10 Rags to Riches Billionaires

by JS 

CB067441_LoResFeeling the need for a little inspiration on the road to wealth building? I always love to read about people who have beat the odds and made a dramatic rise in their financial situation.

What follows are the stories of 10 billionaires who started with nothing and now have it all.

Ingvar Kamprad

Net worth: $31 billion

World’s richest retailer and founder of furniture store Ikea.

Kamprad began to develop a business as a young boy, selling matches to neighbors from his bicycle. He found that he could buy matches in bulk very cheaply from Stockholm, sell them individually at a low price and still make a good profit. From matches, he expanded to selling fish, Christmas tree decorations, seeds and later ball-point pens and pencils. When Kamprad was 17, his father gave him a reward for succeeding in his studies. He used this money to establish what has grown into IKEA.

The acronym IKEA is made up of the initials of his name (Ingvar Kamprad) plus those of Elmtaryd, the family farm where he was born; and the nearby village Agunnaryd.

Kamprad has admitted that his dyslexia played a large part in the inner workings of the company. For example, the Swedish-sounding names of the furniture sold by IKEA were originally chosen by Kamprad because he had difficulty remembering numeral stock-keeping units.

Reputed to be quite frugal: flies economy class, frequents inexpensive restaurants, furnishes his home with Ikea ware.

Li Ka-shing

Net worth: $26.5 billion

Li fled turbulent China in 1940 and resettled in Hong Kong. Li’s father died in Hong Kong.

Shouldering the responsibility of looking after the livelihood of the family, Li was forced to leave school before the age of 15 and found a job in a plastics trading company where he labored 16 hours a day.

By 1950, his hard work, prudence and his pursuit of excellence had enabled him to start his own company, Cheung Kong Industries. From manufacturing plastics, Li led and developed his company into a leading real estate investment company in Hong Kong that was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1972.

Roman Abramovich

Net worth: $23.5 billion

Orphaned at age 4, Abramovich was raised by his uncle and grandmother. He dropped out of college and eventually made a fortune after taking over Russian oil giant Sibneft, which he later sold.

Roman, was gifted with a talent for business and being in the right place at the right time as he started his career as an entrepreneur just as Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms permitted the opening of small private businesses.

He began his business career selling plastic ducks from a grim Moscow apartment but, within a few years, Abramovich’s vast wealth spread from oil conglomerates to pig farms, and secured his place within Yeltsin’s inner circle. However, even today, his task force of bodyguards and armoured Mercedes testify to the high-risk nature of capitalism in post-Soviet Russia.

Sheldon Adelson

Net worth: $26 billion

The son of a Boston cabdriver, he borrowed $200 from an uncle to sell newspapers at age 12. Later, he dropped out of college to become a court reporter. Now a casino and hotel magnate, Adelson took his Las Vegas Sands public in December 2004.

He worked at a young age selling newspapers on local street corners and owned his first business by the time he was twelve. In the years that followed, he worked as a mortgage broker, investment adviser and financial consultant. He started a business selling toiletry kits, and in the 1960s he started a charter tours business with two friends. He went to college at City College of New York but did not complete a degree there.

The basis for Adelson’s wealth and current investments was the computer trade show COMDEX, which he and his partners developed for the computer industry; the first show was in 1979. It was the premier computer trade show through much of the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1988, Adelson and his partners purchased the Sands Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, the former hangout of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, in order to bring Las Vegas to a new phase of business centricity through the exhibition industry.

Amancio Ortega

Net worth: $20.2 billion

Son of a railway worker Ortega apparently got started as a clerk in a shirt store. With $25 and help from his then wife Rosalia Mera, now also a billionaire, he began making gowns in his living room.

In 1975 he opened the first store in what would grow into the enormously popular chain of fashion stores called Zara.

Kirk Kerkorian

Net worth: $16 billion

Son of Armenian immigrants, he dropped out of school in the eighth grade and took up boxing.

Kirk Kerkorian was born on June 6, 1917 in Fresno, California, to Armenian immigrant parents. Dropping out of school in 8th grade, he became a fairly skilled amateur boxer under the tutelage of his older brother, fighting under the name “Rifle Right Kerkorian” to win the Pacific amateur welterweight champion.

