Companies thrived in a recession

40+ Amazing Companies That Thrived in a Recession

This article covers examples of companies that thrived in a recession going back over 100 years.

Some of the worlds biggest companies started during the worst historical recessions.

How is it possible? Why? And What can the leaders of today learn from these companies?

This is the most comprehensive list of companies (most you should recognize) that were started and grew out of the ashes of a recession.

Here’s a scary fact: The Covid-19 pandemic is responsible for the permanent closure of 76,000 small business in New York Most are thought to never re-open. That’s nearly one in three.

We take a look back at the biggest winners throughout the past 100+ years from the ashes of recessions.

These are case studies of opportunistic companies and they should serve as a road-map for building a strong business in a difficult economy.

Recession timeline graph
44 U.S Companies that started during Recessions (and Won)

Case and point: You can grow and thrive in a bad economy. This is a comprehensive list with stories from the biggest winners of past recessions.

1. General Electric

General Electric Logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1892
  • Revenue (2018): $95bn
  • Industry: Conglomerate (Energy & Electronics)
  • HQ: Boston, MA

How General Electric emerged from a recession during it’s founding years.

General Electric (GE) began during the onset of ‘The Panic of 1893’ in America.

Two competing companies, Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston, merged to become ‘The General Electric Company’.

In the decades preceding, the U.S economy had been experiencing guilded age of growth and wealth building.

Inventor and businessman Thomas Edison, (who mostly had interests in electricity related companies) had started his working career in the previous decades producing and selling newspapers on roadsides. This had gifted him with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Edisons’ continuous experimentation in chemistry, electrics & manufacturing and the registrations of patents sparked the growth of preceding companies to allow the formation of GE.

History of General Electric

GE became one of the worlds first research and development facilities in 1892. The U.S economy was entering into a recession which would stretch from 1893 to 1897.

GE managed to remain stable throughout and became one of the original 12 companies to be listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896.

GE expanded by acquiring private businesses and with it acquired more patents and design rights to allow the development of transformers for electrical power.

More growth opportunities presented to allow GE to expand into other industries.

GE grew in mechanical and electronic device production through the 20th Century and adopted the slogan ‘Imagination at Work’. As a result, GE remains one of the largest publicly traded companies in the world.

GE ranks 33rd among Fortune 500 largest firms in the United States, and has survived through-out all economic recessions since its founding years.

2. Chevron

Chevron Standard Advertisement. Companies started in a Recession.
Chevron Gas Station
Image by Yougottobekidding at
Chevron Logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1879
  • Revenue (2018): $158.9bn
  • Industry: Oil & Gas
  • HQ: San Ramon, California

‘The Business of Liquid Gold’

Founded at the end of the Long Depression recession, Chevron began its journey from predecessor oil drilling companies dating to 1876 with the discovery of the Pico Canyon Oilfield in Los Angeles.

Extraction from oil fields in wider California had collapsed between 1850-1865. Companies had invested $1m gained only a return of $60,000 worth of commercially-viable oil, oil extraction from California was seen as unprofitable.

Exploration began in the Pico Canyon area in L.A from 1865 and drillers struck a profitable oil-field.

The first commercially productive oil well was drilled in 1876 producing 30 barrels per day.

In the 1870’s, the recessions had caused hostile economics across America and Chevron applied sometimes ‘cut-throat’ business practices to gain their place in the industry. Chevron survived through acquisitions, mergers, joint-ventures with associated services.

Subsequent economic booms began and Chevron emerged as a leader in the industry in supply of petroleum, oil and gas.

The corporation continued with acquisitions in the oil sector and in recent decades has expanded into the alternative and renewable energy sectors.

Chevron recently announced a joint venture with Marubeni Corporation and WAVE Equity Partners to invest into carbon-capture technology for the oil field and industrial facilities.

Chevron is currently listed #15 on Forbes 500.

3. 3M

3M 1925 Advert Scotch Tape. Recession advertising. Companies started in a Recession.
3M First adhesive product – Scotch Tape
Image by 3M at Facebook
3M Logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1902
  • Revenue (2018): $32.7bn
  • Industry: Conglomerate
  • HQ: Maplewood, Minnesota

From Mining to Adhesives – Innovation Culture in 3M…

Minnesota Mining & Manufacture Company’ (1902 – 2002), now known as 3M, started at the end of the ‘Panic of 1901recession following a string of economic recessions.

3M had met a flat-start in their market entry when goal of the mining venture-company to mine for aluminium-oxide failed. The mine which was drilled contained commercially-worthless rock anorthosite.

Facing financial difficulty during a hard recession, 3M solicited funding in exchange for stock resulting in ownership changes.

New investors were brought in and the company changed directions and began in production of sandpaper and adhesive products.

The Innovation Culture of 3M

The company became financially stable by 1916 and began to diversify into numerous fields including healthcare, consumer goods, industry and worker safety products.

3M continued to grow and expanded globally during the 20th Century, managing to survive each subsequent recession.

Today 3M produces over 60,000 products under various brands, is ranked 95th in Fortune 500 list of US Corporations and ranked 64th on Interbrand’s Best Global Brand 2019.

4. General Motors

GM Advertisement 1950s. Companies started in a Recession.
General Motors Advert (1950s)
Image by ebay on Pinterest
General Motors Logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1908
  • Revenue (2019): $137.2bn
  • Industry: Automotive
  • HQ: Detroit, Michigan

In the wake of the Panic of 1907 recession where the US Stock market fell 50% from its previous peak, William Durant formed General Motors (GM) Company.

GM grew rapidly through a series of acquisitions in the early 1900’s (including Cadillac) but experienced over-leveraging.

Durant was removed from the board of GM at request of the banks which had backed loans for GM.

From 1916 GM was re-incorporated and brought in a brand-based pricing strategy in place of the ‘this years model’ strategy previously used.

The strategy worked and by 1962 GM held 50% total car sales in the U.S, surpassing competitor Ford.

