Self-Made Billionaires Who Were Poor

April 18, 2024
8 mins read

In order to achieve great things, you don’t have to be born into a wealthy family, although it certainly helps. Numerous self-made billionaires have obviously come a long way, proving that success is not limited by a modest upbringing or financial difficulties. Here is a list of famous self-made billionaires, who serve as an inspiration and motivation to millions of people!

1. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous talk show hosts, and a self-made billionaire who gained worldwide popularity through her “Oprah Winfrey Show.” However, Oprah wasn’t always a billionaire, and she definitely didn’t inherit her fortune. On the contrary, Oprah was born into an impoverished family, to a single mother in rural Mississippi. She was molested during her formative years, becoming pregnant at 14 but losing her child. Reportedly, her mother and grandmother were so poor that they couldn’t afford proper clothing for Oprah, so she often wore potato sacks as a dress. In addition, Oprah grew up on a farm without running water, indoor plumbing, and electricity. However, Oprah landed her lucky break after applying to the Upward Bound program, which offers better educational opportunities to those with low income. Subsequently, she was transferred to an affluent suburban private school.

Despite her numerous traumas and difficulties, she did her best by competing in pageants and working on radio, which ultimately set the course of her life, and made her one of the most famous people in the world. Even today, her show still holds the record as the highest-rated talk show in the US. “You get a car, you get a car, everybody gets a car” is one of her most famous lines that was eternalized through numerous memes on the internet. Today, Oprah is a media mogul, producer, actress, entrepreneur, and the owner of a production house, and is rated the wealthiest North American Black person with a jaw-dropping net worth of close to $3 billion.

2. Kenneth Langone

Kenneth Langone is a businessman and investor, who is best known to the public as a co-founder of the multi-national home improvement company The Home Depot. Kenneth’s current net worth is around $2.9 billion, made through a series of smart and successful investments. However, Kenneth wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, instead struggling for most of his life just to make ends meet. Born into a working-class family, his mother worked in a cafeteria, while his father was a plumber. In an interview, he said that he was surrounded by love in his formative years, but they didn’t have much money. In order to afford an education, his parents had to mortgage their house so that Kenneth could attend Bucknell University.


That wasn’t enough, and Kenneth had to find a job, working as a caddy to support himself through college. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, he worked on Wall Street, however, a well-timed partnership with Bernard Marcus to finance the Home Depot ultimately made him a billionaire. Today, the company generates $88.52 trillion of sales annually, with a whopping $169.8 billion market cap, making it the world’s 39th most valuable brand. Besides Home Depot, he has stakes in other companies, particularly in technology and industry.

3. Howard Shultz

Even if you don’t know who Howard Shultz is, the chances are that you are familiar with the most-known coffee brand worldwide – Starbucks. Howard Shultz is the man behind the famous Starbucks Coffee Company, and is currently the chief executive officer (CEO). However, the skillful and savvy mogul, Howard, didn’t create the company and his vast wealth overnight, and definitely wasn’t born into a well-to-do family. As a matter of fact, his family struggled to meet basic needs, and throughout his childhood, he bore the mark of a poor kid, which affected his perception and outlook. In an interview, he opened up about his early life and difficulties, saying: ‘When I was seven years old, I experienced something that deeply affected me that I carry with me every single day. And that is the scar and the shame of being a poor kid living in government-subsidized housing.’

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Despite his status as an underdog, Howard fought his way up, enrolling in college on a football scholarship, and becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college. He bought Starbucks in 1987, which was at the time a small chain relatively unknown to the people. Today, Starbucks is a staple among coffee brands, with over 17,000 stores across the globe. Inspired by his father’s struggles of finding and keeping a job, Howard said: ‘I never dreamed I would be in a position one day to be part of a company where I would have authority — let alone build a company. What I’ve tried to do is build the kind of company that my father never got a chance to work for.’ Howard’s current net worth is estimated at $3 billion.

4. Ralph Lauren

If you’ve been living under a rock, you might have missed out on one of the most popular designer brands in the world. Ralph Lauren is a fashion designer, businessman, and philanthropist, who founded the Ralph Lauren Corporation, now worth billions. Although he’s been accustomed to living in high society for most of his life, he wasn’t born into wealth, but into a poor Jewish immigrant family in The Bronx, facing various material and social hardships throughout his formative years. Ironically, his family was so poor that they couldn’t afford clothes for Ralph. In an interview with Oprah, he disclosed: ‘As a kid, I was always into clothes, but I didn’t have the money to buy them. So when I’d get my brothers’ hand-me-downs, there was an energy in me that made me say, ‘I want to get my things, to make my own statement.’


He enrolled at Baruch College, but dropped out to serve in the US Army. Later he became a sales associate for a tie company, working diligently. Finally, in 1967 he founded a tiny office in the Empire State Building. Initially, he designed ties for other brands but eventually decided to venture out independently. Smart idea!

Ralph once said: ‘Somewhere along the line, that energy — coupled with my exposure, through movies, to a world I hadn’t known — turned into something.” Well, that something is now worth over $6.9 billion, while his personal net worth is estimated at $6.5 billion.

5. Roman Abramovich

Roman Abramovich is a businessman, Russian oligarch, and politician, perhaps best known as the former owner of the Chelsea Premier League football club. He was born in the Soviet Union to parents who passed away when he was two. He then went to live with his grandparents and uncle in the Komi Republic, where they struggled to afford the essential commodities. Roman entered the business world while in the Russian Army, then working as a street trader and mechanic. Despite his difficulties, he managed to enroll at the Gubkin Institute of Oil and Gas, and later found employment at the Swiss trading firm Runicom. During his initial business career, he sold various commodities from his Moscow apartment, such as dolls and ducks.

