Famous People in Business We Lost This Year

November 30, 2018 by Steven M. Peters

On June 5, a housekeeper discovered the lifeless body of fashion designer and entrepreneur Kate Spade. Nearby, there was a letter written by Spade, addressed to her daughter.

Police would later rule the death a suicide by hanging, and family members would describe a woman who, despite her immense wealth and success, suffered from years of depression and anxiety.

Spade is one of 25 renowned people from the world of business the world lost in 2018. Others include the founder of the world’s largest gold mining company, the creator of life-saving vaccines, a milliner whose work was coveted by members of royalty, and an outspoken proponent of company shareholder rights.

As expected, most of the individuals listed here lived long and prosperous lives – and most are men, including the oldest, beer magnate William Coors, who died at 102.

24/7 Wall St. pored through more than 130 obituaries from 2018 reported in local, national, and international media sources to identify high-profile individuals from the world of business who have died so far this year. We focused specifically on people who succeeded in their careers as business leaders, entrepreneurs, and/or founders of well-known companies.

Learn more about 25 famous people from the world of business who died in 2018.

Source: Steve Dykes / Getty Images

1. Paul Allen
> Age: 65
> Occupation: Microsoft co-founder

One of the pioneers of personal computing got his start at a Seattle private primary school when he and a group of students began toying with a Teletype ASR-33 text-entry terminal attached to a mainframe. It was there that Paul Allen began a long and prosperous career with a younger student, Bill Gates.

The two would later go on to create a more general-purpose version of the Basic programming language, which became the vanguard programming language of the nascent personal computing industry. Allen famously convinced Gates to drop out of Harvard to found Microsoft. Today, Microsoft competes with Apple as the world’s most valuable company. Allen died in Seattle on Oct. 15 from complications related to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


Source: Bobak Ha'Eri & Paul Schmokel / Wikimedia Commons

2. Earl Bakken
> Age: 94
> Occupation: Pacemaker pioneer

Earl Bakken was an electrical engineer from Minnesota who, in the 1950s, built the first wearable pacemaker that has helped extend countless lives. Before building pacemakers, Bakken and his brother-in-law co-founded Medtronic (a play on the words “medical” and “electronic”) in a Minneapolis garage in 1949. In the early days, the two would repair electronic hospital equipment before Bakken developed a small, self-contained, transistorized, battery-powered pacemaker.

Today, riding on the success of Bakken’s early pacemakers, Medtronic is one of the world’s leading medical device manufacturers, producing pacemakers as well as insulin pumps, cardiac stents, and other products. Bakken died on Oct. 21 at his home in Hawaii. He was 94.

Source: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images

3. Tom Benson
> Age: 90
> Occupation: New Orleans pro-team owner

Following his service in the U.S. Navy toward the end of World War II, the New Orleans native went on in the late 1950s to use his business administration education to build a small empire of automotive dealerships, commercial real estate, and banking. By 1985, Tom Benson had amassed enough wealth to purchase the New Orleans Saints after he learned the football team was about to be sold and relocated. In 2012, Benson purchased the New Orleans Hornets basketball team and renamed it the New Orleans Pelicans.

Benson died on March 15 in a New Orleans intensive care unit after being admitted a month earlier with flu-like symptoms that included pneumonia. He was 90.

Source: Garry Rigby / Wikimedia Commons

4. John Boyd
> Age: 92
> Occupation: Royal hat-maker

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, John Boyd showed an interest in fashion at an early age by helping his sisters dress up for school dances. After serving in the Royal Navy during World War II, Boyd set up a hat-making shop in London and slowly built a clientele of women that grew to include members of British royalty. He’s famously known as the milliner who first put fashionable headgear on on Princess Diana when she was still Lady Diana Spencer.

Boyd’s discernable, wide-brimmed hats decorated the heads of other British elites, including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Princess Anne, and, more recently, Kate Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge). Boyd died on Feb. 20 at his home in Brighton. He was 92.


Source: Courtesy of Molson Coors Brewing Company

5. William Coors
> Age: 102
> Occupation: Brewery executive

The grandson of Coors beer founder, Adolph Coors, was credited with growing a regional brewery into a global brand that is today a division of Denver-based Molson Coors Brewing Company, a brewing juggernaut. William Coors was the first to introduce the recyclable aluminum beer can in 1959. The Princeton-educated chemical engineer became a target of liberal ire due to his ultra conservative speeches, hard anti-union views and racially charged language, including in an interview where he said black people lack “intellectual capacity.” Coors died on Oct. 13 at his home at age 102.