After the war, having saved most of his wages, Kerkorian spent $5,000 on a Cessna. He worked as a general aviation pilot, and made his first visit to Las Vegas in 1944. After spending much time in Las Vegas during the 1940s, Kerkorian quit gambling and in 1947 paid $60,000 for Trans International Airlines, which was a small air-charter service which flew gamblers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

He then bid on some war surplus bombers, using money on loan from the Seagrams family. Gasoline, and especially airplane fuel, was in short supply at the time, so he sold the fuel from the planes’ tanks, paid off his loan – and still had the airplanes. He operated the airline until 1968 when he sold it for $104 million to the Transamerica Corporation.

Later, he made billions buying and selling movie studio MGM. Today his MGM Mirage owns more than half the hotel rooms on the Las Vegas Strip.

“I just lucked into things. I used to think that if I made $50,000 I’d be the happiest guy in the world.” Kirk Kerkorian

Oprah Winfrey

Net worth: $2.5 billion

Born in rural Mississippi to a poor unwed teenaged mother, and later raised in an inner city Milwaukee neighborhood, Winfrey was raped at the age of nine, and at fourteen, gave birth to a son who died in infancy. Sent to live with the man she calls her father, a barber in Tennessee, Winfrey landed a job in radio while still in high school and began co-anchoring the local evening news at the age of 19.

Her emotional ad-lib delivery eventually got her transferred to the daytime talk show arena, and after boosting a third-rated local Chicago talk show to first place, she launched her own production company and became internationally syndicated.

Winfrey became a millionaire at age 32 when her talk show went national. Because of the amount of revenue the show generated, Winfrey was in a position to negotiate ownership of the show and start her own production company. By 1994 the show’s ratings were still thriving and Winfrey negotiated a contract that earned her nine figures a year.

Considered the richest woman in entertainment by the early 1990s, at age 41 Winfrey’s wealth crossed another milestone when with a net worth of $340 million, she replaced Bill Cosby as the only African American on the Forbes 400. Although blacks are 12% of the U.S. population, Winfrey has remained the only black person wealthy enough to rank among America’s 400 richest people nearly every year since 1995.

Micky Jagtiani

Net worth: $2.5 billion

Jagtiani flunked out of accounting school in London and took up driving taxis and cleaning hotel rooms to pay the bills and support a bottle of whiskey a day habit. He then lost his entire family to illness in the span of one year.

Just 21 and alone in Bahrain with $6,000 of his and his family’s savings, he took over the retail space his brother had leased before dying of cancer and started selling baby products. Chain is now one of the most profitable retail groups in the Middle East.

Thirty years after he landed up in Bahrain the Dubai-based CEO of Landmark group has built himself one the largest and most profitable retail chains in the Middle East, with more than 280 stores, 6,000 employees and an estimated $650 million in revenues.

Richard Desmond

Net worth: $2 billion

After his parents divorced, Desmond lived with his mother in a garage apartment. Quit school at age 14 to become a drummer and worked in a coat-check room to help pay the bills.

His first job was for Thomson Newspapers, working in classified advertisements. He moved on to another company and by the age of 21 he owned two record shops. He acquired an interest in publishing and in 1974 published a magazine called International Musician and Recording World.

Started his first magazine at age 22 and now owns dozens of titles, including celebrity rag OK!.

J.K. Rowling

Net worth: $1 billion

British writer and author of the Harry Potter fantasy series.

Rowling moved to Portugal after the death of her mother from multiple sclerosis. She returned to the U.K. a single mother and lived on welfare while finishing her first Harry Potter story. Now one of the world’s most successful authors, she published the seventh and final installment of the boy wizard series last July.

She progressed from living on welfare to multi-millionaire status within five years.


I hope you found these stories inspiring. It is difficult for me to relate to people who are wealthy but started out with family money or won the lottery. But these stories prove that anything is possible and it is interesting to see how each rags to riches story is unique.

This article was based on the Forbes story In Pictures: Rags to Riches Billionaires. And was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance at the Budgeting Babe.

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56 Responses to “10 Rags to Riches Billionaires”

  1. Jim Bob on July 10th, 2008 8:43 pm

    Great post… I am now inspired!!!

  2. ZaggedEdge on July 13th, 2008 1:24 pm

    Proof that riches can start on a napkin like JK Rowling!