Fast forward a few years, Roman became the owner of several oil conglomerates and pig farms. The orphan-turned-billionaire made his money after the Soviet Union collapsed, and many of the government-owned companies transitioned into the private sector, so Roman was able to buy them for next-to-nothing. Although he is a highly controversial individual, his success and business savvy are undeniable. In 2022, Forbes listed his net worth at $9.1 billion. The list of his properties and businesses is as long as it gets. He owns stakes in the Russian giant Evraz and nickel production company Norilsk Nickel. In addition, the Russian businessman owns over 70 properties, and is a proud owner of the third-largest yacht, worth $700 million.

6. Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison is an American businessman and investor known to the public as the former CEO of the Oracle Corporation software company. In 2022, he’s listed by the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index as the 11th wealthiest person in the world, with a staggering net worth estimated at $90 billion. But how did he become a billionaire? Larry was born to an unwed mother who couldn’t take care of him, so she gave him to her aunt and uncle. His uncle was a successful real estate agent, who made a small fortune but lost it in the Great Depression, which set the course of their life. In an interview, Larry described his childhood home as a “cramped walk-up apartment.”


Despite his financial difficulties, he enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, but dropped out after learning that his adoptive mother had died. He then set out to California, where he worked various odd jobs, including installing databases for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1977, he co-founded Software Development Laboratories with Bob Miner and Ed Oates, which they later changed name to Oracle Corporation, and is now one of the leading tech companies in the world, which continues to expand.

Ellison has a 98% ownership stake in Lanai, the sixth-largest Hawaiian island. Furthermore, he recently bought the most expensive home in Florida, for $174 million.

7. Amancio Ortega

The name Amancio Ortega probably doesn’t ring any bells, but the brand name Zara might! The self-made billionaire Amancio, whose current net worth is estimated at $70 billion, built his fortune and brand from scratch. Born into poverty, Amancio and his family struggled to get by, often not having enough money to buy food for all. His father was a railroad worker who had difficulties in providing basic needs, and these financial difficulties prompted him to drop out of school at 13, to find a job and support himself and his family; he found employment at a retail shop, and never looked back.

Wanting to try his luck as an entrepreneur, he first founded a company that sold bathrobes. Then in 1975, he opened Zara with his wife, and a decade later co-founded Zara’s parent company Inditex. Since launching the company, he’s built the brand on two principles “Give the customers what they want, and be faster than everyone else.” His innovative thinking and understanding of the market and its demand transformed the initially small chain into 2,000 stores across the globe. Amancio, the head of the Ortega family, is the second wealthiest retailer in the world.

8. Alan Gerry

Alan Gerry is a businessman and philanthropist, who founded Spectrum or Cablevision Industries. He was born to a Russian immigrant who lived on the brink of poverty, and because of that financial instability, Alan left school during his teenage years and joined the US Marine Corps. Later he found a job at a local TV repair shop, where he became more knowledgeable in electronics. Working in the business, Alan realized that many people were deprived of having good TV reception, and wanted to change that, so Alan launched his business company, and started installing antennas. In 1956, he co-founded a local TV system, and later in the 1970s, he bought out his partners and renamed the company Cablevision Industries.

The next three decades he spent maximizing his business, expanding into numerous areas of the US. Finally, in 1996 he sold the company for $2.9 billion, which was at the time the eighth largest cable company, covering 18 states. The 92-year-old Alan, whose current net worth is estimated at $1.5 billion, now serves as chairman and CEO of Granite Associates, an investment company.

9. J.K. Rowling

Joanne Rowling, best known as J.K. Rowling, is a household name, who became one of the most popular authors for her seven-volume children’s fantasy series “Harry Potter,” which spawned an array of movies, products, and projects, making Rowling a billionaire. While most of her childhood was happy, and Rowling lived in bliss, that changed when her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, putting a mental and financial strain on her family. She graduated from Exeter University with a degree in French, and in 1993 married Jorge Arantes, with whom she welcomed a daughter Jessica Isabel Arantes. However, the marriage quickly went south, and she became a victim of domestic violence. Rowling divorced, and was left a single mother with practically no income, having to seek government assistance to survive. In an interview, she said: ‘I remember 20 years ago not eating so my daughter would eat. I remember nights when there was literally no money.” Having a vivid and innovative imagination, she sat in coffee shops and began writing the books that would take the world by storm, and erase the years of struggles off Rowling’s back. After the book was published, it immediately became a hit, and soon after, she received a deal for a potential movie.” Harry Potter” is the fourth highest-grossing film series ever, estimated to have grossed over $7.7 billion worldwide.


Each billionaire on the list has two things in common – they were born poor and managed to overcome all difficulties and triumph. Their rags-to-riches stories demonstrate that applying the correct method and having the right mindset coupled with determination and valiance will get you far in life!

Martha Clifford

As an Author at Net Worth Post, I guide a dedicated team in the art of revealing the stories behind the world's most influential personalities. Fueled by a relentless curiosity and a knack for uncovering hidden stories, I immerse myself in the intricacies of our subjects' lives, weaving together accurate data and compelling narratives. My involvement spans the entire editorial process, from the seed of research to the final flourish of publication, ensuring that every article not only educates but also captivates and motivates our audience.

At Net Worth Post, we are committed to providing thorough investigations into the net worth and life achievements of innovators across diverse sectors such as technology, culture, and social entrepreneurship. My method merges meticulous research with eloquent storytelling, designed to bridge the gap between our readers and the remarkable individuals who redefine our tomorrow. Through spotlighting their journeys to success, the hurdles they've surmounted, and their contributions to society, we aim to give our readers a deep and inspiring insight into the luminaries who are paving the way for progress and ingenuity in the modern era.

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