Bill Gates bigger than Thomas Edison? Half of Americans say modern entrepreneurs more influential than historical pioneers

NEW YORK — Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs are the top three most influential modern entrepreneurs, according to a new survey of 2,000 Americans. Asked to select who from a list of 40 entrepreneurs has made the biggest positive impact on society in the last 50 years, respondents chose the founders of Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple as the top innovators, with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg not far behind.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Herbalife Nutrition, the top 10 list also included media mogul Oprah Winfrey; Melinda French Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Sam Walton, founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club; Google co-founder Larry Page; and CNN founder Ted Turner.

Before seeing the pre-selected list of modern entrepreneurs, respondents had to write down the names of the entrepreneurs they feel are the “greatest of all time.” Many cited historical luminaries like Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison. However, 48 percent of respondents believe modern entrepreneurs are more influential than their historical counterparts, while 20 percent think the opposite.

“Entrepreneurs change our world for the better with their out-of-the-box thinking, and their inventions have a great impact on our lives and society,” says Ibi Montesino, executive vice president of distributor and customer experience at Herbalife Nutrition, in a statement.

Few think modern entrepreneurs are role models

Despite this, only 38 percent of U.S. respondents say they’re likely to pay attention when entrepreneurs make headlines in the news, and only a third of U.S. respondents see them as role models — compared to 74 percent of those surveyed in Mexico and 60 percent in Israel. For those who idolize entrepreneurs, the person’s personal accomplishments (24%) and contributions to society (22%) are what matter the most.

Respondents around the globe also agreed that becoming a successful entrepreneur requires having specific character traits (19%), “one great idea” (15%), and a commitment to hard work (14%). Creativity (31%) and intelligence (30%) were the most frequently cited traits, followed by confidence and motivation (tied at 29%).

Across all three countries, 42 percent believe they have a “big” idea that could turn into a successful business. Forty-five percent even have their own aims to become an entrepreneur — and another 42 percent believe they have what it takes to succeed in that endeavor.

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