  3. The Fastlane (MJ DeMarco) on July 14th, 2008 8:38 am

    Some great Fastlane stuff there … good job. Dejoria would be good on this list as well. DUGG!

  4. Moneymonk on July 14th, 2008 1:59 pm

    Seems like most of these people dropped out of school because they had a hard life

    “Winfrey has remained the only black person wealthy enough to rank among America’s 400 richest people nearly every year since 1995.”

    Not true, Robert Johnson is also a black Billionaire

  5. Dividends4Life on July 17th, 2008 6:32 pm

    Excellent and inspiring read!

    Best Wishes,

  6. andy on July 26th, 2008 9:41 am

    top stuff and well put together.

  7. Tabatha on October 29th, 2008 1:34 pm

    Very inspirational….it definitely shows that anything is possible through hard work and dedication.

  8. How to get rich: the magic that will take you there | Factoidz on November 12th, 2008 4:56 pm

    [...] – read about 10 billionaires who started out only with the dream of being rich one day; they all are people like you and me and if it is possible for them, it is for anybody [...]

  9. inspired80'sbaby on December 8th, 2008 7:42 pm

    Thank you for the inspirational read. One can only hope for the gods to bless them with the kind of success these people have achieved. But with that being said it is also obvious that success can happen to someone and anyone with their mind, heart and soul in the right places. A little determination, belief and discipline only makes your chances better. I’m inspired and i’m pretty sure i will not be the only one.

  10. David on January 1st, 2009 9:47 am

    Thanks for typing those up!

  11. pS on July 21st, 2009 12:24 pm

    Great stories.Hope to be on that list someday!!!

  12. Raymond on August 17th, 2009 10:04 pm

    I was born in a poor family here in Zamboanga City, I am the 5th child, when i was 6 months old my parent separated, My mother brought us here in Davao City. I read such this inspirational messages, because this makes me strong, because I have no one to ask for something, about what to eat, where to live or for my clothing, but to God alone, but I am so happy that through my faith to God and through some effort I made, God answer my prayers even though it is for daily bread for now. I always ask for his help, to guide me in my small business right now, though its not running so good, but I always think that I will succeed someday. God willing. thank you for reading to my humble message. May God Bless you

  13. msh on September 1st, 2009 12:43 am

    wow!!! im inspired, hope to be in the list next year by FAITH,,,

  14. Mike on October 11th, 2009 7:08 am


    Great inspirational article. I posted it on for other readers to enjoy! Keep up the good work!


  15. g.m. williams on October 11th, 2009 8:56 am

    I came from a middle-middle class background. Poor people seldom, if ever, succeed in the world. Poor people usually end up in poverty or in jail. It is the middle-middle, upper-middle, and upper class people who succeed in the world today. There is no room in the world for poor people to succeed and they do not because they do not have the brains or the will to succeed.

  16. Ryan Jennings on October 20th, 2009 9:20 pm

    Great Stories. Very inspirational. I’m going to be on the list one day!

  17. vvek on November 2nd, 2009 9:18 am

    Hi ! At the age of 17th, I fell down from my terrrace. My spinal cord and both legs were seriously injured. I was not able to walk properly. I was not able to eat properly. But I continued my studies. and Then for the 2 years after passing graduation, I could not get any job becoz of my ill health. Then suddenly I could get job in a Central Govt. department. From then I did not look back. I joined a bank in South India and later joined another bigger bank by qualifying a national level exams. Now I am an officer in a premeir bank in India. Few years ago, all this was almost impossible. Today it is true.

  18. Pat Martin on November 4th, 2009 7:50 am

    Thank you for these inspirational stories. I am going to have my youth group to act these stories out on stage. I will be teaching these and other like stories to them tonight at Bible story. Pray that they are inspired like I was. Maybe one day it will happen to me. I am a writer like J. K. Rowling

  19. amber on November 10th, 2009 3:46 am

    hi guys,good job. I am a normal middle class girl from india.i am great in studies &my dad wants me to be engnr but i want to be a designer & study in us.sometimes u dont get what u dream just becoz they r too costly & u cant afford it .my dad is a doctor but we r three siblings &i am the youngest.i dont want to crush my dad under loans.i dont know what to do.if u can help send me suggestns

