Sam Walton

In 1945, shortly after leaving the U.S. Army, 26-year-old Sam Walton took over a Ben Franklin store in Newport, Arkansas. By 1962, he and his brother Bud owned a chain of 16 variety stores in three states and had pioneered techniques in logistics, volume purchasing, and merchandising. That year, the brothers opened their first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas, launching an empire that would eventually become the world’s largest retailer and private employer.

Walton received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 in recognition of his pioneering work in retailing. In 1998, Time magazine named him to its list of the 20th century’s 100 most influential people.

But Walton’s first accolades came much earlier in life. In 1932, he saved a boy named Donald Peterson from drowning in Missouri’s Salt River, and two years later, he became his home state’s youngest Eagle Scout.

Today, Walton’s influence lives on through the Walton Family Foundation, which donated more than $325 million to charity in 2013. And thousands of students on the University of Arkansas campus study at the Sam M. Walton College of Business ranked among the nation’s top 25 undergraduate and top 50 graduate business schools by the Wall Street Journal.