Source: William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

6. Evelyn Y. Davis
> Age: 89
> Occupation: Progressive activist shareholder

Described widely in the press as a gadfly who engaged in “antics” at annual shareholder meetings, the so-called “Queen of the Corporate Jungle” spent decades attending shareholder meeting to scold CEOs on their excessive pay and for treating small individual investors as “peasants.” The Dutch-born Holocaust survivor had attended shareholder meetings religiously since 1959, sometimes donning scandalous clothing and often berating Corporate America’s bosses, using the stocks she owned as entry tickets to these otherwise closed-door affairs. Davis’s actions played a role in raising public awareness to progressive shareholder activism and how, if banded together, small shareholders can have a positive influence on corporate behavior. Not bad for a gadfly. Davis died Nov. 4 in a Washington D.C. hospital from an undisclosed cause at age 89.


Source: Elsa / Getty Images

7. Richard DeVos
> Age: 92
> Occupation: Amway co-founder

The co-founder of Amway, the world’s leading direct-selling company specializing in beauty and home care products, was a prolific promoter of self-help books, promoting his views on American capitalism and faith inspired by his Christian upbringing. Richard DeVos was also chairman of the Orlando Magic basketball team and a major Republican Party supporter. His daughter-in-law is U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is a major supporter of education deregulation and privatizing public education. DeVos died in his home in Ada, Michigan.

Source: Michael Smith / Getty Images

8. David Edgerton
> Age: 90
> Occupation: Burger King co-founder

After managing Howard Johnson’s restaurants in Florida, David Edgerton opened Insta-Burger Restaurant and was poised to open a second outlet when he and a partner established a new fast-food brand in the 1950s called Burger King, now the world’s second-largest burger chain after McDonald’s. The Cornell University-educated U.S. Army veteran worked with a mechanic to invent a continuous-chain flame broiler that distinguished Burger King from its competitors. Edgerton and his partner sold Burger King to Pillsbury in 1967. He remained in the industry in smaller roles until his retirement. Edgerton died April 3 in Miami following surgery complications caused by a fall.

Source: Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images

9. Wanda Ferragamo
> Age: 96
> Occupation: Italian shoe matriarch

When her husband, the famous Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo, died in 1960, Wanda Ferragamo took over the family business. Though she credited her late husband for leaving her with “very solid foundations,” Wanda grew the business into a global empire despite her initial lack of experience. Ferragamo’s first innovation was to introduce handbags that match the shoes. She later added men’s shoes, off-the-rack clothing, and eyeglasses to the product mix. Ferragamo died on Oct. 19 in her home in Fiesole, Italy, at age 96.


Source: Franco Origlia / Getty Images

10. Hubert de Givenchy
> Age: 91
> Occupation: Fashion designer

The famed French designer was best known for dressing iconic actress Audrey Hepburn off-screen and for her roles in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Funny Face,” and “How to Steal a Million.” After working under famed fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga, Givenchy founded his eponymous brand in 1952. His restrained and sophisticated style became known as “extreme elegance,” and his designs were coveted by celebrities and European royalty. He retired from his company in 1995 and went on to join the world of arts and antiques. Givenchy died March 12 at age 91.

Source: Amanda Edwards / Getty Images

11. Caroline Rose Hunt
> Age: 95
> Occupation: Oil heiress and hotelier

Caroline Hunt, the daughter of renowned Texas wildcatter H.L. Hunt, took her trust fund and founded Rosewood Hotels & Resorts in 1979. While her brothers went bust investing in commodities, Hunt built a small real estate and ultra-luxury hospitality empire that in 2011 was sold to Hong Kong-based New World Hospitality in a $229.5 million deal. The company Hunt founded is now Rosewood Hotel Group. Hunt died Nov. 13 in Dallas nearly two weeks after suffering a stroke at age 95.


Source: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

12. Jon Huntsman Sr.
> Age: 80
> Occupation: Industrialist, philanthropist

This rags-to-riches Utah billionaire overcame poverty to build an $11 billion company that manufactures chemicals used in thousands of consumer products, including fertilizers, car dashboards, and running shoes. In 1970, Jon Huntsman established Huntsman Container Corp., which, among other businesses, produced the first Styrofoam clamshell container used for the McDonald’s Big Mac sandwich. Huntsman (the father of U.S. Ambassador to Russia and former presidential contender Jon Huntsman Jr.) was a prolific philanthropist whose crowning achievement was the establishment of a cancer research center at the University of Utah. Huntsman Sr. died Feb. 2 in his Salt Lake City home at age 80.

