It’s not easy to make something of yourself when you come from very little. It has been proven time and again that opportunities for education and other experiences as a child have a profound effect on your adult life and how successful you hope to become. However, there are those who have managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and we’re talking way, way up, without a silver spoon. Check out a sampling of billionaires who grew up poor.
Sources: businessweek.com, forbes.com, successstories.co.in, businessinsider.com
Lakshmi Mittal (Net worth: $28.7 billion)
Lakshmi Mittal was born into the Marwari Aggarwal caste in 1950 in Rajasthan, India, and lived with more than 20 family members in very meager conditions. His family’s home was made of bare concrete floors, each person slept on rope beds, and cooking was done over an open fire in a brick yard. Today, he is CEO and founder of ArcelorMittal, the world’s leading integrated steel and mining company. He is the richest man of Indian descent, and is continuously named one of Forbes’ most powerful people in the world.
Ingvar Kamprad (Net worth: $23 billion)
Without Ingvar Kamprad, the world would have had to go without the satisfaction that comes from assembling a couch, color coordinating your entire kitchen, or owning the same end table as everyone else you know. As a boy growing up on a small farm in Sweden, Kamprad used to buy matches in bulk from Stockholm, and sell them individually for a good profit to neighbors. This expanded into selling a variety of other things including pens, pencils, seeds, decorations, and eventually into the massive phenomenon known as IKEA. Despite his success, Kamprad is still notorious for shopping at sales, flying economy class and even stopping by his own stores for a cheap meal.
Sheldon Adelson (Net worth: $21.8 billion)
The man who currently controls most of Las Vegas did not grow up in the casino business; nor did he grow up around money. Sheldon Adelson lived in a less-than-safe neighborhood of Dorchester, Mass. outside Boston. His father worked as a cab driver and Adelson sold newspapers on a street corner. By age 12, he made it clear that he was meant to be the head honcho and own his own business. He had a business selling toiletry kits as well as a charter tour business. It was the first Sands Hotel and Casino that he took over in 1988 that churned out his immense wealth.
Howard Schultz (Net worth: $1.5 billion)
Every time you sip that caramel macchiato or peppermint mocha, you can thank Howard Schultz for ensuring that it’s available on almost every street corner in large cities. Schultz’s story began in public housing in Brooklyn, N.Y. — the Canarsie Bayview Houses. He was the first family member to graduate from high school. After heading to Seattle to check out a little-known, but locally popular, coffee bean store known as Starbucks, he joined the company and became head of marketing and operations in 1982. The plot thickens. Schultz left Starbucks after clashing with the owners over offering coffee in stores (can you imagine?!), and started his own coffee business, Il Giornale. A year later, Schultz had the last laugh and bought Starbucks for $3.8 million, turning it into the mega company it is today.
Oprah Winfrey (Net worth: $2.7 billion)
Arguably one of the most influential women in the world, media mogul Oprah Winfrey was raised in poverty by an unmarried teenage mother in rural Mississippi. With a rocky childhood that included abuse, pregnancy, and being bounced around the country, it wasn’t until she was midway through high school that Oprah got on track. She landed a job at age 17 doing the news part time for a local black radio station, and the rest is history. Oprah climbed her way up through anchor and host positions, and was catapulted to fame with “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1986. The Oprah empire now includes her own magazine, TV and radio stations, website, charities and countless other endeavors.
George Soros (Net worth: $19.2 billion)
Soros was 13 when the Nazis invaded his homeland in Budapest, Hungary. He immigrated to England four years later to live with his uncle, who paid for his school expenses. Soros had come with very little from war-torn Hungary. He earned a bachelor of science degree from the London School of Economics. Soros wore several different hats, working as a railway porter, waiter and souvenir shop salesman. He eventually got a job at merchant bank Singer & Friedlander. After moving to New York and holding various positions as an analyst and trader, Soros developed the Theory of Reflexivity. This theory refers to circular relationships between cause and effect with regard to the market, and it proved true for him when many of his speculations paid off in a big way. He is now the chairman of Soros Fund Management, one of the most profitable hedge fund management firms in the industry.
David Murdock (Net worth: $3.3 billion)
David Murdock didn’t finish high school after dropping out in ninth grade. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 during World War II. After the war, he moved to Detroit and was homeless for a while until he received a $1,200 loan from a good Samaritan. He used it to buy and flip a diner, making a profit of $700 in 10 months. From there, he began working in housing and commercial real estate, acquiring a string of properties in Los Angeles. The turning point came when he began buying control of major companies in the late 1970s and early 80s including International Mining and Occidental Petroleum and Hawaiian company Castle & Cooke, owner of Dole Food Co. He turned Dole into the world’s largest producer, distributor and marketer of produce. Dole went public in 2009, and Murdock became one of the richest men in the world.
Thomas Peterffy (Net worth: $1.4 billion)
Peterffy moved as a refugee to New York in 1965 to escape Communist Hungary. Born in Budapest in 1944, he survived a Russian bombing raid and arrived speaking no English. He taught himself computer programming and stirred up the room at the American Stock Exchange when he brought an early handheld computer there in 1977 after buying a seat. During his time at the AMEX, Thomas would write computer code in his head during the day and head back to the office at night to apply computer models to trading. The Interactive Brokers Group, an online discount brokerage firm, was born out of this. IBG gained popularity for its low costs and maintains the position of “least expensive trading venue for investors” — a surefire Oscar category for 2014.
