With the rise of game shows and extreme lotteries, it’s almost nothing to be a millionaire anymore. But what about the people so ridiculously successful that they’ve crossed the barrier into billionaires? Here are six individuals who are redefining rich with their considerable net worth, all the more impressive because they originally started with nothing.
With a plumber for a father and a mother who worked nights in a cafeteria, no one was expecting much of Ken Langone, and for awhile he lived up to those expectations. He worked many odd jobs in his youth, including digging ditches, cutting meat as a butcher’s assistant and fetching golf balls for the wealthy. Everything changed when he decided to go into business with an acquaintance and start a home improvement store. Several decades later, The Home Depot has put more than $2 billion in his bank account.
One of the richest women in the world, it’s hard to believe that Oprah Winfrey was once the abused, uneducated daughter of teenage parents. But her humble beginnings made her rise into stardom that much more extraordinary: She started as a television anchor, then moved on to her own show, then moved on to her own network. As of 2014, she makes $75 million a year and is worth almost $3 billion in total.
Howard Schultz was so poor he grew up in a housing project in a bad part of Brooklyn. He made his escape from poverty with a football scholarship to Northern Michigan University, but even then he knew he didn’t want athletics to be the rest of his life. In 1981, at the age of 28, he decided to invest in a little start-up company that was selling coffee. That company is now called Starbucks, and Howard Schultz is a billionaire.
Many jokes have been made about the similarities to Li Ka-shing’s name to the sound of money. Perhaps it was an omen, though if you’d asked him at the age of fifteen, when his father passed away and left him the sole breadwinner of his rural Chinese family, he probably wouldn’t believed you. Though currently worth somewhere along the lines of $30 billion, Li Ka-shing has never forgotten his humble roots.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a night in the glittering lights of Vegas, you have Steve Wynn to thank for it. In the ’80s and ’90s, he almost single-handedly turned the Strip from a struggling neighborhood into a luxury destination. But did you know that he was once the child of a bingo parlor operator? When his father died, he actually left Steve with $350,000 in debt. Steve had to pull himself up by his bootstraps and turn his considerable knowledge of bingo into a real, working business strategy.
Abandoned by his mother, Larry Ellison grew up with his aunt and uncle in a working class neighborhood of Chicago. He attended school only sporadically, going to two colleges and never finishing a degree in either. Things only changed in his life when he began developing software. Originally a hobby and intellectual pursuit, Larry started to believe he could make some money through his talents, and he co-founded the Oracle software company in the late ’70s. It turns out his hunch about money was correct: He’s currently worth $45 billion, which is the third-largest individual income on the planet.