GM grew to manufacture for the transportation industry including Aircrafts, construction equipment, trains and appliances.

GM is ranked 13th on Fortune 500 2019 ranking of US corporations.

5. IBM

Magnetic Tape IBM. Companies started in a Recession.
Magnetic Tape Drivers by IBM (1952)
Image from IBM Icons of Progress
IBM Logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded 1911
  • Revenue (2019): $77.1bn
  • Industry: Computing & AI
  • HQ: Armonk, New York

A history of progress through ‘Thinking’

Often ahead of its time for the computing world, IBM was founded by merging five technology companies into one with offices spread across America and Canada known as ‘CTR’.

Together, CTR manufactured machineries for sale and leasing in commercial businesses.

T.J Watson Sr. entered into the company from 1914. He introduced pioneering business practices which had a focus on sales initiatives, customer service, pride and loyalty to every employee of the company.

A working concept ‘THINK’ was introduced by Watson which soon became the company mantra.

Revenues grew to $9m under his leadership and CTRs operations expanded across Europe, South America, Asia and Australia.

Large revenues were made when government contracts were won for IBM’s tabulating equipment enabling organisations to process large amounts of data. 

CTR was renamed as ‘International Business Machines’ (IBM) by 1924 and all subsidiaries were merged into one company by 1933. This merger was a great depression era achievement unrivaled by any other company

Watson stepped down from CEO in 1952 and his position was taken by his son T.Watson Jr. Major.

History of IBM

Advances in IMBs products and services were made including the first practical example of artificial intelligence when an IBM-704 Data Processing System showcased its ability to ‘learn’ from matches of checkers. 

IBM continued with a string of technological breakthroughs and projects from providing computing technology for space explorations with NASA to the development of the magnetic swipe card and all in between.

In the 21st century, IBM has acquired several companies considered to be of core interest including healthcare, data services and digital assets.

IBM ranks #38 on Fortune 500 list of US corporations and has partnered up with major corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook & Twitter.

6. Disney

Walt Disney on Set filming. Companies started in a Recession.
Walt Disney (Left) on Set
Image from Disney Archives
Walt disney logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1923-1926 & 1929
  • Revenue (2019): $69.5bn
  • Industry: Animation & Media Entertainment
  • HQ: Burbank, California, U.S

How did a cartoon mouse save a company from bankruptcy?

Disney’s beginning was not as fairytale as you’d hope.

A string of bankruptcies, contract losses and employee abandonment for rival studios plagued the Disney Brothers in their founding years between 1923-1929.  

The impending downturn would shake things up for the early-stage entertainment company.

When the Great Depression began in 1929, the production company was struggling to recover from the losses of ‘Oswald the Rabbit’ animation.

Walt Disney came up with the idea of a mouse character, Mickey Mouse, who he featured in several small soundless animations.

Disney released its first with-sound animation ‘Steamboat Willie’ to become an immediate hit with entertainment-hungry theatre audiences, who were seeking respite from reality of the economic situations surrounding their daily lives.

Evolution of Disney

Disney soon collaborated with Columbia Pictures and was approached by a theatre manager to begin ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ by late 1929.

The Studios was reorganised to include a merchandising department and revenue soon began to build.

Technology in film production had advanced to allow live-action productions and TV broadcasting from the 1940s and Disney made it priority to be at the forefront of all new innovations in production methods. 

Disney continued to grow with animation productions and diversified into theme parks, feature length films and television themed on beloved characters and stories.

Disney ranks #10 in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2019 and #53 on Fortune 500 ranking.

7. 20th Century Fox

20th Century Logo Evolution
20th century studios logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1935
  • Revenue: Not known
  • Industry: Film
  • HQ: L.A., California

‘When the economy drops, the curtains rise.’

It’s showtime.

Formerly named 20th Century Fox and now a subsidiary to the Walt Disney Company, the emergence of the film-production company has a complex history.

The productions were simple – folded chairs and a blank wall for the screen – humble founder William Fox was eager to showcase his hand-cranked films for 5 cents.

Fox was pioneering with trends and technologies of the industry and shows grew in popularity to become a chain of 25 theatres.

20th Century Studios is formally recognised as founded in 1935 in a double-dip recession between the ‘Great Depression’ and the ‘Recession of 1937-1938’.

With the economic situation, viewers were entertainment-hungry for escapism and the Theatre Industry was booming with competition across America.

During economic downturns, companies that offer entertainment do exceedingly well. As the products often take people’s mind’s off more serious issues of the bad economy.

20th Century Fox had productions reaching across television, radio, film theatres and its own film processing laboratory to meet the growing demands of mass entertainment.

Tour 20th Century Fox

During World War 2, 20th Century Fox Studios ranked 3rd most profitable studio due to higher attendances to outrank Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

20th Century is famed for productions with highest grossing movies including Avatar, Titanic, The Star Wars Franchise, Bohemian Rhapsody and Ice Age.

Today 20th Century Fox Studios is owned by Walt Disney Company completed in 2019 for a bid of $71.3bn and was renamed as 20th Century Studios.


Lego Set Advert. Companies started in a Recession.
One of the original Lego Sets
Image by G.Novice at Stack Exchange
Lego logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1932
  • Revenue (2019): $38.5bn
  • Industry: Toy Manufacture
  • HQ: Billund, Denmark

How Lego continues to survive during recessions

Lego’s journey began when carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys in Billund, Denmark during the Great Depression.

Finding it to be unprofitable, Christiansen first had to trade his toys with  local farmers in exchange for food.

Following the end of WW2, the spread of plastic production allowed Lego to begin manufacture of plastic interlocking brick modules.

Ole created the motto ‘only the best is good enough’ in 1936 to encourage his employees to never skip on quality.

Lego Bricks in the Making

The motto is still used today and Lego has diversified into other products and services accessory to the original plastic minifigure theme with an unlimited character development ranging from Marvel, Harry Potter and Star Wars.

Lego has developed merchandising revenues from sale of clothing, film productions, digital games, competitions and opened several theme parks.

Today Lego ranks 75th in Interbrands World Best Brands 2019.

9. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise

Age of Insight
HP Logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1939 (predecessor Compaq)
  • Revenue: $5.01bn (defunct 2015 to Hewlett Packard Enterprise)
  • Industry: Computer Hardware, software, IT services & consulting
  • HQ: Palo Alto, California, U.S

The Original Garage of Silicon Valley

Founded in a one-car garage in California, co-founders Hewlett and Packard produced a line of electronic testing and measuring equipment.

The garage became known as the ‘Birthplace of Silicon Valley’.

HPs big break happened when they won their first contract in 1938 providing equipment to Walt Disney Pictures production ‘Fantasia’ and led to the formal establishment of Hewlett-Packard Company in 1939.

HP grew to develop a range of hardware components, software and related services to consumers, businesses and government sectors.

The ‘HP Way’ became widely respected and respected for its products across industries and HPs business practices were implemented across other businesses worldwide. 

In 1999 the company was split into two divisions; Agilent Technology & HP.

Agilent Technologies was developed to focus on electronics & bioanalytics.

HP’s aim was to focus on consumer electronics, office supply, printers, softwares and other products & services. By 2009 HP ranked as #9 on Forbes 500.

HP was divided into two companies; HP Inc and Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2015.

Today, HP ranks 54th on Interbrand 2019 ranking and 109th on Forbes 500 2020 ranking.

10. H&M

H&M Store front 1969. Companies started in a Recession.
H&M Store (1968)
Image by First Versions
H&M Logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1947
  • Revenue (2016): $25.1bn
  • Industry: Retailing
  • HQ: Stockholm, Sweden

From fishing to a worldwide clothing brand – the rise of H&M

Erling Persson opened a women clothing store in Västerås, Sweden called ‘Hennes’ in 1946 and shortly after purchased a hunting apparel and fishing store, called Mauritz Widforss.

Persson decided to combine the brands to begin selling mens and womens clothing under the same name to become Hennes & Mauritz in 1968.

The company was soon listed on the stock exchange and began its expansion into other local markets across Europe.

Erling Persson Photograph. Companies started in a Recession.
Erling Persson
Image by First Versions

H&M diversified product range to include homeware, childrens and accessories and also created parallel brands including COS, Monki, Weekday, Arket & others for high-street fast fashion.

H&M stores are now present across American, European, Asian and Middle East.

In 2019, H&M was ranked 30th by Interbrand in the Best Global Brands listing.

11. Burger King

Burger King advert 1973. Companies started in a Recession.
Burger King Advert ‘Have it your way’ (1973)
Image by sa_steve at Flickr
burger king logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1953 / 1954
  • Revenue (2019): $1.78bn
  • Industry: Fast food restaurant
  • HQ: Miami-Dade County, Florida, U.S

Let the Burger Wars Begin

In a post-korean war era, the US was hit by a 10-month contraction in 1953.

After a visit to the McDonald Brothers original store in California, the founders and owners of Burger King, K.J Kramer & M. Burns bought the rights to ‘insta-machines’ debuting their restaurant opening in 1953/54.

Despite the bad economy, American was in a craze over fast food.

Their machinery was successful to allow franchising and competition between the McDonalds and Burger King Franchises began.

Since 1959, Burger King has undergone a series of acquisitions resulting in restructuring and franchise expansion.

Burger King has growth to become the second largest hamburger chain globally. 

12. Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated First Cover. Companies started in a Recession.
Sports Illustrated First Cover
Image by JP Radcliffe at
sports illustrated logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1954
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Magazine
  • HQ: New York City, New York

How a sports magazine discovered escapism in entertainment

On the same tail-end of the post-korean war contraction as Burger King, Sports Illustrated went into print.

The sports magazine concept was perceived to be a weak market. At the time where it was believed sports journalism was to be beneath serious journalism.

It wasn’t conceivable for sports news to be capable of filling an entire magazine.

Sports Illustrated would not become profitable for another 12 years.

Just for good measure, did you know that ESPN is valued at $50 billion today.

Sports illustrated offered entertainment for a growing niche at the right time to meet and supply the booming popularity of spectator sports.

This popularity was driven from television, economic prosperity and Sports Illustrated became a well known household name.

13. The Jim Henson Company

Jim Henson company logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1958
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Entertainment
  • HQ: L.A., California, U.S

Puppeteers Jim & Jane Henson established The Jim Henson Company (officially Muppets Inc.) in 1958.

The puppeteers work featured in advertising, appearances on late-night talk shows and short meeting films.

The company began designing characters in 1968 and produced short films Sesame Street in 1969.

Jim Henson photo with kermit and bert puppets. Companies started in a Recession.
Jim Henson with puppets Bert and Kermit the Frog
Image by The Jim Henson Company

The company tried to gain momentum with an older audience via SNL. You read that right, Jim Belushi referred to the side show of puppetry as “the Mucking Fuppets.”

Eventually, they found product market fit in United States and United Kingdom. They shifted towards a younger audience by producing The Muppet Show in 1976, and Fraggle Rock.

In 1989, Henson and Disney CEO Michael Eisner began merger discussions however Hensons death in 1990 ceased all negotiations.

The company remains independently owned and run by the children of the Hensons’. 

14. Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut advert 1977. Companies started in a Recession.
1977 Pizza Hut Advert
Image by Old School ads on Twitter
Pizza Hut logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1958
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Restaurants
  • HQ: Plano, Texas, U.S

In the second dip of the 1950s recessions, University students and brothers Dan and Frank Carney founded Pizza Hut.

The Carney Brothers took out a $600 loan from their mother to start the business. The two were convinced by a real estate agent there was big business to be made in Pizza.