  20. jo on November 29th, 2009 7:31 am

    well, these are truly amazing stories…people with nothing and ended owning wow like materially speaking almost everything..I came from a working family back home and even though we struggled financially i and my siblings finished college…i think today’s era we often accompnay success based on our bank accounts…i myself most of the times dream fo being rich and famous…but sometimes come to think of it…if only we know what those rich people experience,,at the end of the day..are they really contented and happy?…
    so i guess its not all about the money after all although yes we need money who doesn’t but the contentment as a human being…i dont know is i will be rich or not but i just want to have a comfortable peaceful and contented life…not just because of money…

  21. t on December 3rd, 2009 10:33 pm

    I just think its time for people to step up to the plate take away all the pride and do the best for theirself and their family.

  22. Deb on January 1st, 2010 2:36 pm

    great read. but its to bad that most of them are not american. the poor in this country stay poor way to much, esp. living in the land of opertunity. but i still apre. our forien neighbor.

  23. paul on January 11th, 2010 4:11 am

    Some people seem to fight back harder and stronger than others when they hit rock bottom seems to me that some of these people went through that and more, if thats not inspiration what is? Execellent stories excellent site if you keep doing what your doing you might be the next story we read about.

  24. Samuel Greatness on January 14th, 2010 4:19 am

    the poorest rat can also be rich if there is determination get determined……… be rich…..only you can help yourself…….

  25. timothy on February 1st, 2010 5:10 am

    over the last one year i have moved from just another college student to worth of 2.3 million .it was simple read lots of inspirationals and billionaiire mindset crap and all i ever knew was i always wanted to achieve success and i took the steps ,now i run three businesses,a small ad agency a real estate brokerage firm and am getting started on hr and business consulting to small businesses with 4 clients so far while am still in my senior year studying human resource management in nairobi ,kenya.i will be a billionaire in twenty years.that am sure and will give my all to it.all u need is to get out of familiar grounds and try something you never did before be confident and work smart..i love stories like this i personally use them to challenge myself to achieve more

  26. Nigel Aruonga on February 4th, 2010 12:38 am

    Proves there is a drop of greatness in everyone. Hold on to your hope and dream. Very inspirational.

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  28. TNT on April 2nd, 2010 10:39 am

    If you have the chance to go to school, good…otherwise don’t let your lack of some schooling prevent you from being all you can be. Awesome and inspirational people. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.

  29. ALFRED NIHAR JACOB on April 20th, 2010 12:31 pm

    these people, really are a great inspiring and a big motivation to all who thinks there are losers… and just cant fit into anything in there life.. , well looking upon all these peoples life this surely shows there are no one who are born losers or think there are nothing in life… but if u have that motivation, that goal, will power, to be succeed and break through all your difficulties in life and come up to the top.. then there is nothing which can stop us.. and the people who ever have looked down on us will surely praise us.. thats called a powerful victory.. to me, and i dedicate this to all of them who wants to be on “TOP” . i gonna be like these people one day.. and get the ultimate victory…….. “VICTORY” to all u people… god bless…

  30. Cherlane on June 28th, 2010 12:23 pm

    I too find it more of an inspiring read when I learn of someone going from poverty to wealth. But, it is even more of an amazing read to know that many of these people started very young, had good mentoring or guidance and a determination we don’t find positioned around our youth today. I hope we can hear a new surge of successes like these in the near future that reflects our young people. Great post.

  31. nishi on August 6th, 2010 5:39 am

    great read …… very inspirational indeed … all of these people prove that impossible is nothing ..

  32. sunny on September 27th, 2010 11:22 am

    this people prove that
    The more value you add, the more valuable you become.

  33. chachi on November 2nd, 2010 5:54 am

    g.m williams before you start spitting your hate for the world because of your own insecurities for not being able to reach anywhere close to what you wanted to become expand your viewpoint. Ive grown up in the projects and in an abusive broken home and now im working at one of the best companies in the world. What are you doing with your life. What economic class you are born into does not determine how intelligent or superior you are to anyone else. What you just demonstrated is profound ignorance and i hope one day youll be able to gain the self esteem to expand your viewpoint of the world.