Source: Chris Jackson / Getty Images

13. Ingvar Kamprad
> Age: 91
> Occupation: IKEA founder

At 17, Ingvar Kamprad took the money he made selling pencils, matches, and trinkets door-to-door, and the modest amount of money his father rewarded him for doing well in school, and founded IKEA. The name is an abbreviation of his initials, Elmtaryd, the name of his family farm, and Agunnaryd, his boyhood village in rural Sweden. His idea was to provide affordable, modernist, do-it-yourself assembled home furnishings. But his efforts to drive down costs alienated his suppliers, forcing him to design furniture in-house and, eventually, to establish his own outlets. Over 70 years, he built his company into the world’s largest furniture retailer. Kamprad died on Jan. 27 at his home in Smaland, Sweden.

Source: Fnaf guy123 / Wikimedia Commons

14. Charles Lazarus
> Age: 94
> Occupation: Toys “R” Us founder

On March 22, just days after Toys “R” Us announced it was closing its doors after 61 years in business, the company’s founder died in his home in Manhattan at age 94. Following his military service in World War II, Charles Lazarus took over his father’s business of repairing bicycles and switched it to selling baby furniture and then to toys. In 1957, Lazarus opened his first Toys “R” Us store in a Maryland suburb.

The one store grew into a massive chain of supermarket-style outlets that turned the toy business from a seasonal to a year-round affair. It became the world’s largest toy retailer. Among his strategies was to sell diapers in-store at deep discounts, which induced customers to then use those savings to buy toys.


Source: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

15. Stan Lee
> Age: 95
> Occupation: Master of the Marvel Universe

The man behind some of the most iconic comic book superheroes – from Spider-Man to the Fantastic Four – as well as the architect who brought these icons to life on the movie screen started his career at Marvel Comics’ predecessor, Timely Comics, in 1939. Stan Lee is most famous for helping reinventing the comic superhero genre, humanizing what had previously been largely two-dimensional characters.

Characters created or co-created by Lee have been the subject of recent blockbuster movies by Marvel Entertainment, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Lee died Nov. 12 from cardiac arrest at age 95.

Source: National Institutes of Health / Wikimedia Commons

16. Dr. Adel Mahmoud
> Age: 76
> Occupation: Vaccine developer, pharmaceutical executive

While Dr. Adel Mahmoud wasn’t the business magnate many others on this list were known as, his work and later roles as a pharmaceutical executive warranted his inclusion. The Cairo-born infectious disease specialist played an important role in the development of several important vaccines, including treatments for rotavirus infection – the most common cause of potentially fatal diarrhea among infants worldwide – and human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cancers of the cervix, anus, and throat.Dr. Adel Mahmoud served as president of Merck Vaccines from 1998 to 2006 and later joined Princeton University as a policy analyst and later a faculty member. The doctor was one of the most prominent and respected voices in global health. Dr. Mahmoud died June 11 in a Manhattan hospital from a brain hemorrhage.


Source: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

17. Sergio Marchionne
> Age: 66
> Occupation: Automotive industry maverick

Sergio Marchionne is widely credited for restructuring two major global automakers – Italy’s Fiat and America’s Chrysler – by merging them into a new company in 2009 known as FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles). The often outspoken Italian-Canadian auto executive’s drastic measures, which included layoffs of thousands of Fiat workers and radical streamlining, led FCA to report a profit by 2011.

Marchionne never minced words and often complained about the inefficiencies in the way automakers develop and manufacture vehicles, arguing for more collaboration to reduce wasteful and redundant investments. Marchionne died July 25 at a Zurich hospital from complications following surgery. The hospital said he had quietly been seeking treatment for an undisclosed serious illness for more than a year.

Source: Courtesy of Barrick Gold Corporation

18. Peter Munk
> Age: 90
> Occupation: Gold mining magnate, philanthropist

After fleeing Nazi-occupied Hungary with his family in 1944, Peter Munk settled in Toronto, Canada. Munk eventually became a serial entrepreneur, with endeavors including a failed foray into high-end home audio electronics and early color televisions, and co-founding a chain of South Pacific and Australian resorts from which he walked away with $100 million.

But Munk will be remembered most for the three decades he spent building an oil-and-gas exploration company that evolved into Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s largest gold mining company. Munk died March 28 at his home in Toronto following a series of heart operations in recent years at the eponymous cardiac center he established among his many philanthropic efforts in Canada.

Source: Courtesy of Apache Corporation

19. Raymond Plank
> Age: 96
> Occupation: Oil tycoon

This Yale-educated World War II bomber pilot took his career from a Minneapolis-based accountant and tax advisor to establishing Apache Corp. in 1954, turning $250,000 in seed money into global oil and gas producer with revenue of nearly $6 billion by the time he retired as the company chairman in 2009.