They had no experience in the restaurant industry or the pizza businesses.

Pizza photo. Companies started in a Recession.
Homemade Pizza by Engin_Akyurt at

Within a year, they held six restaurants across Kansas and began franchising in 1959, fueled by growing numbers of American consumers who had a love for fast food.

By 1977 Pizza Hut was acquired by PepsiCo and spun under a 3-chain management with Taco Bell and KFC.

15. Hyatt

hyatt hotel logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1957
  • Revenue: $4.45bn
  • Industry: Hospitality
  • HQ: Chicago, Illinois, U.S

Another company which started during the double-dip recession of the 1950s is Hyatt Hotels.

Two entrepreneurs Robert von Dehn and Jack Dyer Crouch bought a motel near Los Angeles Airport.

The concept was to cater towards upscale and business customers in need of short-term accommodation.

The growth of air travel for business purposes presented the founders with an opportunity that locating a high-quality hotel near to major airports was a smart business strategy.

The initial growth was by purchasing two motels near San Francisco International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

By 1957, brothers Jay & Donald Pritzker saw the potential of the strategy and acquired the hotels from Crouch.

The hotel chain continued to grow organically through acquisitions over the following decades to become a management and hotel ownership company.

In 2009, Hyatt filed for IPO on NYSE.

Hyatt Hotels CEO Interview

Between 2010 and 2019, Hyatt continued to grow its portfolio through acquisitions and with new concepts including exclusive resorts.

Hyatt now operates 20 different hotel brands across 60 countries. 

16. Enterprise

Enterprise logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1957 / 1969
  • Revenue (2019): $25.9bn
  • Industry: Rental
  • HQ: St. Louis, Missouri, U.S

Enterprise was founded in the 1957 Pandemic and Recession with a philosophy of ‘take care of your customers and employees first, and profits will follow’ under the name ‘Executive Leasing’.

The economic growth rate in America at the time was at -4% and by Q1 1958 was at -10%.

Enterprise was renamed to its current format in 1969 in honor of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) which founding leader Jack Taylor served.

Enterprise rent-a-car sits under a holdings company with other car rental brands and is the largest car rental in the U.S.

The strategy of Enterprise is to provide replacement vehicles as a result of accidents, theft or repair and to those who need a vehicle for a short lease for business or leisure trips.

17. iHOP

iHOP Vintage advert. Companies started in a Recession.
Image from Farm2 at Flickr
iHOP Logo. Companies started in a Recession.
  • Founded: 1956
  • Revenue (2006): $349.6m
  • Industry: Restaurants
  • HQ: Glendale, California, U.S

First opened in L.A, California, the International House of Pancakes entered the restaurant market with the concept that specialises in breakfast and pancakes.

In 1976 iHOP was acquired by parent company ‘Dine Brands Global’ and later bought out Applebee’s.

iHOP has specialised in breakfast food in the food industry and operates over 1400 locations.

Today, iHOP operates with licensees and franchise agreements across America and the Middle East markets.

18. Trader Joe’s

Trader Joes Original Store
Image by Chris Pizzello at AP Images
Trader Joes logo
  • Founded: 1958 / 1967
  • Revenue (2017): $13.3bn
  • Industry: Retail
  • HQ: Monrovia, California, U.S

Trader Joe’s started under the name Pronto Market Convenience stores in L.A between 1958 – 1967.

Founder Joe Coulombe decided the original stores were too similar to rival retailer 7-Eleven and developed the Trader Joe’s concept around the Tiki Culture fad of 1960’s.

Meanwhile, the U.S economy was recovering from the 1957 Recession and Pandemic and began bouncing back in 1958. Trader Joe’s was founded in the same year.

The first official Trader Joe’s store opened in 1967 offering fresh meats, cheeses and sandwiches.

Trader Joe’s was bought out in 1979 by German owners of Aldi Nord in 1979 and began its brand expansion across America.

Between 1990 and 2001, Trader Joe’s quadrupled store numbers and revenue ten-fold.

In 2016, Trader Joe’s was recorded in Fortune Magazine as having an estimated sales of $1,750/sq ft and listed within the Top 75 Retailers.

From 2019, Trader Joe’s had over 503 stores nationwide and ranks #23 among Glassdoor best places to work in the US.

19. Domino’s

Dominos Pizza Advertisement (1976)
Domino's Pizza Logo
  • Founded: 1960
  • Revenue: (2019) $3.6bn
  • Industry: Restaurants & Food Delivery
  • HQ: Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S

Brothers Tom & James Monaghan, took over operations of a small pizza chain named DomiNick’s in Michigan in 1960.

A $500 down payment and loan of $900 was borrowed to pay for the store.

The U.S economy was in recession known as ‘the rolling adjustment‘ recession in 1960.

Within 8 months, James traded his half of the business and Tom Monaghan became the full owner.

Tom persisted and bought two more pizzerias. He wanted to have the same branding across the three restaurants but was forbidden to use the name DomiNick’s.

An employee suggested the name Domino’s and the business formally became Domino’s Pizza Inc in 1965.

By 1978, Dominos had expanded to 200 stores under franchising agreements and from 1983, Dominos opened its first international store in Canada.

Dominos expanded to 1000 international locations by 1995.

Dominos Pizza Landing Page
Dominos Pizza Landing Page

In 2004, Dominos Pizza was placed on the NYSE after 44 years of private holding, and by 2006 held over 8000 stores worldwide totalling $1.4bn gross income.

Dominos has embraced partnerships and technologies during the 2010s to innovate in their delivery including delivery by self-driving cars, drones and a customised Pizza Car.

20. FedEx Corporation

Inside FedEx World Hub
Fed Ex Corporation Logo
  • Founded: 1971
  • Revenue (2018): $65.4bn
  • Industry: Courier
  • HQ: Memphis, Tennessee, U.S

Founded at the end of the 1969-1970 recession, FedEx was started by Yale Business School Graduate Frederick W Smith as Federal Express Corporation.

Smith’s idea was a delivery system specifically designed for urgent deliveries.

Smith submitted the idea as a logistics solution for a term paper which his professor was reported to be unimpressed with it as a business idea.

FedEx Airplane Frederik Smith
Frederik Smith
Image by Ahmad Sanusi Husain at

Smith pursued his idea, moving to Memphis in 1973, where FedEx had access to Memphis International Airport and a position in the center of the country. It was a gamble, especially in a bad economy.

FedEx grew to over $1bn revenue by 1983 and managed to avoid any acquisitions or mergers attempts within its first decade of operation.

FedEx ranks 73rd on Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2019.

21. Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines Vintage Photo
Southwest Airlines Vintage Photo with Founder Herb Kheller
Image by Southwest Community at
Southwest Airlines Logo
  • Founded: 1966
  • Revenue (2018): $21.9bn
  • Industry: Transport
  • HQ: Dallas, Texas, U.S

Flying out of a Recession, Southwest Style…

Founder Herb Kheller is quoted as having formed the business idea of Southwest Airlines on a cocktail napkin in a restaurant in San Antonio.

Southwest Airlines (incorporated as Air Southwest Co) had a turbulent entrance into the aviation industry.

Three competing airlines took legal action upon Southwest Airlines for its strategic plan of Intra-state short domestic flights.

The US economy entered into contraction in the same year after almost a decade of growth and dropped by 22% between March and December.

Meanwhile, Southwest was accused of undercutting prices by only operating within the state of Texas and using exemption from regulations.

By 1970 the lawsuits were resolved to resume flights within the state and is one of the defining success moments of Kellehers’ career.

Under Kellehers leadership, the airline developed a corporate culture emphasising for employees to ‘take themselves lightly but their jobs seriously’. 

Southwest Airlines grew to operate flights to adjacent states and now serves 40 states using a point-to-point system

Southwest Airlines carries the most domestic airline passengers than any other Airline since 2018.

22. Microsoft

History & Size of Microsoft
Microsoft Corporation Logo
  • Founded: 1975
  • Revenue (2019): $125.8bn
  • Industry: Computing & Technology
  • HQ: Redmond, Washington, U.S

Tech is the Future: A History of Microsoft

Microsoft Corporation (and its predecessors) entered the world at the same time as the 1973 Oil Crisis and the 1974 Stock Market Crash.

Both of these recessions had profound political and economic impacts with stagflation and high unemployment levels through-out.

The corporation began after co-founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates worked on developing a working interpreter for computer company MITS micro-computer.

The success of this allowed Microsoft to develop, manufacture, license and sell computer software, electronics, computers and other services to both industry and consumers.

By 2016, Microsoft was the world’s largest software maker and held a dominant market share as an office software suite and in IBM PC-Compatible operating system markets.

Microsoft ranks 30th in 2018 Fortune 500 ranking of corporations by total revenue and ranks 4th in the 2019 Best Global Brand survey by Interbrand.

23. Apple

History of Apple

History of Apple Products
Apple Inc Logo
  • Founded: 1976/ 1977
  • Revenue (2019): $260.1bn
  • Industry: Computing Technology, Media & Finance
  • HQ: Cupertino, California, U.S

Founded in 1976 as a business partnership between Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne from Steve Jobs’ parents home in Los Angeles, California.

Apple’s first product, Apple I, sold with a starting pricing strategy of $666.66, due to Wozniak’s fondness of repeating digits.

By 1977, Ronald Wayne had sold his shares back and investor Mike Markkula provided $250,000 and essential business expertise to Apple.

Revenues doubled at a frequency of every 4 months and yearly sales grew from $775,000 to $118m between 1977 and 1980.

Steve Jobs introduces Apple iPhone in 2007

The introduction of iPhone

Apple continued to develop products to include consumer electronics, softwares and online services to become one of the big four technology companies of the U.S.

Today, Apple is ranked #1 in Best Global Brand by Interbrand and ranks 3rd on Fortune 500s listing. Apple has diversified in service provisions and continues with acquisitions across multiple industries.

24. Black Entertainment Television

BET History

BET Logo
  • Founded: 1980
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Entertainment
  • HQ: New York City, New York, U.S

Entertainment Industries offer growth during recession

Founded in Illinois, cable industry lobbyist Robert L Johnson launched Black Entertainment Today (BET) after making a loan for $15,000 and a $500,000 investment. BET launched in January 1980.

The network initially broadcast for 2 hours a week with a lineup of music videos and reruns of popular sitcoms.

By 1983, BET was able to become an independent and full fledged entity. 

The network broadened in range to include news, stand-up comedy, current affairs, and music videos.

BET recorded 88 million American households (75.8% of households with television) receiving the channel.

BET is now owned by Viacom.

25. CNN

History of CNN

CNN Logo
  • Founded: 1980
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Media
  • HQ: New York City, New York, U.S

CNN was founded in 1980 as a division of AT&Ts Warner Media and by media proprietor Ted Turner as the first 24-hour Cable News channel.

CNN has numerous affiliates and broadcasts from studios in New York City, Washington D.C and Los Angeles.

From September 2018, Cable Network News had over 90 million viewers accounting for a market share of 97.7% of US Cable Subscription households and can be viewed across 212 countries.

26. Whole Foods Market

Wholefood Market Store
Wholefood Market
Whole Foods Market Logo
  • Founded: 1980
  • Revenue : Unknown
  • Industry: Retailing
  • HQ: Austin, Texas, U.S

Mergers and Inventory losses to Amazon buyouts – Whole Foods Market’s journey to retailing in Recessions

Preceding from a small vegetarian foods store called SaferWay in Austin, Texas, owners John Mackey and Renee Lawson had a difficult entry as wholefood sellers.

In the early 1980s, the US economy was in recession and shrinking (with job cuts experienced across automotive, manufacturing and goods producing industries) Saferway merged with Clarksville Natural Grocery resulting in Whole Foods Market opening.

The first Whole Foods Market store was large by comparison to standard health food stores at the time.

Early on, the store suffered a near entire inventory loss from a flood event and had no insurance.

Whole Foods Market was saved by customers, neighbours and staff to help with repair and clean up and the creditors and invested assisted to help the store reopen within 28 days.

History of Whole Foods Market

History of Whole Foods Market

Learning from this and the tough economic situations experienced, Whole Food’s Market began it’ expansion out of Texas and as of 2019 has 500 stores across America and 7 stores across the United Kingdom.

Whole Foods Market operates several stores including Wellspring Grocery, Bread and Circus, Mrs. Gooch’s, Fresh Fields, Bread of life and many more.

Whole Foods Market is now merged with Amazon.

27. EA

EA Sports Introduction

EA Logo
  • Founded: 1982
  • Revenue (2018): $5.15bn
  • Industry: Entertainment Software
  • HQ: Redwood City, California, U.S

Gaming Giants EA growth stemmed from CEO’s Personal Investment

Trip Hawkins, an original Apple employee, began his own software company after agreeing office space usage with venture capitalist firm Sequoia Capital in 1982.

Using his personal investment of estimated $200,000, Hawkins refined the Business Plan for Electronic Arts to become the pioneer of the early home computer games industry.

EA’s business model fitted perfectly with the recession.

EA’s products were able to offer escapism for Americans seeking respite from real-life during the economic downturn experienced in 1982.

EA is now one of the largest gaming companies in America and Europe developing and publishing games for franchise game series including Battlefield, Need for Speed, The Sims and Medal of Honour.

In fiscal year 2020, EA reported net revenue of $5.5bn.

28. Dave & Buster’s

Dave & Busters Logo
  • Founded: 1982
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Restaurants
  • HQ: Dallas, Texas, U.S

Founded in Dallas, Texas by co-owners David Corriveau and James “Buster” Corley.  

Dave & Buster’s grew by expansion into other cities and acquiring other restaurant chains which were filed for bankruptcy throughout the 2000’s.

During an economic downturn, this was by all accounts; impressive.

In 2014, Dave & Buster’s sold 5.9 million shares on NASDAQ stock exchange at an offering price of $16-18, raising $94 million.

29. Adobe

Adobe Logo
  • Founded: 1982
  • Revenue: $11.1bn
  • Industry: Software
  • HQ: San Jose, California, U.S

Adobe learnt to be creative when America’s economy dropped in the 1980’s .

One of the original garage based businesses, Adobe Inc was started in 1982 by John Warnock and Charles Geschke.

Adobe started at the end of the 1981-1982 recession, when manufacturing, construction and service industries all contracted.

Interest in buying Adobe Steve Jobs put forward an offer of $5m but Adobe’s owners refused.

Adobe eventually sold a 19% stake to Jobs on demand by their investors.

Jobs’ investment gave Adobe a five-fold in valuation and made Adobe the first company in Silicon Valley history to become profitable in its first year.

Adobe’s vision was to offer a creative multimedia software product after conjuring various business options including turn-key office printing systems and copy services.

Adobe recently began moving into digital marketing and cross-industry software services for film and media.

Adobe now ranks 39th on Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2019 and is riding the recession of Covid-19 as people’s working lives change to work from home.

30. Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings Hot Wings
Hot Wings
Source: Sarah Whitten at CNBC
Buffalo wild wings logo
  • Founded: 1982
  • Revenue (2018): $1.9bn
  • Industry: Restaurant
  • HQ: Sandy Springs, Georgia, U.S

Buffalo Wild Wings began after hungry patrons, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery, were in search of buffalo-style chicken wings.

Failing to find a restaurant offering this, the pair opened up near Ohio state University, Columbus. None of the founders had any knowledge or experience of running a restaurant.

However at the same time, the U.S economy was experiencing a recession as fall out from the Iranian Revolution.

Buffalo Wild wings began expanding over the following decade giving a fun and relaxing environment for patrons and is famed for the Wild Wings Blazin’ Challenge – eat 12 of the hottest wings in 6 minutes.

 Buffalo Wild Wings Blazin Challenge

Buffalo Wild Wings Challenge

Buffalo Wild Wings established franchise agreements by 1992 and today has over 1200 locations across America, the Middle East and South Asia.

31. Bath & Body Works

Bath & Body works Logo
  • Founded: 1990
  • Revenue: $2.28bn
  • Industry: Retail
  • HQ: Columbus, Ohio, U.S

The Ohio based retailer first opened in Massachusetts, selling bath and beauty products. However, the U.S economy experienced a recession where unemployment had reached 6.8% and manufacturing trade sales were declining due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Bath & Body Works stores were build adjacent to Express stores, and sometime internally linked to allow open shopping experiences for consumers. Growth was slow in BBWs initial months.

In 1991, CEO Beth Pritchard was brought in. BBW was recorded at the time as having 95 stores and sales of $20m. By 1996, under Pritchards leadership, BBW had grown to reach $753m with over 750 stores.

The brand leveraged on their market positioning and unique concept to become a leading retailer of own-label cosmetic products in America.

32. Netflix

Netflix Landing Page Screenshot
Netflix Landing Page
Netflix Logo
  • Founded: 1997
  • Revenue (2019): $20.1 billion
  • Industry:  Entertainment
  • HQ: Los Gato, California, U.S

How a digital streaming service replaced the brick & mortar Blockbuster after been rejected

Founded in California by Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings, the pair came up with the idea for Netflix whilst commuting.

At the time, the U.S economy was under pressure from the 1997 Asian Financial Crash.

Hastings invested $2.5 million in seed funding. They first tested the concept of selling and renting DVDs by mail.

The Business Model was similar to rival Blockbuster based on a pay-per-view rental model.

