These 5 billionaires grew up in poverty

By Laura Woods / GOBankingRates.com

You don’t have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to achieve great things in life. Many of today’s billionaires had very humble beginnings. Growing up poor didn’t stop these CEOs, celebrities and business experts from reaching the pinnacle of success — and it shouldn’t stop you, either.

Whether you’re in need of some inspiration to start your own business, or you want to grow your wealth, take a look at how these famous folks made it to the top.

OPRAH WINFREY

Family wealth isn’t the secret to this billionaire and media maven’s unparalleled success. Now worth an estimated $3.1 billion, according to Forbes, Oprah Winfrey was born to a teenage single mother in Mississippi. In an interview with Barbara Walters, she talked about not having running water or electricity growing up.

By focusing on school, participating in beauty pageants and then working at a radio station, Winfrey was able to enter the media world. She got her big break in television as a host for the local Baltimore talk show, “People Are Talking.” Later came “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which entered national syndication in 1986.

In a 2001 taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Winfrey shared some tips on making the shift to a wealth mindset.

“The whole idea, I think, of having wealth is not letting wealth use you but you use it,” she said. “Being a person who has come from an outhouse, and very poor circumstances, I can assure you that the more money you get, it really doesn’t change you — unless you are the kind of person who is defined by money.”

HOWARD SCHULTZ

Howard Schultz helped Starbucks become the company it is today — a giant coffee retailer with 23,000 retail stores in 73 countries and a market value of about $85 billion, according to Forbes. However, this successful businessman, who boasts a net worth of $2.9 billion, wasn’t born into wealth.

In an interview with Dr. Mukund Rajan of the Group Executive Council, Schultz discussed his childhood and what it was like growing up with less.

“When I was 7 years old, I experienced something that deeply affected me that I carry with me every single day,” he said. “And that is the scar and the shame of being a poor kid living in government-subsidized housing.”

Schultz said his father became a “broken man” after working in many dead-end jobs that offered neither money nor respect. But, this hardship seemed to motivate Schultz to become the success he is today.

“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,” said Schultz. “What I’ve tried to do is build the kind of company that my father never got a chance to work for.”

RALPH LAUREN

Known for its polo shirts and high-end ties, the Ralph Lauren fashion brand is easily recognizable. But did you know that there was a time when the iconic fashion designer couldn’t even afford clothes?

“As a kid, I was always into clothes, but I didn’t have the money to buy them,” Lauren told Winfrey in a 2002 interview. “When I’d get my brothers’ hand-me-downs, there was an energy in me that made me say, ‘I want to get my own things, to make my own statement.’ Somewhere along the line, that energy — coupled with my exposure, through movies, to a world I hadn’t known — turned into something.”

That “something” is now a fashion brand with a market value of nearly $8 billion, according to Forbes. As for Lauren, he’s worth a cool $5.9 billion and is considered one of the richest fashion icons.

LARRY ELLISON

Oracle founder and former CEO Larry Ellison was born in New York City but grew up in a lower-middle-class community on the South Side of Chicago.

“I’ll never complain again about living in a bad neighborhood, after moving from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to a still-worse neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago,” said Ellison in an interview posted on the Academy of Achievement website. “After my ninth month, I kept my mouth shut about the neighborhood.”

A 1997 Vanity Fair profile on Ellison described his childhood home as a “cramped walk-up apartment.” According to the article, Ellison was raised by his great-aunt and great-uncle, who was once successful in real estate but lost everything in the Depression.

Although he came from modest beginnings, Ellison is now a multibillionaire worth $61.8 billion. And Oracle has a market value of almost $183 billion, reports Forbes.

“Everyone who works hard, and maybe a little cleverly, has the opportunity to make almost anything possible,” said Ellison in the Academy of Achievement interview. “That’s the American Dream, that anything here is possible.”

KENNETH LANGONE

Self-made billionaire businessman and investor Kenneth Langone, who helped create Home Depot, had humble beginnings.

