Debbie Fields -- Mrs. Fields Cookies
The 1970s were tough years to be "just" a housewife. At the height of the women's lib movement, 20-year-old Debbie Fields was tired of the condescending looks at dinner parties and set about putting her baking skills to new use. She opened a cookie store.
In 1977, Mrs. Fields' Chocolate Chippery in Palo Alto, Calif., was about to go its first day without a sale when she started handing her product out for free on the sidewalk, and the rest is history.
That business became Mrs. Fields' Cookies, and her baked goods earned her a following, a fortune and a franchising system. More than just a great cookie maker, though, Debbie Fields was an innovator. Harvard Business School uses her company as an efficiency case study.
Debbie Fields ran the company until 1993.
Up next: She gave enterprising women a ready-made space in which to succeed.