well-regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and performed poorly. After school he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62.

During Churchill’s political career, he made numerous decisions that would turn into failures. In the First World War, he led the troop who invaded Turkey in order to establish a southern link with Russia, which resulted into a complete failure and loss of many young soldiers from Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZAC. In the Second World War he was chiefly responsible for taking over Norway and he was defeated by the German army. In spite of all the failures and criticism, Churchill is regarded as one of the greatest leaders and orators of the 20th century.

In 1953 he received the Noble Prize for Literature for the book ‘The Second World War’, In 1963, the US Congress granted him an honorary American citizenship. In 1940 and in 1949, the Time magazine honoured Churchill with the “Man of the Year”.

J.K. RowlingJ. K. Rowling

‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’

Jo Rowling is a huge success on a global scale due to her Harry Potter stories, but before she published the series of novels she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel, which incidentally was rejected by 12 publishers before being published by Bloomsbury. Rowling went from struggling to survive on benefits to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.

Richard BransonRichard Branson

‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over’

Richard Branson has tried many different things in his life. He likes to compete and prove to bigger players that the smaller ones can indeed win too in business.

Virgin Cola, introduced by Richard Branson in 1994 as the rival to Coca-Cola, has practically disappeared. Virgin Clothes, launched on the stock exchange in 1996, folded with losses to shareholders, after debuting with promising new trends in providing more edgy wardrobe to the young. Virgin Money was launched with a viral and somewhat controversial advertising campaign, panned by critics with Richard Branson emerging naked from the sea, but did not deliver the expected big financial rewards to its shareholders. Then came Virgin Vie, Virgin Vision, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Wine, Virgin Jeans, Virgin Brides, Virgin Cosmetics and Virgin Cars – All the major brands who wanted to compete and earn a huge market share from established brands in those areas, failed to live up towards expectations.

He has lost millions upon millions, if not billions, over the years. Many people would have given up along the way. But he hasn’t allowed his failures to stop him from trying again. He has learnt from his mistakes and gone on to be extremely successful again and again. It is his willingness to give things a go that has seen him succeed. He sees his failures as a step to success.

Albert EinsteinAlbert Einstein

‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.’

Most people would come up with the name Albert Einstein, if you asked them to name a genius.  Yet even for Einstein genius did not come easy.  He had speech difficulties as a child and was once even thought to be mentally handicapped. As a teen he rebelled against his schools reliance on rote learning and failed.  He tried to test into Zurich Polytechnic, but failed again (although he did very well in the mathematics and physics section!  A few years later he had a PHD and was recognized as a leading theorist.  A few years after that he had a Nobel prize for physics and began to be recognized as the genius of our modern era.

James DysonJames Dyson

‘By fostering an environment where failure is embraced, even those of us far from our student days have the freedom to make mistakes — and learn from them still. No one is going to get it right the first time. Instead of being punished for mistakes along the way, learn from them. I fail constantly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

While developing his vacuum, Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 failed prototypes and his savings over 15 years. By the time he made his 15th prototype, his third child was born. By 2,627, he was really struggling financially. By 3,727, Dyson’s wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. Each failure brought him closer to solving the problem. It wasn’t the final prototype that made the struggle worth it. The 5,127th prototype worked and now the Dyson brand is one of the best-selling vacuum cleaners in the World.

Hope you enjoyed reading Six of the Best…Failures. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes of the moment :

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

%d bloggers like this: