By PETER NULTY REPORTER ASSOCIATES Patty de Llosa and Jessica Skelly von Brachel

(FORTUNE Magazine) – MOST MEN AND WOMEN elected to the National Business Hall of Fame are giant- killers. They have battled a powerful ethos or an entrenched institution and prevailed. Mere contrarians -- those who defy the establishment and simply survive -- don't qualify for membership. Had the original giant-killer, David, been an entrepreneur, and had capitalism as we know it existed when he slew Goliath, then David might qualify for the Hall of Fame. Think how demand for his sling would have grown following his deed. Think how his sling might have liberated the common man from bullies. Hall of Famers make the world a different place. Among this year's laureates, monopoly buster William McGowan brought competition to long-distance telephone service. Sam Walton made an end run through the cornfields of America to pass Sears as the nation's biggest retailer. Max DePree preached and proved that corporations can be caring, nurturing places and still make money. Steven Jobs made computing truly personal, planting like Johnny Appleseed his Apple computers in homes and schools around the country. Madame C. J. Walker overcame poverty and prejudice to become the first self-made black millionairess. And Richard Sears and Julius Rosenwald built the nation's largest retailer -- by mail. The Hall of Fame is sponsored by Junior Achievement, the nonprofit group that educates young people on how private enterprise works. A gallery of laureates, with exhibits and educational displays, can be found in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The board of editors of FORTUNE elects members of the Hall from two groups: those who have retired or moved on from the positions in which they made their mark, and those who are dead. This ) year's laureates will be inducted into the Hall at a banquet on April 9 in Seattle .-- PETER NULTY

William G. McGowan (born 1927) MCI ''People said AT&T is so smart and so loved and so big. Or they said that's just the way it is. I knew better.''

Bill McGowan is an indefatigable kicker of the tires of life. He wants to see things from every angle, to learn the strengths, to spot the openings. In 1965, when McGowan was 37 and a self-employed consultant in New York, he took time off to travel around the world. After he got back, he realized that he hadn't had enough of roaming. So he immediately went around the world again -- in the other direction. Clearly, McGowan pursues his own vision. Soon after, McGowan found what he was looking for. Something big with a weakness: American Telephone & Telegraph Co. The telecommunications industry hasn't been the same since. McGowan was one of five children, the son of a railway engineer and a schoolteacher in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He earned a chemical engineering degree at nearby Kings College by working at night as a freight dispatcher for the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and then joined the Army as a medic. After the Army he attended Harvard business school, class of '54, and eventually set himself up in New York City as a consultant rescuing troubled companies, mainly in the garment district. In 1968, McGowan was invited to help rescue Microwave Communications Inc., a struggling startup in Chicago that planned to offer radio-telephone service to trucks traveling between Chicago and St. Louis. But the company needed FCC approval to establish its microwave system, and mighty AT&T, which had a near monopoly on long-distance service, was opposed. When McGowan looked at the problem his way -- from more than one direction -- he noticed two things. First, no one could explain to his satisfaction why AT&T deserved its long-distance monopoly. ''People said AT&T is so smart and so loved and so big,'' he recalls. ''Or they said that's just the way it is. But I once worked for a railroad that had its own phone system, switchboards and all, so I knew better.'' Second, he could see that a lean competitor with lower overhead could underprice the giant. McGowan took control of MCI after paying off its debt himself, and for the next two decades he chipped away at AT&T, first at its control of long- distance service and, when that cracked, at its customer base. He moved MCI to Washington, D.C., all the better to lobby in the halls of government and attack in the federal courts. His ultimate vindication came in 1984, after AT& T was split into nine parts. When McGowan retired as chief executive last December (he is still chairman), MCI had grown to have an estimated $8.4 billion in annual revenues and roughly 15% of the U.S long-distance market. At MCI, McGowan put in seven days a week and was notorious for reading everything he could lay his hands on. A heart attack sidelined him in 1986. A half year later he had a heart transplant and was back at work in five months. Searching, always searching.

Samuel M. Walton (born 1918) Wal-Mart How a man who would be a commoner became a merchant king.

