Sara Blakely, the founder of ubiquitous shapewear company Spanx, debuts on one of the covers of Forbes' new Billionaires issue as the youngest self-made woman to earn the big "B" title at age 41.
Florida native Blakely started her first business in 1990: a babysitters' club. But Spanx famously began when Blakely, at age 27, cut the feet off a pair of pantyhose to wear under her cream-colored slacks for their figure-flattering properties. "I needed an undergarment that didn't exist," she told Forbes.
While holding down a day job, Blakely worked tirelessly to build her Spanx empire, shipping items in the wee hours of the morning and aggressively approaching Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus to start stocking her products.
Today, Spanx is run by a team of 125 and sells 200 products in 11,500 stores in 40 countries. Blakely has also netted a variety of celebrity fans, including Octavia Spencer, who says she wears three layered pairs on the red carpet, and Melissa McCarthy, whose pair got her into a particularly embarrassing moment. There's even a line of Spanx activewear.
Not too shabby for a girl who once lugged fax machines door-to-door as a salesperson while only dreaming of her starting her own business.
She also credits her success to her non-traditional work philosophy. Blakely told Business Week back in 2007 that she's doggedly pursued failure over the years (yes, you read that right):
I failed the LSAT. Basically, if I had not failed, I'd have been a lawyer and there would be no Spanx. I think failure is nothing more than life's way of nudging you that you are off course. My attitude to failure is not attached to outcome, but in not trying. It is liberating. Most people attach failure to something not working out or how people perceive you. This way, it is about answering to yourself.
Also rounding out the "Billionaires" issue? Standbys Bill Gates, cell phone titan Carlos Slim and Warren Buffett.