From 1999, Netflix introduced the monthly subscription model, but was soon losing money. Netflix was offered to be acquired by Blockbuster $50 million in 2000.

Netflix Viwers
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

As DVDs gained popularity and affordability, Netflix began to pick up more sales and subscriptions.

From the mid-2000s, Netflix was toying with the idea of streaming movies online but were restricted by data speeds and bandwidths.

Netflix recognised the popularity of streaming services from Youtube and developed the concept of streaming media.

Netflix now has over 182 million paid subscriptions worldwide. 

33. Wikipedia

Wikipedia Landing Page
Wikipedia Landing Page
Wikipedia Logo
  • Founded: 2001
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Online Encyclopedia
  • HQ: United States

Wikipedia was launched in January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.

After some failed attempts of other online encyclopedias, Wikipedia began as a supplementary project to Nupedia.

Nupedia’s Open Content License allowed Wikipedia to develop as a publicly editable encyclopedia.

The name is a combination of the Hawaiian word for ‘quick’ and encyclopedia – Wikipedia.

Wikipedia containes over 53 million articles with more than 1.5 billion viewers per month as a multilingual encyclopedia as an open collaboration project.

34. Mailchimp

Mailchimp Landing Page
Mailchimp Landing Page
Mailchimp logo
  • Founded: 2001
  • Revenue (2019): $700 million
  • Industry:  Email Marketing
  • HQ: Atlanta, Georgia, U.S

Mailchimp: a lesson in marketing your way out of a Recession

Mailchimp was founded in 2001 by Ben Chestnut, Mark Armstrong & Dan Kurzius. During an 8-month recession known as the bubble, unemployment reached 6% in U.S.

The trio saw an opportunity stemming from closeness to their customers that its competitors lacked and gained an understanding of what businesses wanted from their marketing tools.

The company offered marketing automation services via email marketing for companies to communicate with their customers.

Mailchimp developed accounts with a freemium option allowing numbers to gather and develop into paid services.

User numbers grew from 85,000 to 450,000 and by 2014 was sending 10 billion emails per month on behalf of users.

Meet Mailchimp

Mailchimp has diversified to developed a service range to offer multiple marketing services.

MailChimp was ranked #15 on the Forbes Cloud 100 list in 2019 named one of the fast company’s most innovative companies.

Today, ownership of Mailchimp remained with its co-founders and has the highest market-share of any other email marketing service.

35. Wedding Wire

Wedding Wire Landing Page Screenshot
Weddingwire logo
  • Founded: 2007
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Event Planning
  • HQ: New York City, New York, U.S

WeddingWire is an online directory service for engaged couples to connect with local wedding professionals in the specialised global marketplace.

WeddingWire’s directory of companies and services covers 15 countries across America, Latin America, Asia and Europe.

WeddingWire allows engaged couples to search, compare and book from the directory of 500,000 industry-specific vendors.

WeddingWire is a subsidiary of The Knot Worldwide, now XO Group.

Which Start-ups succeeded from the Last Recession?

Startup that won in the last recession
2008 Recession Startup Winners

36. ZenDesk

What is ZenDesk?
Zendesk logo
  • Founded: 2007
  • Revenue (2019): $816m
  • Industry: Software
  • HQ: (2007-2019) Copenhagen, Denmark, (2019) San Francisco, California, U.S

Zendesk started in a loft in the Danish capital of Copenhagen by a humble IT worker, an engineer and a designer as trio co-founders who had experience in customer service softwares.

Targeting a conventionally unsexy software idea, they designed a simple web-based SaaS application to allow companies to manage support requests from end-users.

Receiving $500,000 in seed-funding and a following $6m in 2019, Zendesk moved to San Francisco.

In 2014, Zendesk acquired a Singapore based software company and was listed on the New York Stock exchange with an IPO of $9 per share.

Today, Zendesk has expanded to launch Zendesk Sunshine in March 2020 and is forecast to have a quarterly sales value of $239m.

37. AirBNB

AirBNB Landing Page
AirBNB Landing Page
AirBNB Logo
  • Founded: 2008
  • Revenue: $2.6bn
  • Industry: Accommodation
  • HQ: San Francisco, California, U.S

Recession mattresses to Global Accommodation Company with AirBNB

In the grip of the 2008 recession, co-founders and roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, were having difficulty booking a hotel room in San Francisco.

Recognizing the need to loosen up money in people with property still struggling to make ends-meet.

Despite a terrible economy and high competition, the pair founded the startup AirBNB in summer 2008.

A website was set up to advertise short-term accommodation service, breakfast and business networking for people who were unable to book a hotel.

Chesky & Gebbia were supported by a start-up Incubator, Y-Combinator, to provide training and funding in exchange for a small stake in the company.

The pair travelled to New York to promote the business and launched into the global domain of short-term accommodation.

AirBNB has now grown to become a global franchise.

38. Cloudera

Cloudera Logo
  • Founded: 2008
  • Revenue (2019): $478 million
  • Industry: Software Development
  • HQ: Palo Alto, California, U.S

Cloudera was founded by engineers from Google, Facebook & Yahoo! and joined by an executive from Oracle.

Cloudera developed a hybrid open-source Apache Hadoop distribution software.

The aim was to accelerate data management innovation.

From 2019, Cloudera has entered into a strategic partnership with IBM and acquired AI business analytics company Arcadia Data.

39. Groupon

Groupon Landing Page Screenshot
Groupon Landing Page
Groupon Logo
  • Founded: 2008
  • Revenue (2017): $2.84bn
  • Industry: E-commerce marketplace
  • HQ: Chicago, Illinois, U.S

How money-concious consumers and coupons made business entrepreneur a King during 2008 Recession

Founded on the principle of consumer-collective bargaining power, Groupon was born in the midst of the Recession of 2008.

Founder Andrew Mason used the web as his main channel for developing the coupon based service to bring savings to consumers.

Within one and half years, Groupon grew from half a dozen staff to over 350 and was valued at over $1bn after just 16 months, the fastest company ever to reach this milestone.

