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11 billionaires
15 Jul

The True Rags to Riches Stories of 11 Billionaires

These 11 Billionaires Started Poor .. As .. Dirt

11 Rags to Riches Tales. Started from the Bottom .. Went Straight to the Top

We’re not kidding. These billionaires were orphaned, abandoned, lost their parents, faced military and humanitarian crises. They had all the odds stacked against them.

But they were determined. They never quit. They gritted their teeth and steeled their nerves and made .. life .. happen. We’re saying:

They didn’t have two pennies to rub together … Burglars broke into their homes and brought them stuff ..  They were so poor they couldn’t pay attention.

11. Oprah Winfrey- $3.2 Billion

If Oprah didn’t have the most impoverished childhood on the list – she must certainly be in the running. This gets a little crazy to follow. Hang on, now. Oprah’s mother, had a one night stand. Being a teen mom is hard. Being a teen mom in the 1950s was even harder.  Oprah’s mother sent her to live with her grandmother and that is where she spent her early years. She was so poor (“how poor was she?”) She was so poor that she often wore dresses made of potato sacks. True story. Her real name is Orpah but people pronounced it wrong so the family just ran with it. For some reason, that fact seems the most impoverishing of them all. But Hapro doesn’t sound like a very good company name so maybe it worked out.

At age six, Oprah moved back in with her mom who had another baby. It wasn’t long before her mom was having difficulty raising two children. She sent Oprah away again. This time, to live with relatives in Tennessee. While in Tennessee, her mom had another daughter who she put up for adoption. Oprah didn’t learn of this sister until 48 years later. Oprah once again moved back in with her mom who – this will surprise you –  had a baby boy. Around this time, at age nine, Oprah was molested by her cousin, uncle and a family friend. She ran away from home at 13. A year later she became pregnant with a boy. Her son was born prematurely and died soon after birth. Years later, her family sold the story of her pregnancy and the death of her child to the National Enquirer.


It looks pretty bleak at this point I mean, how do you get out of this mess? I’ve always thought that at this point in a story, it makes sense to slow down, pause a little and reflect on it all. We all know this story has a happy ending. Oprah gets rich and lives happily ever after, right? Oprah’s childhood makes me feel like a wimp – for anything I have ever complained about. Yet, she made it to the top. Take your own lesson from it. I’m taking mine. “Oprah Forever”.

Meanwhile, ..

So Oprah goes to live with one of the men who could be her father. Oprah’s life starts to turn around. She became an honors student. She was voted Most Popular Girl.  At age 17, she won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant.

She joined her high school’s speech team and they placed second in the nation. She won a full college scholarship as an award for winning an oratory contest. In college, she studied communication. While there, a local radio station hired her part-time. After college, she advanced through a series of media channel positions. As we all know, she eventually started hosting her own television show. At first she struggled. It was difficult but Oprah had real determination. After a grueling two months she passed Phil Donahue in the Chicago area ratings. Today, she is worth $3.2 billion.

I’m going to say what everyone is thinking. Oprah is badass.

Casa de Oprah
Casa de Oprah. She sure has come a long way.

10. Howard Schultz – $3.2 Billion

Responsible for bringing Starbucks mainstream, Shultz came from very humble beginnings. He grew up in the Brooklyn, NY housing projects. His father held a number of blue collar jobs including truck driver, factory worker, and cab driver. He had a stay-at-home mom. He went to college as a communications major – part of which he paid for by working as a bartender and occasionally selling his blood. His first job after college was a sales job working for Xerox. He then worked for Hammarplast and worked up to the level of GM. One of their buyers was a coffee company called Starbucks. He ended up taking a position there and eventually became interested in buying his own franchise, He didn’t have the money and bought into a different franchise instead. He came back wth the profits and offered to buyout Starbucks’ original owners. He then took the company public and expanded aggressively. Mr. Schultz, we thank you for everything except confusing the whole large, medium, small things. Tall price to pay.


9. Shahid Khan- $6 Billion

Though he was born in Pakistan to middle class parents, Khan makes our list because of the challenges he faced after emigrating to the United States. At age 16, he moved to the US to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His first night in the US was spent at the YMCA. That’s $2 per night. He washed dishes for $1.20 per hour. He ended up getting a BS in Mechanical Engineering

Immediately after college, he began a business that focused on automotive bumpers. This focus led to his companies supplying bumpers to the big three automakers.  He is now the owner of one of the largest auto parts manufacturing companies in America, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham Premier League Football Club.


8. Do Won Chang & Jin Sook- $6.1 Billion

This power couple emigrated from South Korea to the United States with an idea in their heads, they wanted to live “The American Dream.” They arrived in the U.S. in 1981. They were penniless and spoke only broken English. They started in the coffee business and found the odds stacked against them. Don worked as a janitor, as a gas station attendant and served coffee to help make ends meet. They then opened a store that made $700,000 in its first year. That store was the beginnings of the

Forever 21 retail chain. The company brought in an estimated $4.4 billion in revenue for 2015.

