Lessons from 12 Young and Successful Business Trailblazers

Top Articles on Studying Abroad from Students and Experts

story by Trixie Cordova

The opportunity to travel abroad for employment or education  is exciting, but it’s also very intimidating. You’re taking a leap of faith, betting that you’ll land on a stepping stone to a great career. “Betting” is the operative word here: this is a gamble, an experiment with a lot of unknowns. But even if you’re not sure about how relevant global education is to your future, it will cultivate qualities that leaders and trailblazers need to succeed. Check out these lessons from CEOs and company founders who have made, or are making, their mark.

From the Young

Start with an Idea and Run with It

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Leanna Archer is a young voice with a great story. The CEO of Leanna’s Hair, an all-natural hair product company, she started her business when she was just nine years old. Now 20 years old, she already has numerous achievements under her belt, including being a motivational speaker, ringing the opening bell at the NASDAQ, and setting up the Leanna Archer foundation to extend financial aid to underprivileged students in Haiti. People often look for tips from young CEOs, and this is one piece of advice she has to offer: “When you have an idea, stick to it. Follow it through even if that's not what you're meant to be doing. It could lead you into something else that you become passionate about.”

You Need Help to Pursue Your Passions

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Thomas Suarez is a 15-year-old kid with a passion for making games. By the time he was 12, he’d taught himself to program using Java, Python, and C+, and developed Earth Fortune, a horoscope app that is available on iTunes. He has developed other apps as well, and started an app development company, CarrotCorp, which he runs as the CEO. Frustrated at the general lack of tech development education in schools, he’s started an App Club at his school. With a lot of support from his teachers and parents, he has been able to do so much. That’s the lesson he can teach others: look for help and support, and you can go a long way. Study abroad funding and aid are available, so you can definitely find a way to pursue your passion.

If You Get a “No,” Find a “Yes” Somewhere Else

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If the difficulty of finding government student loans and other financial aid programs is holding you back from studying abroad, then you can learn from 27-year-old Tyler Hanney. Being educated in the Parsons School of Design in New York, she decided to combine her passion for sports with her training in fashion. She has co-founded an activewear company called Outdoor Voices, which sells its products through e-commerce. She hopes to challenge brands like Nike and Lululemon. Her path isn’t easy: she’s gotten $8 million in backing from venture capitalists, sure, but that’s after getting turned down 70 times. “I’m very much a risk-taker,” she says about herself. “I don’t have experience, but I have persistence.” As success tips go, that’s one you can always apply.

To Make an Impact, Perspective is Important

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Matthew Ramirez is an unusually gifted young man. At 26 years old, he’s a former PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, where he instructed an unreasonably large English class. With more than a hundred tests to grade, he “found that students weren't getting feedback quickly enough." Realizing that a lot of aspects of English writing that was being taught followed statistical patterns, he developed a program that captures those patterns and teaches them to users. That program is the basis for WriteLab, a company he co-founded. WriteLab now has $2.5 million in funding and has been implemented in 53 schools. It’s important to note that Matthew grew up with mostly poor, non-native English speakers, so he knew their struggle was real. Study abroad opportunities grant some people’s dreams of traveling the world, but more importantly, it’s a way to gain perspective.

Don’t Fight the Urge to Do Something

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Another former PhD candidate, 25-year-old Dakin Sloss, originally wanted to pursue a degree in theoretical physics, but decided to give it up. “I got sick of how slow academia moved," he said in an interview with Forbes. "I wanted to build something that had a more real-time impact on the world." With that motivation, he co-founded and is now CEO of Tachyus, offering software that puts together sensor data from oil and gas drilling machines (temperature, pressure, flow volume). Through machine learning, the software uses the data to inform operators how to build their wells optimally for better efficiency and safety. The thirst to go beyond the classroom and make a difference in the world can be productive, and it can be quenched by interning or studying abroad.

Choose to Be Inspired

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Twenty-eight-year-old Annie Lawless walked away from law school, and it’s not because of her name. She was doing pretty well, but she was in a deep state of depression. Despite the fear of not living up to her parents’ expectations, she quit with no definite plans or next steps in mind. In an effort to work through her funk, she looked for a reason to get out of bed every morning. She’s been obsessed with nutrition ever since she got diagnosed with celiac disease as a child, so she channeled that passion into a juice-creating frenzy. Friends in her yoga community started asking for her juices, and before she knew it, she became the co-founder of Suja Juice, an organic juice company that is valued at $300 million. That was her choice and her lesson: life’s too short to spend on anything that you’re not passionate about.

