Real Leaders

10 Immigrants That Helped Change the World

There are many reasons why immigrants can make great entrepreneurs. They are amazed by the quality of education and infrastructure of their new country and are struck by the lack of awareness and initiative from locals, who don’t always realize how much opportunity exists around them. Secondly, They can deal with adversity. All entrepreneurs experience failure and rejection, but immigrants are better prepared than most. They are less likely to give up in the face of adversity, as many have already faced tough times. They’ve left family and friends behind and entered an unfamiliar nation full of complex bureaucracy, discrimination and new languages. They also watch social cues. Outsiders fear making mistakes in new environments and become hyper-sensitive to signals that indicate trust or misunderstanding. As a result, many become good at reading people, which can potentially make them more perceptive. They also bring new ideas about solving problems. Here are 10 immigrants who embody these qualities and helped change the world.

1. Sergey Brin: Co-Founder, Google

Country of origin: Russia
World impact: A fast and easy online search engine to find what you’re looking for 24/7

Sergey Brin is a computer scientist, internet entrepreneur, and philanthropist who, together with Larry Page, co-founded Google. He is also the president of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., and one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth reportedly over $45 billion. Brin immigrated to the United States with his family from the Soviet Union at age six.

2. Charlize Theron: Actress and Humanitarian

Country of origin: South Africa
World impact: Using her star power to eradicate AIDS in Africa

At 19, Theron arrived in the United States intending to work in the film industry. She made it big and went on to star in several major Hollywood films, such as The Devil’s Advocate, The Italian Job, Hancock, and Mad
Max: Fury Road
. Frustrated by the AIDS epidemic in Africa, she founded the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, which has assisted more than 300,000 young people and raised more than $6.3 million. In 2008, she was designated a United Nations Messenger of Peace, with a role that focuses on the prevention of HIV and the elimination of violence against women.

3. Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington: Co-Founder, Huffington Post

Country of origin: Greece
World impact: Inspiring women to become leaders in a male-dominated media market

At the age of 16, Arianna Huffington moved to the United Kingdom to study economics at Girton College in Cambridge. In 1980, she moved to New York, and by May 2005, had launched The Huffington Post as a commentary outlet, blog, and an alternative to news aggregators. It was sold in 2011 to AOL for $315 million. Huffington has often ranked on global lists of the Most Powerful Women in the World and Most Influential Women in the World. In 2016, she stepped down from her role at The Huffington Post to devote her time to her new startup, Thrive Global, that focuses on health and wellness.

4. Pierre Omidyar: Founder, eBay

Country of origin: France
World impact: An easy way for anyone to buy and sell securely online

The French-born Iranian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist founded the eBay auction site, where he served as chairman from 1998 to 2015. In 1995, at age 28, Omidyar began to write the original computer code for an online location that enabled the listing of a direct person-to-person auction for collectible items. He created a simple prototype on his personal web page, and on Labor Day, launched an online service called Auction Web, which eventually became the auction site eBay.

In 1998, eBay launched a successful public offering, making Omidyar a billionaire. Since 2013, and prompted by the Edward Snowden leaks, Omidyar has been involved in First Look Media, a journalism venture producing original, independent journalism. The Omidyar Network, a philanthropic foundation founded with his wife, has committed more than $992 million to companies that foster economic advancement for governance and citizen engagement, education, and financial inclusion.

5. Elon Musk: Technology Entrepreneur

Country of origin: South Africa

World impact: Co-Founder of PayPal, trail-blazing electric vehicle development, and private space transportation services

Born and raised in South Africa, Musk moved to Canada at age 17. After moving to the United States, he attended the Wharton School where he earned an economics degree, followed by a degree in physics. Best known for founding Paypal, Musk moved into aerospace manufacturing with SpaceX in 2002, and then launched electric vehicle company Tesla the following year. His ongoing interest in science and physics to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, especially around mobility, have been bold and daring. In 2016 Musk launched The Boring company, to explore high-speed underground transport networks and his latest endeavors have been around reducing the risk of human extinction by creating colonies on Mars. 

