They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. These inspiring figures had less than a lemon to start out with – and are now known for their sheer tenacity as they climbed to the top.
I bring you the top 10 rags-to-riches success stories of all time.
1. Henry Ford
Henry Ford was a farm boy who went on to revolutionize transportation industry in America. Ford was very interested in mechanics from a young age, when he dismantled and reassembled a pocket watch at the age of 15 his father had given him. A self-taught watch repairman who graduated to being an apprentice machinist, Ford started his personal experiments on gasoline engines which was the beginning of his vast Ford empire. And his net worth, as per Forbes in 2008, is a cool $188.1 billion.
2. Walt Disney
Our childhood would have been dreary without this genius of a man. Walt Disney was also another boy brought up in a farm – and used to draw pictures for his neighbors for money. He used to be the cartoonist for the school newspaper, Disney went through the jobless phase where no one hired him, and his brother had to help him out with his job search. He went from rags to riches by starting out with advertisements and going on to animating his own cartoons.
3. Ralph Lauren
Born in a strict Jewish family with a house painter for a father, Ralph Lauren grew up with big dreams. He used to sell ties to his classmates to earn some cash, and he mentioned in his yearbook that he wanted to be a millionaire. His interest in ties went on help his put his foot through the door of bigger achievements in the fashion world. When he was signed on to design the clothes for ‘The Great Gatsby’ in 1974, he was catapulted into the fame which he commands today.
4. Steve Jobs
This Apple founder is now a household name. Jobs was given away for adoption by his biological parents and he became interested in electronics after his foster dad showed him the joys of technical tinkering in their garage. He had to drop out of college, because his education was costing his foster parents a lot. He used to return Coke bottles for money and live on free meals at the Hare Krishna temple. A hippie who used to trip on LSD, Jobs went from a technician in Atari, Inc. to becoming the CEO of Apple Inc.
5. Richard Branson
Branson went from being a dyslexic kid who performed badly in school to a British business magnate with a net worth of 4.6 billion. There was a time when Richard Branson started his record business from the crypt of a church – and now he is the fourth richest citizen of the UK. This entrepreneur is an example of how one can be eccentric and yet rake in the moolah. He had his finger in many pies – record label, airways and telecom.
6. John Paul DeJoria
Born to Italian and Greek immigrant parents, this billionaire had to sell newspapers when he was nine to support his family. He has lived in a foster home, been part of a street gang and jumped through a number of jobs. With a loan of $700, he began what is now known the world over as the Paul Mitchell line of hair products. He went on to own 70% of The Patron Spirits Company, the world’s ultra-premium tequila brand. If this is not a rags-to-riches story, we do not know what is.
7. Oprah Winfrey
Born to a housemaid and a coalminer, Oprah definitely did not grow in the lap of luxury. Living the life of poverty, where she used to have to wear dresses made out of potato sacks and was molested by relatives. She entered the world of media after getting the job of a news-reader in a local black radio station. After she got her first talk-show in Chicago, there was no looking back for this TV personality.
8. J.K. Rowling
Born in a lowly English family, Rowling battled depression, suicidal tendencies and poverty to become one of the most loved British authors in the world for her hugely popular Harry Potter series. Highly imaginative as a kid who thrived on stories, she drew from her surroundings and the people in her life as inspirations for the books which have now become one of the biggest movie franchises. From her humble beginnings, she has gone on to become one of the most powerful women in the United Kingdom.
9. Daymond John
A black boy growing up in Queens – one would not have pegged John as a potential entrepreneur who would go on to become the CEO of the hip-hop clothing brand FUBU. But that he did, with an entrepreneurial instinct that he honed from his school days. Selling popular wool hats at half their market price, he mortgaged their house for future business expansion. It paid off well – and he now is one of the most influential motivational speakers in America.
10. Chris Gardner
This is the man whose life has inspired the Will Smith-starrer ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’. Physically abused by his stepfather as a child and placed in a foster home, Gardner’s woes did not leave him even as he grew up to marry and be a father. As shown in the movie, Gardner struggled with homelessness while raising his kid. It was the strength of the lessons he learnt from his mother that he went from rags to riches by tenaciously building himself to be the CEO of his own stockbrokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co.
There is no disadvantage these personalities did not suffer on their journey from birth to where they stand today – but sheer tenacity, confidence and hard work led them to the inspiring figures they are today.