7. Ralph Lauren- $6.8 Billion

Ralph Lauren grew up in the Bronx, NY to jewish immigrant parents. He shared a room with his three older brothers. Despite his circumstances, he knew what he wanted early. At age 12, he started selling ties. He would often go the movies and imagine himself in more extravagant circumstances. The movies, which featured sharply dressed Hollywood icons such as Fred Astaire and Cary Grant became a driving force in his ambitions. He started college but dropped out. He joined the army for a “Short stint.” He then got a job as a salesman at Brooks Brothers.  While there, he thought men might be ready for a new kind of tie. In 1967, he decided to make his dream a reality and opened a necktie store. He sold $500,000 worth of ties that year. He started Polo the following year.

We’ll close Ralph Lauren with this interesting fact. In his high school yearbook, there was a spot to write your goals. He wrote one word, “Millionaire.” Congrats, Mr. Lauren.


6. Roman Abramovich – $8.2 Billion

Roman Abramovich was born in Lithuania and orphaned at the age of two. He was then raised in the subarctic regions of northern Russia by his uncle. There are not many details of his life at this time other than a general agreement that his childhood was tough in a country that was facing tough times already. When Abramovich finished his mandatory military service in the Russian army, Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika – the philosophy that the USSR needed to reform – was at its peak. Capitalistic notions were in the air.

In 1987 he started a small company importing, of all things, rubber ducks. He parleyed one success into another and when the USSR dissolved he was in the perfect place to be part of what many people have called the largest “land grab” in the history of the world. The Soviet Union would have to transfer nearly all its assets into the hands of private citizens. Abramovich became close friends with Boris Berezovsky. Together, the two combined resources, assets and brains and became part of Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle. Abramovich would become identified with the oligarchs, a group of men who ended up possessing a significant portion of the former USSR’s assets.  If you’re interested in learning more, there is an excellent book called The Oligarchs written by David Hoffman. Abramovich now has a net worth of $8.2 billion and rides around the world in a 400 million dollar yacht.

5. Francois Pinault- $14.2 Billion

Pinault was born in France in 1936. His family were small-time timber traders in Brittany. At the age of four, Germany invaded France in what would be the beginning of five bleak years. At the young age of seven, he smuggled food to Allied airmen hidden  near the family’s home. He and his father were once stopped by a German soldier who beat his father right in front of him. The story that has been told is that Francois never blinked, Grit and a steely determination are certainly the traits Pinault is known for. He owns Artemis, a holding company that owns Converse, Samsonite, Christie’s Auction House and is partners in Gucci. His son, Francois-Henri Pinault is worth $13.7 billion and is married to Salma Hayek.

4. Leonardo Del Vecchio – $18.7 Billion

Leonardo Del Vecchio was born in 1935 to an impoverished family. His father had passed away five months before he was born. His mother could not support them and she gave Leonardo up to an orphanage. Talk about a rough start. Now, he is the king of eyeglasses. His company has acquired brands like Vogue, Oakley and Ray-Ban. We say he is making all the right moves. 18.7 billion right moves.

3. Sheldon Adelson – $26.2 Billion

This college dropout turned casino magnate grew up in a low-income section of Boston. His father was a taxi-driver and his mother ran a knitting shop. For a while, he slept on the floor of a Boston tenement house. He twice lost multi-million dollar fortunes but eventually formed COMDEX, the premier computer trade show, with partners. He used his profits to purchase interests in casinos around the world. Mr. Adelson sure changed his life. He is currently listed at #22 on the Forbes List of Billionaires and has a heavy influence in U.S. politics.


2. Li-Ka Shing – $29.3 Billion

He is the richest man in Hong Kong though it was no easy task getting there. He was born in mainland China to poor parents. After Japan invaded the country during the Sino-Japanese War, part of World War II, his family fled to Hong Kong. Three years later, the family was dealt another tragic blow. His father, a primary school teacher contracted tuberculosis and died. Li Ka-Shing was 15 years old and was forced to drop out of school and work to provide for his family.

He was known for working hard, often working up to 16 hours per day. At just 22 years old, he had already gained 7 years of experience in the plastics business. He quit his job to start his own plastics company. He never looked back. Fourteen years later, he brought the company public and has continued to build the company. They now have 240,000 employees and operate in 50 countries.

1. Larry Ellison- $49.8 Billion

Larry Ellison never met his biological father and his mother gave him up to relatives. That was a rough start that seemed like it would never get better. He was raised in South Chicago, described by many at the time as the oldest and worst ghetto in America. His adopted father repeatedly told him “he was good for nothing”, He seemed doomed to fail. He eventually overcame this rough start and made it to college where he ended up dropping out. Twice. Maybe when you’ve been through as much as Mr. Ellison has you learn to keep fighting.  Boy, did this technologist turn the tables. Having never taken a programming class, Ellison taught himself to program from books and got a job building a database for the CIA. Eventually, he would founded the  Oracle Corporation, one of the largest technology companies in the world. Oh, his adopted father was wrong.

Larry Ellison
The Rising Sun. Built for Larry Ellison. Now owned by David Geffen. Hmph! Hand-me-downs. (j/k Mr. Geffen!)


















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