Groupon’s success can be credited to consumers wanting to save money during hard financial times and using their collective purchasing power to bulk buy in order to receive a discount. Perfect timing with a recession.

Still, Groupon remains one of the most success stories of start-ups winning in a recession in recent history.

In 2011 Groupon filed to go public and has since acquired a network of companies.  

40. Slack Technologies

What is Slack?
Slack Logo
  • Founded: 2009, launched 2013
  • Revenue (2019): $401million
  • Industry: Internet Services
  • HQ: San Francisco, California, U.S

Originally named Tiny Speck in 2009 co-founded by Stewart Butterfield, angel funding of $1.5m followed by $5m in 2010.

In 2011 $10.7m of funding was raised to bring the company out from recession as a leading workplace communication tool

The original product was a 2D graphics gameplay called Glitch.

The company reformed to launch Slack, a real-time collaboration app and platform which had been the internal tool used for development of Glitch.

Three rounds of funding between 2013 and 2014 gave the company an estimated value of $1.2bn.

The name Slack is an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”.

Slack acquired Screenhero and investors built the company’s value between 2014 to 2018.

From 2018, Slack announced its preparation for initial public offering.

It was recognised as a ‘Top 5 Disruptor’ company and started trading stock in June 2019.

The NYSE reference price of $26 rose to $41 in initial trading hours. That valued the company at $20bn.

41. Square

How Square makes money by CNBC
Square Logo
  • Founded: 2009
  • Revenue (2019): $4.7bn
  • Industry: Financial Services
  • HQ: San Francisco, California, U.S

A Square philosophy of Empowerment and Enrichment

Square was founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey. Friend Jim McKelvey, was unable to sell glass faucets as he was unable to accept credit card. Faced with this problem, they were presented with a financial service opportunity.

The pair developed a card-reader and launched their first app in 2010.

Square was built with a view to allow easy access to financial transaction solutions.

Square went public in 2015 with an initial valuation of $2.9bn with a share price of $9.

From 2015, Square has acquired several companies of interest ranging in industry from food delivery to artificial intelligence.

In 2020, Square acquired deep learning firm Dessa


How Venmo Makes Money by CNBC
Venmo Logo
  • Founded: 2009
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Merchant Financial Software

Payment Innovation from a forgotten wallet…

Founded on experiences of poorly performing point sales softwares in a Yogurt Shop, University students Kortina & Magdon-Ismail were inspired to create a transaction solution after they forgot their wallets.

Kortina & Magdon-Ismail set about trying to figure a way to send money through mobile phones. The idea was originally to allow money to be sent via text message but quickly transitioned into an App.

The company was established and raised $1.2m of seed money in 2010 on the tail end of the 2008 recession and by 2012 the company’s value was spotted by financial competitors.

After 2012 Venmo was acquired by Braintree for $26.2m and subsequently acquired by Paypal for $800m in 2013. 


Uber Logo
  • Founded: 2009
  • Revenue (2019): $14.1bn
  • Industry: Transportation
  • HQ: San Francisco, California, U.S

Originally named Ubercab in 2009, computer programmer Garrett Camp wanted to find a cheaper alternative to hiring a private driver.

Camp figured sharing the cost of a taxi with people could make it more affordable and joined with friends to found the company. A beta test was launched in May 2010 and the app launched in 2011.

By 2012, Uber was allowing for clients to book cabs using its app and UberX was introduced to allow a cheaper option of driving non-luxury vehicles (with operating conditions).

Uber Driver
Uber Driver Photo by Jackson David from Pexels

By 2013, Uber was operating in 35 cities and continued to launch new services including UberEATS, UberPOOL & UberBLACK.

Uber had agreed to selling or combining operations with operators in Russia, China, Middle East and SouthEast Asia between 2016 and 2019.

Uber now also operates UberATG; aimed at developing self driving cars with projections of 75.000 autonomous vehicles by 2022.

The company received a $1bn investment from Japanese conglomerate.

The future is looking sUber.

44. WhatsApp

Whatsapp Application Screenshot
WhatsApp App Photo by Anton from Pexels
WhatsApp Logo
  • Founded: 2009
  • Revenue: Unknown
  • Industry: Telecommunications
  • HQ: Mountain View, California, U.S

Whatsapp’s Rise to connect the World after 2008 Global Recession

Colleagues, Brian Acton & Jan Koum founded Whatsapp in 2009 in the fallout of the last recession.

Both spent time after leaving Yahoo! applying for work and travelling before coming to the idea of a new type of messaging app.

The founding months were filled with app crashes and co-founder Koum considered leaving.

WhatsApp’s big break happened in 2010/11 when Apple allowed push notifications to feature on ISO devices. WhatsApp had found their push into the communications marketplace.

They gaining seed funding and deployed Whatsapp 2.0 exclusively in the Apple App Store.

User numbers grew and by 2011, WhatsApp was within Top 20 Apps at Apple US App store.

WhatsApp received $8m investment funding for 15% of the company in 2011.

By 2013 WhatsApp had over 200 million active users with just 50 members of staff.

$50m was further invested to value the company at $1.5bn.

In 2014, Facebook Inc. acquired Whatsapp for $19bn; the investment received 5000% return on its initial investment.

Today, Whatsapp has become the most used private communication tool across Africa, South America, India & parts of Europe.


As companies are increasingly becoming nervous about the future, we should take a look back to get a better perspective of the 2020 global economic downturn

This robust collection of examples of companies that were started in bad economic times and grew to global success stories should help provide perspective on the future.

The loom of a long-expected recession upon the global markets is scary, but in many instances this spurs innovation and new opportunities.

We hope this article serves as inspiration and in more of a thoughtful context as to what is to come.

If you liked thus article, PLEASE do us a favor and share it.

We spent countless hours piecing together facts and doing our research.

Author: Kate Swan

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