6. Indra Nooyi: CEO, PepsiCo

Country of origin: India
World impact: Shaping one of the world’s biggest brands

Born in Madras, India, the future CEO of PepsiCo grew up conservative and middle-class, studying physics, chemistry, and math. Her determination to study in the U.S. brought her to Yale University’s Graduate School of Management in 1978. Despite financial aid from Yale, Nooyi worked nights as a receptionist. She went in for interviews wearing a sari because she “had no money to buy clothes.” She persevered and finished her degree, moving on to the Boston Consulting Group before joining PepsiCo in 1994. 

Since then, she has been a significant part of reshaping the Pepsi brand, serving as CEO from 2001 to 2018, and overseeing major acquisitions like Quaker Oats and Tropicana,. She moved corporate spending away from junk foods and into healthier alternatives. Nooyi now chairs the board of PepsiCo. Nooyi has consistently ranked among the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

7. Jerry Yang: Founder, Yahoo

Country of origin: Taiwan
World impact: The most widely read news and media website

Yang was born in Taipei in 1968. After the death of his father, he and his family to San Jose, California, when he was eight years old. Upon arriving in America, Yang knew just one word of English: “shoe.” Despite the daunting disadvantages, Yang excelled in school and attended Stanford, graduating in 1990. He started Yahoo in 1995, and when he stepped down from the company, he had accumulated a net worth of $1.15 billion.

According to Rob Solomon, a venture capitalist, Yang is “a great founder, evangelist, strategist and mentor,” having “created the blueprint for what is possible on the Internet.”

In February 2007, Yang and his wife gave $75 million to Stanford University, $50 million of which went to building the “Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building,” a multi-disciplinary research, teaching, and lab designed with sustainable architecture principles. In September 2017, Yang and Yamazaki pledged $25 million to the Asian Art Museum, the largest donation in the museum’s history. Yang now funds early-stage technology startups through his venture capital firm AME Cloud Ventures.

8. Eduardo Saverin: Co-Founder, Facebook

Country of origin: Brazil
World impact: Online socialnetworking

Born to a wealthy Jewish Brazilian family, Eduardo Saverin settled in Miami in 1993. During his junior year at Harvard University, Saverin met fellow Harvard undergraduate, Mark Zuckerberg. Realizing there was no social networking website for students at Harvard, the pair launched The Facebook in 2004.

Although Zuckerberg and Saverin later had their legal battles, in the end, Saverin was confirmed as co-founder of Facebook. Now a venture capitalist, he still derives most of his wealth from his 2 percent stake in Facebook and has a net worth of $8.5 billion as of January 2019.

9. Dr. Rao Mulpuri: CEO, View Inc.

Country of origin: India
World impact: Revolutionized buildings to be human-centric and smart

Born in India, Mulpuri moved to the United States in1989. As CEO of View Inc., he developed groundbreaking technology and products, including the launch of the world’s first commercial-scale, dynamic glass product that allows windows to vary their opacity based on the intensity of outside light. Since raising $2 billion in capital to fund growth, the company has grown at a rate of over 100 percent each year since 2012. Prior to View, Mulpuri was president of Novellus Systems Japan and vice president and general manager of the Integrated Metals Business Unit. He is also a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and the Urban Land Institute, and serves on the board of directors of Kateeva, Inc. and the advisory board of the College of Engineering at Boston University.

10. Elaine Chao: U.S. Secretary of Transportation

Country of origin: Taiwan
World impact: First Chinese in American history to serve in U.S. presidential cabinet

Chao is the current United States Secretary of Transportation and a member of the Republican Party. She was previously a Cabinet member in the administration of President George W. Bush and served as Secretary of Labor from 2001 to 2009, and also director of the Peace Corps under the same administration. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, to Chinese parents who had left mainland China in 1949, Chao was the first Asian-American woman and the first Chinese American in U.S. history to be appointed to a President’s Cabinet.

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