When we think of billionaires, we generally think they must have finished the best schools, had the perfect family and mentors, inherited money or just got lucky. You might be surprised to learn however, that many of the successful men and women in business history came from humble upbringings and were often failures themselves at some point. When average onlookers were predicting their demise, they were rising from the ashes. Greatness comes from adversity, and these business icons and the stories of their humble beginnings are the living proof.
There is a long list of extraordinarily successful individuals who are examples of this, I will highlight a few for inspiration:
Lynda Resnick: The Wonderful Company
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Lynda Resnick started her career working at an advertising agency briefly after attending a small local college. After only a year of pursuing higher education, Lynda dropped out and formed her own advertising agency at the age of 19. She met her husband, Stewart Resnick, who began his career in the janitorial business in trying to obtain the company as a client.
Together, Linda and Stewart have built businesses worth billions. Lynda’s branding and advertising experience as well as leadership skills are what skyrocketed the business investments they made together. Have you ever had POM Wonderful, Fiji Water, Wonderful Pistachios, Wonderful Halos, JUSTIN Wines, Landmark Wines, JNSQ Wines, and used the Teleflora floral wire service, that’s the Resnicks!
The Resnicks’ estimated worth is $9 billion.
Jan Koum: WhatsApp
Koum was born in Kiev, Ukraine. At the age of 16, he accompanied his mother to California, where they secured an apartment through government assistance. In order to survive, he cleaned the floors of a local store. Over the years, Koum taught himself computer skills. In 2009, he co-founded the world’s largest mobile messaging service WhatsApp, which was purchased by Facebook for $22 billion in 2014.
Jan Koum’s estimated net worth is $10.1 billion.
John Paul DeJoria: John Paul Mitchell Hair Systems and Patron Tequila
Born in Los Angeles (Echo Park), John is a true inspiration to many as he once lived in a foster home and car, and truly built his business from scratch. Before the age of 10, DeJoria, a first-generation American, sold Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family. He was eventually sent to live in a foster home and even spent some time in a gang before deciding to join the military.
After the military, with a $700 dollar loan, DeJoria created John Paul Mitchell Systems and sold the shampoo door-to-door while living in his car. He later started the Patron Spirits Company, and now invests in other industries.
John Paul DeJoria’s estimated net worth is $3.1 billion.
Oprah Winfrey: Harpo Productions & The Oprah Winfrey Network
Born in Mississippi, Oprah spent most of her childhood growing up on a farm with her grandmother where she spent most of her time rigorously studying the bible. At six years old, Oprah was sent north to join her mother and two half-brothers in a Milwaukee ghetto, an extremely poor and dangerous neighborhood. During that time, her problems were compounded by repeated sexual abuse, starting at age nine, by men that others in her family trusted. Her mother worked many jobs and did not have much time for supervision. At twelve years old, she was sent to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Feeling secure and happy around her father, Oprah began giving speeches at social gatherings and churches. To this day, Oprah will say that her father saved her life. Oprah’s father was very strict, and provided her with guidance, rules, structure, and books. He required his daughter to complete weekly book reports, and she would go without a meal until she learned five new vocabulary words each day.
Winfrey eventually became an excellent student, participating in the drama club, debate club, and student council. In an Elks Club speaking contest, she won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. Fast forward, Oprah has since built a multi-billion dollar media empire, including the Oprah Winfrey Network, and Oprah Magazine, among many others.
Oprah has often been hesitant to describe herself as an entrepreneur, admitting she has had a lack of knowledge in how to conduct business “in the traditional way.” She is one of the best examples of a person who went through the worst of it all, had no financial means, and still came out on top. Her success and most importantly her help and compassion to many different communities around the world is exemplary.
Oprah’s estimated net worth is $2.6 billion.