As the seas were to the British navy and the sands were to Muhammad's followers, so was rural America to Sam Walton: a path to empire that Walton's rivals either overlooked or underestimated but that Walton understood to the core of his being. In the early 1960s, when he was the owner of 15 Ben Franklin five-and-dime- store franchises, Walton watched the development of early discount stores, such as Kmart, that were opening in urban areas. He thought similar stores might do well in rural markets, where hard-to-reach consumers often pay high prices. So Walton proposed to Ben Franklin executives that they jointly set up a rural discounting venture. Ben Franklin declined. The conventional wisdom was that discounting couldn't work in towns smaller than 50,000. So much for convention. Together with his brother, Bud (James L.), now a senior vice president, Walton opened his first Wal-Mart Discount City in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. Today Wal-Mart has about 1,720 stores in 42 states, and it is opening about 150 outlets each year. The average population of the communities where Wal-Mart operates is 15,000. In 1990 the company passed limping Sears Roebuck to become the world's largest retailer, with revenues of $32.6 billion. Last year Wal-Mart's revenues increased 35% to $43.9 billion. From 1981 to 1991, the company's annual average return to investors was 46.8%, and it ranks third on FORTUNE's list of America's most admired corporations. Serving rural communities proved to be great discipline. Most discounters buy their merchandise from distributors. When Walton couldn't find distributors for some of his out-of-the-way markets, he set up a network of his own, including 18 regional distribution centers and a fleet of thousands of trucks, one of the nation's largest. In the 1980s, Wal-Mart began computerizing inventory and sales information from the stores and sending it daily to headquarters, first by telephone, later by satellite. Because some suppliers had access to the data, they could quickly replace depleting inventory. But Walton's startling success probably owes even more to hard work and humility. Until advancing bone cancer slowed him down, he visited most stores at least once a year. He would turn up unannounced to offer advice on pricing and merchandising and to lead cheers: ''Give me a W, give me an A . . .'' He exhorted employees to declare that ''every customer that comes within ten feet of me I will smile, look them in the eye, and greet them, so help me Sam.'' Walton, who with his family owns 39% of the company's stock (worth $21 billion), is revered for his humble ways. He was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, the son of a rural banker. After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1940, he worked briefly as a trainee for J.C. Penney and then joined the Army Intelligence Corps. After the war he opened his first Ben Franklin store in Newport, Arkansas, and he has clung stubbornly to his country roots ever since. He lives in a modest home in Bentonville, Arkansas, with his name on the mailbox and his phone number in the local directory. He drives an old pickup truck, often with his pet hunting dogs next to him in the front seat. He gets his hair cut by the local barber and eats in local restaurants. The company's 365,000 employees -- most of them shareholders -- know him as ''Mr. Sam.'' Thus, a man who would be a commoner became a merchant king.

Max DePree (born 1924) Herman Miller He showed that a caring environment and commercial success can be combined.

A company that is good to its employees is a company going soft, right? Max DePree, chairman of Herman Miller Inc., doesn't think so. DePree believes an organization that is merely paternalistic -- showering employees with benefits and perks regardless of performance -- will indeed go soft. But one that is inclusive the way successful families tend to be -- listening to all voices and sharing ups and downs -- ''doesn't go soft, it gets better.'' He devoted his career to making Herman Miller, a furniture-manufacturing company in Zeeland, Michigan, more like a family. His pioneering efforts demonstrated, ! not coincidentally, that a caring environment and commercial success can be combined. For Herman Miller has been a shining success. During DePree's tenure as CEO from 1980 to 1987, sales increased 220%, from $230 million to $743 million. Although Herman Miller was No. 439 on FORTUNE's list of the 500 largest industrial companies when DePree stepped down as CEO, the company's 27% average annual return to investors over the previous ten years placed it 39th by that critical measure. And according to FORTUNE's survey of America's most admired corporations, Herman Miller was then, and is still, No. 1 in its industry. DePree's interest in the inclusive corporation came from his own family, devout members of the Reformed Church in America. His father, D. J., founded Herman Miller in 1923, and his older brother, Hugh, was CEO before him. Max planned to be a doctor. But in 1943 he left college before graduating to join the Army Medical Corps. After the war he went to work for the company -- against his father's advice. (DePree got a degree from Hope College in 1973.) His father set the company's innovative management tone in 1950 by encouraging employees from different levels and disciplines to collaborate on projects and by offering everyone cash bonuses. D. J. also established a reputation for excellence by hiring famous artists -- Charles Eames, Gilbert Rohde, George Nelson -- to design furniture. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City and other museums have Herman Miller furniture in their collections. To ensure that the rewards and hardships of business were shared, the younger DePree devised a formula limiting the salary of top Herman Miller executives to 20 times the average pay of the company's factory workers. That average is roughly $23,500, so the top executive (no longer a member of the family) can earn no more than $470,000. Rather than adopting the golden parachute so many executives have used to enrich themselves, DePree invented the silver parachute: If Herman Miller is taken over, all employees with more than two years of experience who lose their jobs will get compensatory bonuses according to the years served. ''The leader must become a servant and a debtor,'' wrote DePree in a 1989 book called Leadership Is an Art. The book sold 113,500 copies and has been reprinted in ten languages. Still chairman but spending only a third of his time with the company, DePree says he has more lessons to learn about leadership. One came three years ago with the birth of a granddaughter who weighed only 1.5 pounds. DePree volunteered to help with her therapy. A nurse instructed him to massage the baby's entire body with his fingertips every day and always to speak to her while he massaged her. ''Good leadership is like that,'' says DePree. ''The touch and the voice must always be connected.''

