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The world’s wealthiest didn’t all start out that way.
Meet 10 people who earned their wealth all on their own

Sara Blakely

The woman behind the boom in shapewear is one of the youngest self-made female billionaires on the planet. But the path to Blakely’s success took some detours.

In her earlier years she had designs on law school, but did poorly on the LSAT, even after taking it twice. She later applied to work at Walt Disney World, trying out for Goofy. But at 5’6′, she didn’t hit the height requirement, and became a ride attendant instead.

She later sold fax machines for seven years, and eventually emptied her savings account of $5,000 to invest in her undergarment invention that would launch her company, Spanx. She taught herself about the hosiery business by reading about it online, and the self-starter is now at the helm of a multi-million dollar company.

Last year Blakely joined The Giving Pledge, a campaign founded by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, which encourages billionaires to give half their wealth to charity. She was the first female billionaire to join.


Jan Koum
Jan Koum was 16 when he immigrated to America from Ukraine with his mother. The two struggled in their new country, relying on government assistance to survive.

Koum taught himself computer networking as a teen, and as an adult, co-founded the messaging app WhatsApp, which Facebook bought this year for $19 billion. He signed the paperwork for the Facebook deal on the door of the welfare office where he once got food stamps.


Chan Laiwa
Though she is a descendant of the Manchu dynasty, Chan Laiwa’s family was so poor in the 1940s she was forced to leave high school and work instead, eventually starting her own furniture repair business.

Over the decades her business grew, and it wasn’t until she was in her 40s that she moved to Hong Kong to invest in real estate. She started small, with just 12 properties, and then went bigger and bigger. Now the real estate magnate is the head of Fu Wah International, a firm that has ventures in real estate, tourism, electronics and other industries.

Chan once told a Chinese website that poverty was the best college education she could have hoped for.


Sheldon Adelson
Now the owner of a Las Vegas mega-resort and many other properties, Sheldon Adelson wasn’t always a high roller. He shared a bedroom with both his parents and siblings growing up in Massachusetts. His father was a taxi driver and his mother ran a knitting shop.

Adelson started his first business at 12 years old, when he purchased a license to sell newspapers in Boston. He is now known as a business tycoon and investor, and is one of the wealthiest men in the world.


Zhang Xin

SOHO China is one of the country’s most successful real estate developers, and Zhang Xin is at the head of it all.

Zhang lived in poverty as a teenager, working low-paid factory jobs in toy manufacturing and electronics in Hong Kong. It took her five years to save enough money for a plane ticket to London and an English language course. Once in England, she studied at Cambridge University and went on to work at Goldman Sachs in New York City.

“Everybody comes from nowhere, that’s the thing about China,” she told CNN last year.


Howard Schultz
The CEO of Starbucks grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his parents and siblings. His mother, who didn’t finish high school, pushed her children to believe in their ability to succeed.

Schultz’s father, a truck driver, encouraged his son’s love of sports. And after scoring a football scholarship to Northern Michigan University, Schultz became the first person in his family to go to college.

“It turned out I wasn’t as good a football player as I thought, and I ended up not playing after all,” Schultz wrote in his book, “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time.” To afford school he took out loans, bartended and even occasionally sold his blood.

He ended up employed by Starbucks as its marketing director in the 1980s, and eventually worked his way up to its chief. Under his leadership, the small Seattle coffee chain grew into the largest coffeehouse company in the world, with 5,500 cafes in 50 countries — and counting


George Soros

George Soros survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary during World War II and emigrated to England in 1947.

He put himself through the London School of Economics by working odd jobs, such as a dishwasher and house painter. While waiting tables, he was once told that if he worked hard, he could one day end up as the headwaiter’s assistant, according to a biography of Soros by Michael T. Kaufman.

Soros did not stay a waiter for long. He went on to become a financier, and, in 1992, made a billion dollars at once when he bet against the British pound in a day known as Black Wednesday. Now an American citizen, he is worth billions and donates generously to various causes.


Oprah Winfrey
This media mogul and superstar needs no introduction. But it’s easy to forget that the Queen of Talk started from very humble beginnings.

Winfrey was born in 1954 to an impoverished teenage single mother in rural Mississippi. Her early years involved numerous hardships, including sexual assault and a pregnancy at 14. The child, who was premature, did not survive.

Winfrey’s intelligence and communication skills shone at an early age: She got her start in radio as a teenager, and then landed her own television show at 32. She hosted “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for 25 years. She would later serve as CEO of the network that was named for her, the Oprah Winfrey Network, which is available in 80 million homes


Larry Ellison

A college drop-out, the founder of Oracle is now one of the wealthiest men in the world.
Born to a teenage single mom in New York City who was unable to care for him, Ellison was adopted by relatives when he was still a toddler and moved to the south side of Chicago. His adoptive father was a poor Russian immigrant who told his son he would never amount to anything, according to a biography on Ellison by Mike Wilson.

After his adoptive mother died, Ellison dropped out of college and headed to California, jumping from one job to another.

He has said that he “had all the disadvantages required for success,” and founded his database company, Oracle, in 1977.

An admirer of Japanese culture, his favorite saying is reportedly from Genghis Khan, who said, “It’s not sufficient I succeed. Everyone else must fail.”


Jeff Bezos

The CEO of Amazon showed an aptitude for mechanics as a baby, when he attempted to dismantle his own crib. He’s been set on building for most of his life, and today his online retail giant is worth billions.

Bezos worked at McDonald’s for a summer when he was a teenager. By the following year he’d caught the entrepreneurial bug, and started a summer camp for kids who wanted to learn about science. He charged $600 each to the six neighborhood kids who signed up.

And though he’s now a billionaire, Bezos put in the hard labor as a kid, working on his grandfather’s ranch “laying pipe, vaccinating cattle and fixing windmills,” according to a Seattle Times interview.

Originally appeared on CNN Money


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