In a 2013 interview with OneWire, posted on Business Insider, Langone said he had a “charmed life” as a child — but not because of his material possessions. In fact, his mother was a cafeteria worker. Still, Langone enjoyed unconditional love, which later helped him get over his failures and not let them bring him down.

“When you’re in the risk-taking business at the level that I am, not everything you’re going to do is going to work,” he said. “Where you really lose is when it doesn’t work, and you start being abusive to yourself in terms of your qualities and your abilities.”

Today, Langone has a net worth of $3 billion, according to Forbes. And, he’s proud of that fact, he said in an interview for “Street Smart” on Bloomberg.

“I worked like hell to become part of the 1 percent,” said Langone.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Nuno Taborda
Former Rolls Royce executive to lead Everett aerospace firm

magniX, which builds electric aircraft motors, has hired Nuno Taborda as its next CEO.

Epic Ford on the corner of 52nd Street and Evergreen Way in Everett is closed. The dealership has been in business for more than 50 years. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
After 50 years, Everett’s Epic Ford dealership closes shop

It opened in 1971, when gas guzzling muscle cars like the Ford Mustang still ruled the road.

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Bothell biotech CEO resigns after domestic-violence allegation

Clay Siegall co-founded Seagen, which develops therapies for cancer patients. He’s accused of attacking his wife.

FILE - A sign at a Starbucks location in Havertown, Pa., is seen April 26, 2022. Starbucks says it will pay travel expenses for U.S. employees to access abortion or gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren't available within 100 miles of a worker’s home. The Seattle coffee chain says, Monday, May 16, 2022, the benefit will also be available to dependents of employees enrolled in its health care coverage. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)
Starbucks will cover travel for workers seeking abortions

Amazon and Tesla also will provide the benefit. Walmart and Facebook have stayed silent.

A barista pours steamed milk into a red paper cup while making an espresso drink at a Starbucks coffee shop in the Pike Place Market, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. It's as red as Santa's suit, a poinsettia blossom or a loud Christmas sweater. Yet Starbucks' minimalist new holiday coffee cup has set off complaints that the chain is making war on Christmas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Interfaith group asks Starbucks to drop vegan milk surcharge

They say the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles.

FILE - In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, The first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday, Oct. 14,2021 by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks

Flight cancellations since April will continue. The chaos has been damaging for Seattle’s hometown airline.

FILE - An airplane flies past the Boeing logo on the company's headquarters in Chicago, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001. Boeing Co., a leading defense contractor and one of the world's two dominant manufacturers of airline planes, is expected to move its headquarters from Chicago to the Washington, D.C., area, according to two people familiar with the matter. The decision could be announced as soon as later Thursday, May 5, 2022, according to one of the people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing expected to move headquarters from Chicago to DC area

The move would put Boeing executives close to their key customer, the Pentagon, and the FAA.

This 3D rendering shows Sila's 6000-foot facility in Moses Lake, to be used to manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials. (Business Wire)
New factory in Moses Lake will bring hundreds of new jobs

The plant will manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials for cars and cellphones.

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters, Antares, in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Helion Energy: New Everett company has the sun in its eyes

The firm is the winner of a new award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County, called Opportunity Lives Here.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jon Nehring: Longtime Marysville mayor who’s nurtured growth

He’s helped steer the city’s transformation and is winner of the Jackson Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Monti Ackerman, recipient of the John Fluke Award, is pictured Thursday, April 28, 2022, outside his office in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Monti Ackerman: A passionate volunteer and calculator whiz

The Fortive executive is the winner of this year’s Fluke Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-38, is the recipient of this year's Henry M. Jackson award. The award recognizes a visionary leader who through partnership, tenacity and a strong commitment to community has created lasting opportunities to improve quality of life and positively impact the regional economy. Photographed in Everett, Washington on April 29, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Rep. Mike Sells: He fought for WSU Everett and worker rights

The retiring legislator is the recipient of the Floyd Award from Economic Alliance Snohomish County.