  34. z. nazery on November 20th, 2010 12:16 am

    I just want to say that time and time again, we are shown that there are no limits to a person’s potential. I’m pretty sure that these top 10 people were not expecting to become billionaires, but they did because they knew that they could grow more, do more, reach more, make more. etc. They did not let their current circumstances or their failures limit their potential. Every human being has great untapped potential that we can not even fully measure or imagine. The reason the rich get richer is that they know and believe what and how much they can do. Same reason why people in the middle class stay in the middle class- because they believe or think “Oh, well I can’t do much better than this”. And its the same reason for people in the lower class, they don’t believe that they can do more or better. Its not about people having the brains to succeed or how lazy/active they are, its about what their mindset is, what their beliefs are, and how far they think they will go. When the lower class or middle class do start changing their mindsets and belief systems, then thats when their life starts getting better. Evidence for that is in the top 10.

  35. rommel on November 28th, 2010 2:27 am

    All the stories were really great. It’s really a great inspiration to other people.

  36. andrew on January 16th, 2011 7:04 am

    “Believing is a push for success”

  37. Wayne C. Robinson on February 2nd, 2011 2:13 pm

    I was really inspired by the stories of these rags to riches billionaires. It does show that anyone can do anything.

    That comment from the person who stated that only the middle class have the ability to succeed, this is bad information that you need to find a way to remove from your subconscious mind. Anyone, even you, can break out of the binds of poverty and make whatever you decide to make yourself. When you begin changing the way you think, you will see miracles and all types of opportunities available that you never before noticed. Best of luck all and see you at the top.

  38. Chelsea Haden on March 27th, 2011 1:06 pm

    Thank you for the inspiring read! I love things like this, it’s so nice to read positive things, there is too much doom and gloom! People should know about all the great things that are happening in the world! I follow a magazine on facebook called ForwardFocus Mag- it’s written by a group of coaches who concentrate on the positive side of life, they do lots of inspiring quotes, inspiring stories of people who have defied the odds! it right up my street, no gossip just successful and happy people! The world needs more happiness!

  39. Helen Ikea on April 4th, 2011 8:39 pm

    I think Ingvar Kamprad should used the correct acronym is I. K. E.A. not My Last which is IKEA And this has been a FAMILY NAME SINCE BEFORE 1841. I don’t think he has a right to it because it is not his name or used right.

  40. Milla2cute on April 21st, 2011 3:03 pm

    Hello World…these are some excellent articles and the comments are great too…I’m just starting my own Mary Kay business and I am low income and these stories are truly a guiding light..I truly feel that at the end of the day you are who you think you are and that people should ask themselves this everyday and really take a good look and see if it makes them happy inside…if not, thats when brave people begin to change their lives…the weak remain the same…so…WHO ARE YOU?

  41. Waiting_In the Wing on September 8th, 2011 12:19 am

    Exposes of this nature is very uplifting to the human spirit. But, I believe that not only the level of Wealth is inspiring but the mental process behind the successes. So, making it to every Goal is the engine that will drive wealth into your Life. The question here is: “Why is it so easy for few to believe and others can’t?”
    I know I have the “Gifts” and some Talent but Kinetic Energy is missing. I have been struggling with this for 2 decades now and I know I have to defeat this and not let it become my Nemesis. Prayers are proving to be a great weapon and when it answered it is unstoppable. Best wishes to all and above average success to all who pray to the Almighty Father.

  42. Angelfire on September 8th, 2011 2:29 am

    I am looking for “rags to riches” people and chanced upon this site. God help me to be just like these people. Yes, never give up hope. Its very inspiring and we can do it too.

  43. Elmag naz'r on November 2nd, 2011 12:11 am

    Once you can put that idea in to reality…the remaining things are history…see me in future forbes top 20th!!!

  44. soilan on December 9th, 2011 5:21 am

    Hooo!great stories n vry inspiring,i have been wanting to start ma own business but i’m always much afraid of failing in it n ma background always push me back thinking i’m destined to be poor,can anyone suggest to me any business to start?thank u for restoring ma hope of owning a business n becoming rich.

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  49. Boniface Kurgat on August 21st, 2013 10:57 pm

    very inspiring indeed.Just wondering that non is from our continent Africa,i think they could have died of starvation long ago.Any way the inspiration may fix me in the list one time,lets keep struggling,great piece.

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