Top U.S. Companies Founded by Immigrants and Refugees
Immigrants and refugees — and the jobs they take and create — are at the center of political discussion all across the United States. Much of the discussion stems from President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. The executive order is controversial, making its way into the court system and being struck down. Trump vowed to issue another travel order instead of fighting the case in court.
There has been widespread opposition to these types of bans from leaders of U.S. companies, many of whom are immigrants or refugees. According to a report by New American Economy, there are about 2.9 million entrepreneurs in the U.S. who are foreign born. These entrepreneurs’ companies accounted for roughly $65 billion in business income in 2014.
The same report showed in 2007 about 5.9 million jobs at U.S. companies could be attributed to businesses immigrants owned, excluding large, publicly traded companies. In fact, immigrants and children of immigrants started 40% of Fortune 500 companies. Companies immigrants and refugees run continue to thrive, and it’s safe to say they’re an important part of our society. Here are 25 companies that can attribute their creation to immigrants.
Founder: Elon Musk, South Africa
The electric car company has quickly become a legitimate automotive player, challenging all aspects of the industry. Not only are Tesla’s cars unique and innovative, but the company’s efforts to sell directly to consumers are helping redefine auto industry. Founder and CEO Elon Musk is a business titan and serial entrepreneur, who was born in South Africa. He has run or helped run many of today’s successful technology-based companies, including PayPal, which is also on this list.
Founder: Sergey Brin, the former Soviet Union
Everyone knows what Google is and most have used its suite of Internet-related services and products. The company is a world-beating technology giant and will likely be for many years to come. What you might not realize is one of its founders, Sergey Brin, is an immigrant. Brin came to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union. He and Larry Page founded Google while both of them were studying for Ph.D.s at Stanford University.
Founder: Pierre Omidyar, France
An immigrant started one of the biggest online marketplaces ever created, eBay. Pierre Omidyar was born in France. His parents were Iranian, and they moved to Maryland when he was just a boy. From there, Omidyar attended Tufts University and eventually created one of the best places online to buy and sell goods of all kinds.
Founders: Elon Musk, South Africa; Max Levchin, Ukraine; Peter Thiel, Germany; Luke Nosek, Poland
A group of technology titans, many of whom were immigrants, started PayPal. Elon Musk, Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, and Luke Nosek — most of the key founding members — were all born outside the U.S. Musk is from South Africa, Levchin from Ukraine, Thiel from Germany, and Nosek from Poland. The payment processing company has continued to expand over time and is now all over the internet.
Founder: John W. Nordstrom, Sweden
The high-end retailer Nordstrom sells some of the best brands and products available. The business never would have begun if it weren’t for its Swedish co-founder, John W. Nordstrom, who moved Stateside when he was a young man. The business opened in 1901 and since has become a household name for many Americans. It has faltered in recent years, as most brick and mortar stores have, but it’s still a highly successful retail giant.
6. BNY Mellon
Founder: Thomas Alexander Mellon, Northern Ireland
An Irish Immigrant founded Mellon Financial in 1818. It eventually merged with Bank of New York, which Alexander Hamilton founded. This created BNY Mellon, a global financial services company. It employs thousands of Americans, many of whom are also immigrants, and has trillions of dollars of assets.
Thomas Alexander Mellon created Mellon Financial and lived the American dream, coming from a poor farming family to become one of America’s greatest businessmen of all time. If he’d been shut out of the country he likely would have ended up behind a plow instead of running one of the most successful businesses of the past century.
Founder: Maxwell Kohl, Poland
The Kohl’s department store we know today might be fading due to online marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay. But at one time, it was a dominant force in the department store business. Maxwell Kohl came to the U.S. from Poland and worked in factories until he could start his own grocery store business. After a while, he decided to switch to department stores. Today, the business does billions of dollars in revenue and employs thousands of people nationwide.
Founder: Francisco D’Souza, India
Cognizant is an information technology, business process, and consulting company that works with some of the most successful entities worldwide. Francisco D’Souza helped create Cognizant in 1990 after working for Dun & Bradstreet, a business consulting and information technology company. Since its creation, D’Souza has been an integral part of the business and took the helm as CEO in 2006.
Founder: Jean-Luc Vaillant, France
Everyone has a LinkedIn profile these days. That wasn’t always the case. Before immigrant Jean-Luc Vaillant and a group of his friends started the social network for professionals, meeting business professionals was quite a lot harder to do. Vaillant came from France in the mid-1990s and bounced around the tech business world before launching LinkedIn in 2003. Since then, the site has grown considerably and is the world’s largest online professional network with hundreds of millions of users.
10. Big Lots
Founder: Sol A. Shenk, Russia
Sol A. Shenk founded Consolidated Stores Corporation in 1967 after making his way to the U.S. from Russia in the 1950s. Over time, that business transformed into the chain of stores we now know as Big Lots. The shift to the name Big Lots came in 2001 after a time in which the company bought and then sold a couple of toy companies and invested in other business ventures. Since then, the chain has continued to do business and focus strictly on the Big Lots brand.
Founder: Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, France
This widely known conglomerate got its start in gunpowder and at one time supplied the U.S. military with about 40% of the gunpowder it used. It has expanded widely over more than two centuries in business and is now involved in a variety of industries. DuPont got its name from its founder, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, who fled France during the French Revolution. The conglomerate continues to expand. A merger with Dow Chemical (also immigrant-founded) is in the works.