From the Successful

Embrace Change and Adapt to It Quickly

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PepsiCo is the second largest food and beverage company in the world. If you count only North America, it’s the largest. The current CEO and chairman, Indra Nooyi, has been working to keep the multinational corporation on top. Growing up in the conservative culture of India, she defied others’ expectations of Indian girls by climbing trees and being part of a rock band. She’s since had experience working in several companies, including the Boston Consulting Group, so she definitely would have many career tips to share. Today, she carries a spirit of innovation with her in running PepsiCo, pushing for more emphasis on what’s good for the customers: “Every morning you’ve got to wake up with a healthy fear that the world is changing, and a conviction that, to win, you have to change faster and be more agile than anyone else."

Have a Global Mindset

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Hikmet Ersek earned his degree in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Economics in Vienna, Austria. He then took several positions in finance, starting in Mastercard, moving to GE Capital, and finally to Western Union, a global money transfer service company where he is now president and CEO. “Over more than 25 years, I’ve learned how globalization works and how to navigate in new countries,” he says in an article written for the New York Times. He says later in the article: “Our company serves a global population, so we pay attention to traditions around the world.” Awareness of traditions and cultures around the world is clearly one of the benefits of studying abroad.

Be a Complete Person

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Lloyd Blankfein, current chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, has come a long way. As a boy, he lived in a housing project in Brooklyn, but managed to study his way to Harvard University. As a professional, he’s been described as having “a humility and self-awareness not characteristic of successful Wall Street executives.” When asked for the best career advice he can give, he said, “Focus on becoming a complete person… You owe it to yourself to open up to broader interests. And in the end, it will be better for your career because you will be more interesting and attractive to others." Going to grad school abroad or participating in a  travel program will lead you to experiences that are difficult but thoroughly enjoyable and enriching, setting you up to become someone others can’t help but notice.

Keep Learning

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If you’ve played high-definition video games on PC, you might be familiar with NVidia. The company developed the first graphics processing unit in 1999, and has since become a world leader in visual computing. NVidia’s technology isn’t just for video games, though: it’s developed applications in enterprise graphics and auto industry visualization as well. At the helm of the company is the CEO Jen Hsun Huang, who happens to be a co-founder. He’s earned multiple degrees in electrical engineering, has been given multiple leadership and management awards, and was named one of the best-performing CEOs by Harvard Business Review in 2015. If you want to know how to become successful in business, he has this advice: “Think. But don't overthink. The only way to really know is to try. Make mistakes. Learn. Then try again.”

Be Willing to Push Yourself

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Marissa Mayer is probably the greatest female presence in the tech industry today. As a student, she thought of pursuing a career in medicine, but a passion for computers drove her to earn a BS in Symbolic Systems and an MS in Computer Science at Stanford. Because she participated in research internships in Menlo Park and Zurich, she got an offer to join Google just as she finished grad school. She worked at Google for 13 years, helping develop its interface’s unique and instantly recognizable look. She is currently the CEO of Yahoo!, where she’s had to make unpopular choices that ultimately helped save the company from sinking. Her secret to success: “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” Deciding to participate in overseas summer programs and study abroad is definitely one way to get you out of your comfort zone.

Know that You’re Part of Something Bigger

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In 2007, Brian Chesky and his roommate Joe Gebbia had no money and several air mattresses, which they decided to rent out for $80 a night. That was the seed for AirBnB, one of the biggest companies to fuel the sharing economy. AirBnB connects more than 20 million people, allowing folks to share spare space with travelers they haven’t met before. When it first started, it was a radical concept: can you really trust strangers and let them into your home just like that? Over time, the millennial generation's obsession with sharing and travel made AirBnB very popular, leading Inc.com to name it Company of the Year in 2014. Chesky describes the company’s vision like this: "Airbnb is about so much more than just renting space. It's about people and experiences. At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is bring the world together. You're not getting a room, you're getting a sense of belonging.” As countries become more connected, that worldview will become more and more relevant and valuable.


Passion, curiosity, persistence, discomfort, development: all of these are necessary for professional pioneers, and they can all be developed by going overseas. Whether or not you’re aiming for future success in business, travel will surely help sharpen your abilities to learn, listen, and look out for opportunities.

Trixie Cordova


Trixie is the Student Outreach Coordinator at Diversity Abroad. She studied abroad in Italy as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, then went on to be an Assistant Language Teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program for 2 years. She has her MA in International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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