5 Inspiring Stories of Executives Who Started at the Bottom

 March 26, 2019
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Trusting in your career path can be challenging, whether you’re in your very first job or stuck at one you haven’t loved for months. That’s when you turn to the inspiration of others. Every one of these executives have started at the bottom, and now hold their title, and the work that comes with it, as a true badge of honor. Use these stories to find the inspiration you need to take the next step in your career, leave a job you hate, or pivot into a position you never thought possible.

The Tech Transformer

20 years later, Brandon Ridenour is CEO of ANGI Homeservices (parent company of HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List and Handy). This pre-law, political science major, achieving just average performance, was immediately jolted into a new world when he saw a video about the future of technology from Andersen Consulting, which would be his future employer.

He changed his major and worked for five hard years—including summers—to learn what he needed to move head first into the world of tech. He soon started his career as a Technology Consultant at Andersen Consulting where he was already transforming tech; as he says, “I was working on internet type ideas before the internet.”

Though only his first professional position, he was already taking a giant step toward his future—even if he didn’t know it yet. Ridenour says, “This job offered me the opportunity to work with Fortune 50 companies on projects of over $1B in size. As my first professional experience, this was such an important learning experience.”

Now, he no longer works as a “technical expert” but believes his experience in the burgeoning tech world helped him reach the level of CEO. “I started my career as a deep technology expert and then branched out to product and strategy, but the technical experience gave me a heads-up over other product peers. It gave me a much deeper understanding of the technology and product side and how it impacts the business side of the house. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without this experience,” he explains.

What drove him so successfully from one position to the next? The same trait we see in all of these successful executives: passion. He says, “I am only successful when I’m engaged in things that I’m passionate about.”

The Entrepreneurial Salesman

Sales is merely a shadow of what it used to be, and Sam Meenasian, Owner and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Operations, USA Business Insurance, start at the very bottom 12 years ago. “I began in a small cubical in another insurance agency where every hour my manager did a drill meeting where we would practice on how to speak to customers to sell products.” Meenasian spent years going door-to-door, putting flyers on cars, all in hopes of getting one call out of hundreds.

In all that time, though, he always knew there was something bigger for him. He says, “I knew from day one that I wanted to own my own business and it didn’t take me much time or thinking to realize once I understood how important insurance is.” This desire to do something bigger fueled him through the months when he walked away with $500 after paying for expenses, like rent and food.

He made his first big move at a time when others may have given up. He was forced to leave his office, due to relocation of the company, and instead of walking away he took that first giant leap: he found a small space for himself that cost no more than $500 each month—willing to give up the little he had left each month to build this business.

With his own space, he still pushed through rough patches, with major personal lines losses that rocked his business. Again, this encouraged him to take another big step: shifting from personal insurance into business, “to balance out my loss ratios.” From there, he continued growing his business to be a successful and honest business insurance agency.

To this day, Meenasian appreciates where he is and the work he does, “There is not a single day I take for granted or work any less harder. I work full hours plus overtime and know all my customer base on an individual level and never try to change my morals and values to grow my business any faster or make more money.”

The Career Changer

Dawn Anderson, founder and CEO of OHi Food Co, found her calling in Maui, Hawaii, late in September 2013. Her story starts far from where she is now, as a Doctor of Chiropractic, running a practice with her husband. Yet, her passion took her somewhere she didn’t even know she could do:

“Realizing how much I love the CPG (consumer packaged goods) world, the opportunity to provide healthy food to our communities, I would have liked to have started earlier in my career and life, but I had no idea this was ever a career option!” Anderson says.

Luckily, that didn’t hold her back. “I started this little food company out of a passion I had for healthy food and having a positive impact on consumers and my community, making bars by hand out of my own Maui kitchen, selling them at local farmers markets”

With so much support and love from the community, she and her husband quickly branched out to selling on the mainland, and before they knew it, they were selling in California. She went from making one hundred bars a day to tens of thousands.

Though she found her career late in life, she looks back on every step with no regrets: “Hey, everything I have done in the past has led me to this amazing opportunity in front of me now. So I wouldn’t change a thing!”

The Farm Boy Turned Executive

The Chief Consumer Security Evangelist for McAfee, Gary Davis, is focused on strategic alignment of products for one of the most well-known antivirus software companies in the world. But he wasn’t always driving change and success at this high level.

“The skill set and experience to do this has taken a lifetime to acquire,” Davis says, who started as a “farm boy,” with a high school graduating class of 37 students. His T.V. had three stations and his home phone was shared between seven households. If this is a journey you can’t possibly imagine, Davis agrees: “If I took myself back to that point, I could never in a million years paint the path to where I am now.”

