Skip to main content
4 min read

Businesses That Recovered From The Brink Of Disaster

Anyone who puts themselves out there and takes a chance on an idea can expect resistance, instability and sometimes complete collapse. It is hard, it is disheartening, but there are great lessons and opportunities to be taken out of the jaws of failure. Plus, you are far from alone: we challenge you to find a founder who hasn’t had their fair share of disaster and failure – go ahead, we’ll wait… In the meantime here are famous examples of businesses and entrepreneurs that recovered from the brink of disaster.


Apple and Steve Jobs

An example that is so frequently held up of how to do it right, you could be forgiven for forgetting that Apple and Jobs himself were once from a perfect pairing. The company he founded with Steve Wozniak turned on him when his unwavering belief in the Macintosh computer, which (much like its predecessor the Apple Lisa) was facing criticism and slower than expected sales.

In 1985, with financial problems looming and a power struggle with recently recruited John Sculley, the decision was taken to relieve Jobs of his position at the company. Jobs himself spoke of the humiliation he felt in 2005, saying “the focus of my entire adult life was gone… it was devastating.”
It turned out to be a devastating move for Apple too. The company was on the ropes when Jobs was asked to return in an advisory role in 1997. This time, Jobs and Apple made history.
The lesson?
Don’t hold grudges or burn bridges. It may simply be a case of wrong place wrong time for you and a particular company or business partner. Parting ways can hurt, but see it as a learning curve – besides, you never know when a contact may come in handy again…


Vera Wang

Vera Wang tried many different career paths before finding her calling. Wang’s first strike for the top was for the US Olympic figure skating team, where she failed to make the cut. With that dream frozen out (sorry), she went on to become an editor at Vogue magazine, with some success, though she was passed over for the coveted position of Editor-in-chief.

Realising she did not want to stall where she was, she began designing wedding dresses. Vera Wang is now one of the world’s most sought after designers, not just in bridal wear but in the entire fashion industry, and is estimated to be worth $420million.

The lesson?

Wang pursued each career avenue with a sky’s the limit attitude. When they didn’t work out she changed her thinking and went for something else she was passionate about. Don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board. Wrap up Plan A and start on Plan B – as long as the passion is there to drive you, you will find something that sticks.



Sir Richard Branson is known for advocating the lessons of failure, and no billionaire probably knows as much about bouncing back from failure as him.

The Virgin brand has branched out into so many industry areas, with some more successful than others. Remember Virginware lingerie, Virgin Brides? Yeah, us neither. And that’s without mentioning the demise of more established branches of the brand such as Virgin Megastores and Virgin Cola. Branson’s very first enterprise, Student Magazine also ended in failure. Yet when asked about his biggest mistakes, Branson refers to them as his most valuable failures.

The lesson?
Don’t become preoccupied with avoiding failure. Without becoming defeatist, expect it to darken your door at some stage, knowing that will help you prepare better both emotionally and in terms of figuring out a business continuity plan – because not everyone has millions in the bank to fall back on.

Failing is a way to find your way in business, it is a necessary stage.

Warren Buffet

Business card maker could have been buried before it began were it not for founder Richard Moross’s absolute inability to accept failure as his fate. Also, as he admits, changing the name from the original ‘Pleasure Cards’ probably helped.

In Moross’s own words, the company he founded in 2004 “was a horrible company that no one liked”. Its failings came in the marketing, the inability to clearly define what it offered and the lack of customisation offered in the designs. Realising that people did like the cards, but not much else, so he more or less tore up the business plan and created a new brand.

The lesson?

Feedback is essential as others can see what you may have become blind to. Criticism can be hard to take but it shouldn’t define you or overshadow the good points in your business, in fact, it can be critical to helping the good triumph.



The London fashion stalwart has had something of a rocky road and became a victim of its own success. The print was facing something of an identity crisis back in the early 2000s, and an attempt to make the brand cool and sexy saw a rise in the popularity of the iconic check print. This then led to a horror show of cheap imitations and knock-offs, diluting the high-end status of the print, leading the brand to take the opportunity refresh its brand identity.

It worked, and the company reclaimed its crown as one of the world’s most celebrated fashion giants.

The lesson?

Things can happen around you that are out of your control. You need be able to react to the unexpected and, most importantly, find a way to use it to build an advantage.


Tony Ryan and Ryanair

It’s a not-very-well-documented fact that before Ryanair transformed the aviation industry its founder, the late Tony Ryan, was facing ruin after the collapse of his aircraft leasing company, Guinness Peat Aviation. The company faltered after a poorly timed IPO and Ryan nearly lost everything.  So determined was Ryan to see out his aviation dream, he poured every penny he had left of his own into turning GPA into Ryanair, and remade his fortune.

The lesson?

Often you shouldn’t lose sight of the central premise you initially believed in, just because it didn’t work out the way you thought. Out of the ashes often come the best ideas, so use the energy of that last chance saloon mentality and channel it into something positive.

Share this content

Kayleigh Ziolo is a freelance journalist and writer based in Ireland. Follow her on Twitter @Kayleigh_Ziolo

Leave a Reply

Register with Informi today:

  • Join over 30,000 like-minded business professionals.
  • Create your own personalised account with curated reading lists and checklists.
  • Access exclusive resources including business plans, templates, and tax calculators.
  • Receive the latest business advice and insights from Informi.
  • Join in the discussion through the comments section.