Founder: Charles Pfizer, Germany
The drug company that has brought the world life-saving and life-changing pharmaceutical products wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for its founder’s ability to immigrate to the U.S. from Germany. Charles Pfizer created Pfizer Inc. roughly a year after arriving in the States. Pfizer was a chemist by education but with his cousin Charles Erhart’s help, Pfizer Inc. was able to take off. Today, the business is active in 150 countries and boasts a product line of over 600 health products.
Founder: Jerry Yang, Taiwan
Yahoo is of the original giants of the Internet age. It might not have the clout it once did, but it’s still a major player in the online tech space. This company’s founder is Jerry Yang, who came to the United States from Taiwan. When he arrived, Yang spoke no English and knew practically nothing about American culture. Despite this, he learned fast, achieved bachelor’s and master’s degrees in record time, and started Yahoo with a classmate in the early 1990s. He stuck with the company until 2012, when he left to pursue other ventures.
14. Soros Fund Management
Founder: George Soros, Hungary
George Soros, who was born in Hungary and fled from the Nazi regime, started Soros Fund Management. After fleeing, he went to school and worked in England. He eventually made his way to the States. Once there, he established Soros Fund Management. Today, the firm is extremely profitable, and Soros is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Soros has been a big advocate for refugees throughout the world.
15. Kraft Heinz
Founder: James L. Kraft, Canada
James L. Kraft started Kraft Foods and built it into a highly successful business. It has now merged with Heinz to create Kraft Heinz. The brand is one of the most well-known food brands in the world. Before his business success, Kraft came to the U.S. from Canada and had a failed business venture. After that, he and his brothers built the brand we all know and love today.
16. Goldman Sachs
Founder: Marcus Goldman, Germany
Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest investment banks. Marcus Goldman, a German immigrant, founded the bank. Goldman kept the company in the family for many years. But the business continued to grow and became too large to continue that way. Marcus Goldman stayed active in the bank until his death in 1904.
17. General Electric
Founder: Elihu Thompson, England
General Electric is a multinational conglomerate that primarily operates in power and water, oil and gas, transportation, medical devices, software development, and health care. It’s well known worldwide. What some people forget, though, is one of its co-founders was a man named Elihu Thompson, an immigrant from England. Thompson was a high-functioning person and wore a number of hats, including scientist, inventor, engineer, and successful businessman, despite only having a high-school education.
Founder: Daniel Aaron, Germany
Daniel Aaron co-founded another well-known company, Comcast. An orphan and refugee from Nazi Germany, Aaron came to the U.S. and was eventually drafted into the U.S. Army. After he returned from the war, he went to school and then worked for an early cable company. Not long after that, Aaron and a group of other businessmen created Comcast. Today, the business is huge, employing thousands of people around the world.
Founder: Charles and Alexander Meston, Scotland
The history of Emerson can be traced back to a couple of brothers who both came to the U.S. from Scotland. The brothers, Charles and Alexander Meston, saw an opportunity in building one of the first electrical fans to help people stay cool in the hot summer months. John Wesley Emerson gave the brothers funding, and the company the brothers started bore Emerson’s name. Emerson has become one of the best electronics companies in the world.
20. Capital One
Founder: Nigel Morris, England
Capital One was the wildly successful experiment of two businessmen who thought they saw an opportunity in the credit card company. One of them was an immigrant. Nigel Morris came to the U.S. after completing his MBA in England, where he was born. Once in the U.S., he worked as a business consultant and eventually started Capitol One with a friend. From the start, it was highly successful. The company now employs thousands of workers, and Morris has moved on to other business ventures.
21. Procter & Gamble
Founder: William Procter, England; James Gamble, Ireland
William Procter and James Gamble are two immigrants who started Procter & Gamble. It is a giant consumer packaged-goods company. Many of the items you buy at the store every day are Procter & Gamble products. William Procter came to the U.S. from England, and James Gamble came from Ireland. Both men were looking for a different life than the ones they would have led in their home countries. They ended up building a business that employs thousands of people around the world.
22. WellCare Health Plans
Founder: Kiran Patel, Zambia
Kiran Patel was born in Zambia and educated in India. He eventually made his way to the States and settled in Florida. Once there, he worked as a cardiologist. After distinguishing himself in the profession, he developed a physician practice management company. That propelled him to the head of WellCare HMO, a small company. Patel revitalized and reinvented the company and helped it achieve over $1 billion in revenue. Since then, Patel has moved on to other health-related ventures.
23. Honeywell International
Founder: Albert Butz, Switzerland
When Albert Butz started the Butz Thermo-Electric Regulator Company, he probably didn’t imagine it would become a Fortune 100 company called Honeywell International. Butz came to the U.S. when he was just 8 years old. As he grew up, he became known as an inventor and eventually created one of the first products to easily regulate the temperature in your home. Essentially it was the precursor to the thermostat. Honeywell International is now a massive corporate entity that focuses on a variety of technological pursuits.
Founder: William Colgate, England
Colgate, the favorite toothpaste, of many Americans owes its existence to an English businessman named William Colgate. Colgate was born in England. He came to the States and eventually started a business in New York City that sold starch, soap, and candles. Eventually, the company moved into different products and came to start selling toothpaste. The business evolved from there.
25. Thermo Fisher Scientific
Founder: George N. Hatsopoulos, Greece
George N. Hatsopoulos came from Nazi-occupied Greece to the U.S. While studying at MIT, Hatsopoulos wrote a dissertation about a theoretical electric motor that could turn heat into electricity without any moving parts. After he graduated, he worked to bring his invention to light by starting Thermo Electron Scientific.
Although his original efforts failed, the business turned into a successful engineering and analytical instrumentation company. After acquiring Fisher Scientific, the company became Thermo Fisher Scientific. That business still thrives today and employs many people around the world.