Steven P. Jobs (born 1955) Apple Computer He saw with clarity that computers would become the stuff of everyday life.

Before Jobs, the computer was a miracle beyond the common man, a revolution directed by what seemed to be a priestly order of inscrutable geniuses, masters of the megabyte, the binary code, and the integrated circuit. As a boy, Steve Jobs was a prime candidate to join the elite. He grasped the concepts of electronics as easily as Michael Jordan grasps basketballs. He and his pals designed laser telephones and built devices that let them place calls around the globe without charge. But Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer Inc., saw with startling clarity something few people realized: Computers would not be confined to the laboratories of government and industry; rather, they would become the stuff of everyday life. He forced this development relentlessly -- sometimes using his boyish charm and sometimes his fury -- by developing ''friendly'' computers that were small, attractive, inexpensive, and easy to use. Jobs and his partner, Stephen Wozniak, were members of a small group of enthusiasts called the Home Brew Computer Club. When they formed Apple in 1976, personal computers were sold as kits that needed assembling. After Wozniak designed a simple computer, Jobs suggested they assemble and market it. Jobs sold his Volkswagen van and Wozniak his scientific pocket calculator for seed money -- $1,300. When they showed a computer to a local electronics store, the owner ordered 25, and Jobs set up manufacturing in his parent's garage in Cupertino, California, hiring his sister at $4 an hour to stuff circuitboards. In its first year Apple had revenues of $774,000; last year revenues were $6.3 billion. In the early 1980s, rivals like IBM fought back with personal computers considerably less easy to use, but they have all since embraced Jobs's vision. Jobs is the adopted son of Paul Jobs, a machinist, and Clara, a clerk. In addition to his interest in electronics, he had a powerful will at an early | age. One summer he refused to return to his junior high school in Mountain View, California, complaining that he wasn't learning anything there; the family moved to nearby Los Altos. In 1972, Jobs entered Reed College in Oregon but left after 18 months and joined the newly born Atari Inc., where he worked on an early computer game, Breakout. Within months he had saved enough money to travel with a friend to India for the summer. When he returned he joined the Home Brew club and started brewing computers. While Wozniak took care of the Apple's electronics, Jobs was the entrepreneurial spirit who bridged the gap between the undecipherable circuitry and the public. He covered the machine in a light-colored plastic that was handsome yet homey. He chose the name Apple, a friendly image, and he distributed computers free to schools around the country. But his relations with John Sculley, the chief executive he had hired from PepsiCo, were not so friendly, and Jobs left Apple in sadness and anger in 1984. Soon after, he formed his second computer company, Next. One of Jobs's great strengths is the purity of his ideas. He often recalls reading an article that compared the muscle-power efficiency of various animal species. Condors on the wing rated highest. Humans were one-third of the way down the list. ''But humans on bicycles,'' he says, ''blew everything else away. I wanted Apple computers to be bicycles for the mind.'' And so they are.

Madame C. J. Walker (born 1867, died 1919) C.J. Walker Mfg.

How much harder is it to succeed in business starting out poor and uneducated? How much harder is it if you are black? Or female? Now imagine you are all four -- poor, uneducated, black, and female. The 20th century is just beginning, you are the daughter of former slaves, and you wash clothes for a living. Could you turn yourself into the nation's first self-made millionairess, white or black? Sarah Breedlove was born in 1867 to sharecroppers in Delta, Louisiana. When she was 7, her parents died of yellow fever. At 14 she married a laborer in Vicksburg, Tennessee, at 17 she bore a daughter, and at 20 she became a widow when her husband was killed in an accident. But she was tough. She took her daughter, Lelia, to St. Louis and found work washing clothes, saving enough money to send Lelia to Knoxville College. She supplemented her income by selling cosmetics for Annie Malone, another black woman entrepreneur who would later become a competitor. In 1905, when she was 37, Breedlove moved to Denver. There she worked as a cook for a local druggist, E. L. Scholtz, and married a former newspaper salesman, C. J. Walker. At the time, her hair was beginning to fall out, a condition fairly common among black women then, perhaps because of poor diet or grooming techniques. With the pharmacist's occasional assistance, she concocted hair conditioners and tested them on herself. When she found a shampoo with an antidandruff agent and a hair oil that seemed to help, she started selling them door-to-door as the Walker System. Once her revenues reached $10 a week, her husband tried to persuade her to slow down. But Madame Walker, as she became known, had bigger ambitions. She set up an office in Pittsburgh, a factory in Indianapolis, and a salon in New York City. She built a sales force of 2,000 mainly black women who were trained in hairdressing and in sales techniques at company-run schools. Many set up their own hairdressing salons, where they could earn as much as $23 a week, vs. $2 a week for domestic work in the South. Although the Walkers eventually divorced, in part because of differences over the direction of Sarah's company, C. J. remained a Walker agent all his life. When Madame Walker died in 1919, C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co., with revenues of $500,000 a year, was one of the most successful black-owned businesses of its day. Madame Walker used her wealth to support many schools and charities, including the NAACP and Tuskegee Institute. The charter of her company stipulated that a woman should always be top executive, and her daughter succeeded her. (The company is now owned by Raymond Randolph of Tuskegee, Alabama.) Attending a convention of the National Negro Business League in 1912, Sarah Breedlove Walker jumped to her feet after the presiding chairman, Booker T. Washington, refused to recognize her. ''Surely you are not going to shut the door in my face,'' she said. ''I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. I was promoted from there to the washtub and then to the kitchen. Then I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods, and I built my own factory on my own ground. My object in life is not simply to make money for myself. I use part of what I make in trying to help others.'' Applause shook the hall.

