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5 People Who Went From Rags to Riches


1st Jan 2015 Managing your Money

5 People Who Went From Rags to Riches

Need some entrepreneurial inspiration? Some of the world’s most successful business leaders came from poverty, launching themselves into wealth through hard work and innovative ideas. Here are five of our favourites to show you that overcoming great adversity is possible:

Ursula Burns (Xerox)

Ursula Burns was raised in a single-parent family in a crime-ridden housing project on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, well known for being in the control of violent gangs. Now Xerox’s head CEO and chairwoman, as well as the first African-American woman be the head of a Fortune 500 company, Burns attributes her success to her mother, who ran a day-care out of their home as well as taking in laundry so that she could send Ursula to Catholic school. 

Leonardo Del Vecchio (Luxottica)

After being widowed shortly before Del Vecchio’s birth, his mother was unable to support him and his four siblings, so he spent the vast majority of his childhood growing up in an orphanage, which couldn’t have been easy in wartime Milan. As if that wasn’t enough, he lost part of a finger while employed as a factory worker, making moulds for auto parts and eyeglass frames. 

Nevertheless, his impoverished background didn’t stop him from opening his own moulding shop at the age of 23, and today Luxottica is the largest eyeware company in the world, owning brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley. 

Howard Schultz (Starbucks)

Schultz grew up in an impoverished area of Brooklyn, and said in an interview with the Mirror: "Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families. And for some reason, I don’t know why or how, I wanted to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond what people were saying was possible.” His aspirations paid off – after winning a football scholarship and graduating from the University of Northern Michigan, he discovered a small coffee shop called Starbucks. From there, he led the company on a path which has resulted in over 16,000 outlets worldwide. 

Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA)

From a simple farm life in rural Sweden, Kamprad created the furniture giant IKEA. It’s hard to believe that it started with a young Swede buying matches in bulk to sell to his neighbours, but Kamprad used money given to him by his father as a reward for good grades to turn his enterprise into a mail order business, using local suppliers to keep costs low. Eventually, furniture became the biggest seller, and IKEA became the brand we know and love today.

JK Rowling (The Harry Potter franchise)

An unconventional choice, but Rowling’s business instinct has turned her novels into a huge franchise, with websites, merchandise, and even theme parks bringing her estimated worth to over $1 billion. However before the big break, Rowling was struggling to get by on benefits as a single mother, writing her ideas down as she searched for a full-time solution. She was rejected by publishing companies 12 times, but ultimately succeeded.