In fact, those around him couldn’t imagine his path either. Instead, he was encouraged to become a dairy farmer or corrections officer—but neither felt right. He took his own path and joined the U.S. Navy, where he went to night school to pursue this Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

Between then and now, Gary has been learning, from growing into our connected world to developing his skills to assimilate a mass amount of data about the security space into a tool to inform their product strategy. What’s more, he and his team have to “distill the otherwise complex topics into material that educates and informs the consumers and businesses via a variety of channels such as blogs, social media.”

And no, he didn’t get here with just the degrees he earned: “It’s not something taught in any school, but rather a lifetime of experiences that shaped my mindset to do this.”

The Glass Ceiling Shatterer

This female CEO started at the bottom both professionally and personally. Not only has her 24-year career taken her “from the sales floor to the board room,” but Alessandra Lezama, CEO at AbacusNext, was also a minority immigrant in a new country and a single mom striving for a better future for her family. All while making her way through a career in a male-dominated industry. Lezama looks back and sees that her journey “was an odyssey of obstacles and shattered glass ceilings.”

Despite the challenges, she worked herself up the ranks of many of the largest telecom companies in the world, including Comsat International, acquired by Lockheed Martin during her time with the company. Her first executive roles included EVP and COO, after which she proceeded to hold three CEO positions before her current CEO role with AbacusNext.

She owes much of her success to her drive, instilled in her by her father a bullfighter and her ultimate hero. She’s also used a simple mindset shift to take her career on this remarkable journey:

“Over the years I have learned that as essential as fast-paced, dynamic decision making is to running a successful business, it’s equally important to slow down and take time to reflect and realign. Using these reflective moments to seek out and listen to the advice of my peers and mentors has proved invaluable to my career,” Lezama says.

Now, as CEO, she’s taken all of her experience and learnings to make a huge impact, growing her current company from 30 employees to more than 500, with international offices in San Diego, Toronto and Edinburgh.

After all this time, she’s also made another important shift: instead of worrying about proving herself more capable than her peers, she’s focused on helping others succeed. She says, “As the years have gone on and I have achieved the personal goals I set out for myself, my focus has shifted to supporting the people around me and empowering them to grow both personally and professionally.”

Find Inspiration to Build Your Career

We all start somewhere, whether you’re a farm boy or a door-to-door salesman. The journeys of these executives teach you to not only trust your career path, but pursue each step with passion and drive. Move toward what you want and take every step necessary to get there. The end of that journey may just have you sitting in a boardroom, making decisions for everyone else who’s just starting their career.

This article originally appeared on Glassdoor.com and was written by Jessica Thiefels.

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1.74% – 7.99%7Undergrad
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2.24% – 9.23%8Undergrad
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1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of June 1, 2022.

2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.


This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.

3 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 5/17/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.05% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

4 Important Disclosures for Navient.

Navient Disclosures

You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 2.99% – 8.24% APR (2.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (1.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.

5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 2.24% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.

6 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Student Loan Refinance Interest Rate Disclosure Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.24% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to reach out directly to our team.

7 Important Disclosures for Purefy.

Purefy Disclosures

Purefy Student Loan Refinancing Rate and Terms Disclosure: Annual Percentage Rates (APR) ranges and examples are based on information provided to Purefy by lenders participating in Purefy’s rate comparison platform. For student loan refinancing, the participating lenders offer fixed rates ranging from 2.73% – 7.99% APR, and variable rates ranging from 1.74% – 7.99% APR. The maximum variable rate is 25.00%. Your interest rate will be based on the lender’s requirements. In most cases, lenders determine the interest rates based on your credit score, degree type and other credit and financial criteria. Only borrowers with excellent credit and meeting other lender criteria will qualify for the lowest rate available. Rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice. Terms and conditions apply.  

8 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

CitizensBank Disclosures

Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.24%-9.23% (2.24%-9.23% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.29%-9.73% (4.29%-9.73% APR). 

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.37%- 8.81% (5.37% – 8.81% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.87% – 9.31% (5.87% – 9.31% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.24% – 8.75% (2.24% – 8.75% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.29% – 9.25% (4.29% – 9.25% APR).

Education Refinance Loan for Parents Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.24%- 8.40% (2.24%- 8.40% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.29% – 8.90% (4.29% – 8.90% APR). 

Medical Residency Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.24% – 8.75% (2.24% – 8.75% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.29% – 9.25% (4.29% – 9.25% APR).