Richard W. Sears (born 1863, died 1914) Julius Rosenwald (born 1862, died 1932) Sears Roebuck & Co.

Richard Sears and Julius Rosenwald were an odd couple perfectly matched. Sears was a brilliant salesman who could generate torrents of orders for merchandise he couldn't always deliver. Rosenwald was prudent, staid, and eminently trustworthy in making good on Sears' promises. Together they made the ideal entrepreneur. When Sears was 22 and working as a railroad agent in Redwood, Minnesota, he discovered he could order watches from manufacturers C.O.D. and then reship them C.O.D. to other agents down the tracks, who would sell them to local townsfolk and farmers. When his agents paid him, Sears would pay the manufacturer. Thus, with no seed capital, he made about $5,000 in six months. In 1886 he quit his $6-a-week job and started a mail-order company. A year later he teamed up with Alvah Roebuck, who assembled and repaired watches. By 1894, Sears Roebuck & Co. had a 300-page catalogue, and sales were a booming $393,000. But debt was also piling up, so a nervous Roebuck sold out to Sears for $25,000. Sears knew how to talk to flinty, skeptical rural America. His company claimed to be ''the cheapest supply house on earth,'' and it promised ''satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.'' He wrote copy for his catalogue as if he were looking a farmer right in the eye. On page 208 of the 1894 edition is a drawing of a horse in harness. The sales pitch reads: ''$3.87 buys this harness. No harness concern on earth can beat this price. CASH IN FULL must accompany all orders. We send all other grades C.O.D., subject to examination, but on this our cheapest harness there is but a very few cents profit, and we believe you will agree, we are not at all unreasonable when we ask you to send cash in full with your order.'' Orders rolled in so fast that Sears, who didn't keep stock on many items, sometimes burned order forms when he fell too far behind. Local merchants who were losing business to Sears began to resent the company. In some towns they paid children to turn in catalogues, which were publicly torched. Sears countered by offering free merchandise to customers who distributed catalogues to their friends.

The man who brought some order to the business was Julius Rosenwald, a clothing manufacturer and sometime supplier to Sears. In return for 25% of the company's shares and a position as vice president, he helped pay down the debt. A native of Springfield, Illinois, Rosenwald worked in the garment trade in New York for five years before setting up his own company in Chicago in 1885. At Sears Roebuck he displayed a gift for organization, building warehouses near railroad depots to eliminate trucking costs and building factories to supply hard-to-get items. To process orders quickly, Rosenwald devised a sophisticated assembly line that had the first automatic letter-opening machines (they slit open envelopes at the rate of 27,000 an hour), a network of pneumatic tubes distributing order forms to appropriate stock rooms, and conveyor belts and chutes for moving packages. Before Henry Ford set up his famous auto assembly line, he visited Sears Roebuck to see the order-processing operation. In 1908, Sears lost an intramural struggle to increase the company's advertising budget and in a fit of pique sold his shares for $10 million. During his chairmanship, Rosenwald established one of the first profit-sharing pension plans, bailed the company out of debt with $21 million of his personal fortune in the postwar depression of 1921, and personally guaranteed trading accounts of Sears' buyers in the crash of 1929. By the time he died in 1932, Rosenwald had donated over $60 million to charities, mainly those promoting education for blacks in America and Jewish relief abroad. He said, ''Charity is the one pleasure that never wears out.''