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You Don’t Have to Succeed in Your 20s. These Women Didn’t.

Twelve women who make mid- and late-career success look damn good

Shameika Rhymes
Contributor

queen from princess diaries

Mainstream success stories tend to highlight those who find their passions and build successful careers before they turn 30. That’s why “30 under 30” lists pop up all the time. But what we don’t often hear about are the female entrepreneurs who were “late bloomers,” the ones who hit their stride after the big 3-0.  

If we’re being honest, we need more stories focusing on the women who achieved their dreams late in the game—because only a small margin make it big early on. 

Whatever your age, let these women inspire you to achieve at your own pace and in your own way. You could be the next big thing.

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Bettye LaVette 

Soul singer Bettye LaVette made her first record at 16 but only achieved intermittent fame until 2005 at the age of 59. In her book, A Woman Like Me, she calls it having “buzzard’s luck.” She had only been singing for a month when her manager was shot to death, and she ended up leaving Atlantic Records. For 40 years she sang in clubs before her career kicked into high gear in her golden years. She brought down the house with her rendition of “Love Reign O’er Me” during the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors and during President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration concert, when she joined the stage with Jon Bon Jovi to sing “A Change is Gonna Come.”  At 73 years old, she is still putting out new music and touring

Barbara Baekgaard 

Barbara Baekgaard started her accessories company Vera Bradley with her friend Patricia Miller in 1982. She was 42 at the time. The duo borrowed a total of $500 from their husbands and started stitching handbags out of Baekgaard’s Fort Wayne, Indiana, basement. Now, Vera Bradley sells handbags, luggage, and other accessories through multiple distribution points, including stores, e-commerce, and annual outlet sales around the world. 

Pleasant Rowland 

Pleasant Rowland couldn’t find dolls for her nieces so she did the next best thing, she founded the American Girl doll company at 45 in 1986. A trip to Virginia inspired the dolls and books about girls growing up in different parts of history. According to Forbes, she funded the venture with $1.2 million she earned from royalties as a textbook author. American Girl sold to Mattel in 1998 for $700 million.  

Robin Chase 

Robin Chase, the founder and former CEO of Zipcar, was taking time off work to be with her children when she and friend Antje Danielson came up with the idea for the car-sharing company and launched in 2000. Both women were in their 40s at the time. The company still exists, but neither Chase nor Danielson are with the organization. 

Amy Nelson

Amy Nelson is the founder and CEO of The Riveter, a network of community and work spaces built by women for everyone. She launched The Riveter in 2017 in her late 30s while pregnant with her third child. According to The Riveter’s website, the company’s growth has outpaced WeWork’s first years. 

Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Dr. Ruth Westheimer worked for Planned Parenthood before becoming an associate professor at Lehman College in the early 70s. After being fired, Westheimer delivered a pivotal speech to New York broadcasters about the need for sex education programming in 1980 that changed her life and landed her a radio show on WYNY-FM when she was in her 50s. From the show she gained national attention as a sexpert and in her 90s she is still dispensing advice. 

Read more: 10 Empowering Documentaries for Working Women

Lynda Weinman 

Lynda Weinman founded Lynda.com with her husband Bruce Heavin in 1995 when she was 40 years old. The website is an online training library for computer skills. LinkedIn purchased the site in 2015 for $1.5 billion. Before her big break, Weinman opened two retail stores in Los Angeles and was a digital animator for Dreamquest. 

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling came up with the book series idea in her mid 20s, but it wasn’t until she was over 30 that Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone was published. She also didn’t start writing until she was divorced and a single mother living on welfare. Her book was published after it had been rejected 12 times

Barbara Manzi

Barbara Manzi started her company in 1993 at the age of 50, after she realized the federal government only reserved about 20 percent of its contract awards for women- and minority-owned suppliers, according to an interview she did with AARP. She refinanced her cars and opened metal distribution company Manzi Metals, Inc in Brooksville, Florida, and partners with companies like Lockheed Martin Corporation and Rolls-Royce. It is one of the only black-owned metal distribution companies in the country that supplies raw metals and alloys for use in industries like aerospace.

Guadalupe Guerrero

Guadalupe Guerrero moved to the United States when she was 35 with two young daughters in the late ‘90s. With her love of cooking, she eventually launched the food vendor El Pipila at the San Francisco Street Food Festival in 2012. The eatery has since expanded to several locations in the Bay area, with Guerrero and her now grown-up daughters, Brenda and Alejandra, at the helm. 

Read more: How to Practice Self-Care in Every Decade of Your Career

Tracy Reese

Designer Tracy Reese launched her first clothing line in the late 90s in her early 30s, but she was thrust into the national spotlight after former First Lady Michelle Obama gave her bold designs visibility, specifically when she wore a sleeveless pink and teal dress designed by Reese at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Her newest 2019 collection is called Hope for Flowers

Auria Abraham 

After a successful career working on jingles for television and radio advertising, Auria Abraham decided to follow her dreams of becoming a chef at 44 years old. She started Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen which features Malaysian condiments. She now has goods in more than 40 retail locations in cities in New York, Michigan, Oregon, California, and Tennessee.

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