John Paul DeJoria (Net worth: $4.2 billion)
Luscious locks would lose some of their sheen without the help of John Paul’s famous hair care line, but the world he lives in now if a far cry from where he began. After his parents divorced, his mother couldn’t provide for John and his brother so they were sent to a foster home in East Los Angeles. Here, John Paul got caught up in a street gang for a while but managed to graduate from high school, then spent several years in the U.S. Navy. He worked as a janitor and sold insurance before finding his calling working for Redken Labratories, but was fired over a disagreement on strategies. Looking to stick it to his former employers, John formed the John Paul Mitchell Systems shortly after and turned it into one of the most high-demand products for salon and at-home use.
Kenny Troutt (Net worth: $1.7 billion)
Kenny Troutt’s alcoholic bartender dad told Kenny he would never make it. His mother divorced his father and raised Kenny and his brothers in the projects. Kenny sold life insurance to pay his way through his undergrad years at Southern Illinois University. At the age of 40, he founded the long distance telephone company Excel Communications, going public with it in 1996. In a $3.5-billion dollar deal, Troutt merged Excel with Teleglobe, and many of his profits went into horse races, stocks, and bonds. He is now retired, living in a mansion in Dallas with his wife and three kids.
Ken Langone (Net worth: $2.1 billion)
His father was a plumber, his mother a cafeteria worker, and they had to mortgage their home. When he studied at Bucknell University, Langone worked low-wage jobs including as a golf caddy, ditch digger, and assistant to a butcher. In 1968, he teamed with future presidential candidate Ross Perot in a company, Electronic Data Systems, which they took public. He entered the field of home improvement, and in 1970 joined forces with Bernard Marcus to start a fledgling corporation, Home Depot. It went public in 1981, and now you know where to go buy a wheelbarrow. Langone has donated more than $150 million to charities.
Shahid Khan (Net worth: $3.8 billion)
Shahid Kahn was born in 1950 in Lahore, Pakistan. His mother was a maths professor. It was when he moved to the U.S. to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that his struggles began — sleeping in a $2-a-night YMCA and washing dishes for $1.20 an hour. He started Bumper Works in 1978, making bumpers for pickup trucks, and bought the automotive manufacturing company Flex-N-Gate in 1980. By 1987 his company was the sole bumper supplier for Toyota. He also owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the English Premier League soccer team Fulham.
Kirk Kerkorian (Net worth: $3.9 billion)
Born in California in 1917 to Armenian immigrant parents, Kerkorian’s family struggled so much that he dropped out of school in eighth grade to become a professional boxer. Nicknamed “Right Rifle Kerkorian,” he won the Pacific amateur welterweight championship. During World War II, he was a pilot for the British Royal Air Force. He bought Trans International Airlines, a small charter plane service that shuttled gamblers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and sold the company for $104 million. In the 1960s, Caesars Palace hotel was built on land on the Vegas strip that Kerkorian rented out. In 1969 he opened the MGM Grand, and has had major investments in other prominent resorts and casinos on the strip.
Do Won Chang (Net worth: $5 billion)
A Korean immigrant from Korea, he moved to U.S. in 1981. Chang worked three round-the-clock jobs to support his family. Then he and his wife, Jin Sook, opened a clothing and fashion store in Los Angeles. By 2010, he was CEO of more than 480 Forever 21 department stores, raking in more than $3 billion in sales annually. His wife is the head buyer, his daughter Esther is in charge of the visual display team, and daughter Linda is head of marketing. Chang has been sued more than 50 times for copyright infringement. In 2013 he was criticized for getting out of providing employees health care by lowering the work week for full timers to 29.5 hours a week, just 30 minutes shy of the hours they needed to qualify for full-time health care benefits.
Ralph Lauren (Net worth: $7.7 billion)
Born in the Bronx to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant parents from Belarus, Lauren dropped out of Baruch College’s business program to join the U.S. Army, serving from 1962 to 1964. Following his service, he worked as a clerk at Brooks Brothers where he decided to design a wider, brighter necktie style for men. His idea was rejected, and he began his own tiny company in the Empire State Building, turning remnants into ties. With a $50,000 loan, Lauren launched Polo, and went public with the brand in 1997. In 2014, he announced the launch of Polo Ralph Lauren for Women. Going from rag ties to riches, Lauren now owns a pretty fancy line of bling cars including a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO and a Bugatti Veyron, to name a few.
Francois Pinault (Net worth: $15 billion)
Born in Rennes, France, young Pinault was so bullied by his fellow students for being poor that he dropped out of high school in 1947. He joined his family’s timber-trading business, learning how to buy small enterprises and developing them into enormous ventures. He is credited with mastering the “predator tactic”– buying small firms for a fraction of their potential worth when there’s a market crash. Today he is major shareholder of the luxury goods company PPR, which has brands such as Stella McCartney, Gucci, and Yves Saint Laurent. He’s also the husband of actor Salma Hayek…not too shabby!