Like other billionaires, Raymond Plank had pet philanthropic causes, including a Wyoming-based artist-in-residence program and a dedication to conservation efforts in Wyoming. Known for his risk-taking and bluster, Plank created the first publicly traded master limited partnership, a now-popular investment structure aimed at lowering the tax obligations of investors in the energy sector. Plank died Nov. 8 at his home in Ucross, Wyoming, at age 96.


Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

20. Barry Rand
> Age: 74
> Occupation: Barrier-breaking chief executive

After being passed over to head Xerox Corp., where he had spent 30 years rising to the position of executive vice president, Barry Rand became one of the few African Americans to become a chief executive of a Fortune 500 company when he took the job in 1999 at rental car company Avis Group Holdings. Rand resigned after Avis was acquired because, in his words, “I didn’t sign on to be a division president.”

He went on to head the AARP, the powerful lobbying group for elderly Americans, until his retirement in 2014. Rand died Nov. 7 from complications caused by Alzheimer’s disease in an assisted living facility in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Source: Samir Hussein / Getty Images for Assouline

21. Joël Robuchon
> Age: 73
> Occupation: Chef and restaurateur

There are celebrity chefs, and then there’s Joël Robuchon, a chef with restaurants across the globe, with reportedly the highest number of Michelin stars. Regarded as a perfectionist – attributed by some to time spent at a French seminary and a grueling kitchen apprenticeship, both before he was 20 – Robuchon famously toiled over every dish. His recipe for humble mashed potatoes, involving peeling the potatoes by hand after boiling, and then pushing them through a mill and re-heating them while adding cold butter to reach maximum creaminess, is often cited as an example of his effort to make every dish the perfect representation of that dish. Robuchon died from cancer on Aug. 6 at his home in Geneva.


Source: The Comedy Store / Flickr

22. Mitzi Shore
> Age: 87
> Occupation: Businesswoman, comedy gatekeeper

Name a famous comedian from the last 40 years – David Letterman, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and many others – and chances are they spent time working the crowd at Mitzi Shore’s The Comedy Store in West Hollywood. Known as the godmother of comedy, Shore developed a reputation as being the gatekeeper of comedy careers. Many comics broke through because Shore approved of their work and gave them prime stage time when often a late-night talent scout would be in the audience looking for fresh blood.

She wasn’t without controversy, however. Comedians picketed The Comedy Store in 1979 over Shore’s unwillingness to pay them. She relented, agreeing to pay most comics $25 per set. Shore died April 11 in hospice care in Los Angeles after battling Parkinson’s disease.

Source: David Livingston / Getty Images

23. Russ Solomon
> Age: 92
> Occupation: Tower Records founder

After dropping out of high school, Russ Solomon took money he earned selling jukebox records to open a music store in Sacramento in 1960. Over the next 46 years, Solomon grew his business into Tower Records, the world’s largest music retailer with store locations from California to Malaysia and annual sales topping $1 billion.

Tower’s large selection of music curated by knowledgeable staff at stores open until midnight, often featuring live performances, helped it become a hangout place for young music fans to sift through a seemingly endless well of recorded music. However, the digital era caught up to Tower, which closed in 2006. Solomon died March 4 at his Sacramento home from a cardiac arrest.

Source: Matthew Simmons / Getty Images

24. Kate Spade
> Age: 55
> Occupation: Fashion designer, entrepreneur

Kate Spade’s suicide shocked the world in 2018. Spade, who was just 55 when she hanged herself in her Manhattan apartment on June 5, founded her fashion brand in 1993 with her husband Andy Spade.

Uninspired by the chic, logo-heavy handbags that dominated the luxury accessories market, Kate began drawing up prototypes for more utilitarian handbags with bold unpatterned color statements that became popular among younger women entering the professional workforce. In 2007, she and her husband sold her stakes in the company and left the brand. She returned to work in 2016, establishing the Francis Valentine fashion brand. Her suicide note reportedly hinted at depression brought on by a looming divorce.


Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

25. Charles Wang
> Age: 74
> Occupation: Software entrepreneur

In the late 70s, Shanghai-born Charles Wang and a Queens College classmate founded Computer Associates International. Wang served as chairman and CEO of the company. (Today, the software development company is based in New York City and is known as CA Technologies.)

After amassing a fortune from his business, Wang took his business acumen to sporting franchises, buying the Long Island Islanders hockey team in 2000 and investing in efforts to promote the sport in China. Though he says he regretted buying the Islanders, Wang pushed for a revitalization plan for Nassau Coliseum, which led to a scaled down version of the plan scheduled to begin next year. Wang died from lung cancer on Oct. 21 at his Oyster Bay, Long Island, home.