7 Kids Who Turned Their Family Business Into Billion-Dollar Companies

Heir-raising schemes.

by Mark Oliver
Originally Published: 
A father, a son, and a grandson selling products together

Your goals are pretty simple: save money, pay down a mortgage, and try to hold on to a little something to pass on to your kids. Sometimes that’s your prized collection of foil-stamped X-Men crossovers. Sometimes it’s a multi-billion dollar corporation. But, for those who have started or inherited a family business, things can get tricky. First off, it’s hard to fire someone you’ll see at dinner. Most kids want to do the exact opposite of what you do for a living. Not to mention that two-thirds of all family fortunes are wiped out by their children.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The other third make something greater than they started with. And some of the most successful people in the world were heirs who took companies that their fathers had built and built them up. Here are 7 elite examples of what happens when you give your kid an entrepreneurial head start.

Mars: The Original Charlie Of The Chocolate Factory

The Mars Candy Company actually started with Frank Mars’ mother. She was the one that schooled him how to make sweet, sweet chocolate to pass the time. (Best. H0bby. Ever.) It was that little moment of mother-son bonding that lead to a billion-dollar business. Frank Mars went from selling candy out of his kitchen to making $100,000 in a single year. He thought that he’d peaked, but then he brought his son Forrester into the business. In 1923, at 18, his kid made his first contribution by co-creating the Milky Way bar with his father. It was the first chocolate bar the company made that’s still sold today. When Frank died in 1934, Forrester took over the company and, within 10 years, turned it into a billion-dollar brand — despite the fact they made Bounty.

Walgreens: From Whiskey To Perscrip … sky?

Walgreens started off as a single drugstore, owned by a man named Charles R. Walgreen (what a coincidence!). It was a nationwide epidemic known Prohibition that turned his lone pharmacy into a million-dollar chain. While Americans were afflicted with debilitating sobriety, Walgreen stepped up and started dispensing as much prescription-strength whiskey as he could legally sell. He taught his son, Charles Jr. what he knew about business. Then his son, Charles III, worked his way up from stock boy to CEO. Sadly, the whiskey is no longer available.

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Moka Express: Great Coffee Needs A Good Logo

Those little metal espresso makers that you put on the stove were invented by a man named Alfonso Bialetti, an engineer who knew a lot about metal and almost nothing about sales. He sold 70,000 units of his little coffee maker, and then nearly gave up entirely at the star of World War II. But, his son Renato understood something that his father didn’t: cute logos matter more than a good product. He made a little cartoon mascot, put it in television ads, and pretty soon was selling these little espresso makers across the country. Today, over 330 million Moka Expresses have been sold, and Renato also started another company called Bialetti that sells everything for the kitchen. When Alfonso died, his son had his ashes put in his father’s invention – which is touching, in that you’re-inviting-your-family-to-drink-your-remains kind of way.

Perdue Farms: His Son Didn’t Chicken Out

Arthur Perdue started his business the year his son Frank was born, and taught him to work from a young age. By the age of 10, little Frank already had his own coop of 50 hens that was bringing in $20 a month. Despite how hard his father pushed him, Frank imagined he’d become a baseball player. Instead, he worked for his dad and took over the company when he was 30.

Frank inherited the old man’s work ethic, putting in 18 hour days, and sleeping in his office more often than not. His marketing push in the 1950s made Perdue Farms a national brand. In the 1970s he turned it into an poultry empire. He passed the company on to his own son in 1991. Before he died, Frank said of his father, “The tenets on which this company was built were all his, and all I did was expand on them.”

Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey: Cheers To Grandpa

Julian Van Winkle III didn’t want to enter the family business. His father, he’s said, was “a tough guy to work for” – which is polite interview language for “my dad’s an asshole.” When his father sold his stake in the family business and registered the ambitiously-named “J. P. Van Winkle & Son” company, though, JVW3 didn’t have much choice. Things didn’t go well.

Four years after inviting his son to join him, the elder Van Winkle died and the contract with the bottling company died with him. Julian poured all of his money (and little bourbon) into buying his own facilities. Unfortunately, the business continued to hemorrhage money — until he slapped a picture of his grandfather on a bottle. When he sent that bottle to the Beverage Tasting Institute for judging, they called it one of the best whiskeys on Earth. Almost overnight, the family product became a world-famous brand, and an average gouged price of $2,000 a bottle.

Jack Link’s: He Raised Some Jerky Boys

Jack Link’s Beef Jerky has only been in stores since the 1980s, but the recipe is more than a hundred years older than that. It was originally brought to America by Chris Link in 1880, who used an old family recipe to sell dried meat. Chris’s son, Earl, used that family recipe as a product in his general store. And his grandson, Wolf, used it as a cattle rancher.

It took 100 years before anybody got rich off dehydrated beef (or named their kid Wolf, again). It was Jack Link who finally decided to turn his family’s secret into a company. He started selling beef jerky out of his home (mmm … homey). But, within a few years, he put it into every gas stations and 7 Elevens thought out the country. You’re welcome, truck drivers.

LEGO: Chip Off The Old Brick

LEGO didn’t start off as a plastic brick company – they started off selling wood toys. The company was founded by Ole Kirk Christiansen, who was dreamed of a day when everyone who heard the word “Lego” would immediately picture a wooden duck. (Although, who hasn’t had that dream?) Ole Kirk bought the LEGO brick design in 1949, but he didn’t know how to market it. He called them “Automatic Binding Bricks” and — for obvious marketing reasons — completely flopped. Most were sent back the factory unsold. When his son Godtfred took over, he thought plastic was the future of the company, but Ole Kirk wouldn’t let him do it. He yelled, “I’ll decide what’s to be built!” at his son. The second Ole Kirk kicked, Godtfred switched to plastic, presumably while throwing 2 fingers up at his dad’s grave. Oh, and he built a massive toy empire. The end.

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