7 Entrepreneurs Who Built an Empire From Scratch

All they had was a dream, outstanding resilience and a lot of willpower.

Coming from impoverished homes and underprivileged backgrounds, these 7 individuals were able to rise to the top through their hard work.

Below you’ll find the success stories of some well-known entrepreneurs who surpassed the difficulties inherent to their upbringing.

 

          Oprah Winfrey

When she was still a baby, Winfrey’s parents separated and left their daughter to live with her grandparents. For the first six years of her life, she wore clothes made out of potato sacks. Winfrey’s mother decided to take her back in and during that time, not only did she endure the abuse of her relatives, but she also lost a baby. At 14 years old, she was sent back to live with her father after trying to run away from home.

Her father was strict and would not accept anything less than her best. This change of environment turned her life around. She became an honor student, won a full scholarship to college and became the first African American woman to become a news anchor, at the age of 19.

She became the host for an early morning talk show named AM Chicago, which was later renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. Since then, she has used her significant resources to launch her own network titled, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Depending only on her own determination and perseverance, she went from a childhood of extreme poverty to an empire that is currently worth around $2.6 billion, according to Forbes.

 

          Howard Schultz

Schultz grew up in Brooklyn, in affordable housing projects, and always wished to have a better life than his parents did. Thankfully, he excelled at sports and eventually earned a football scholarship to the University of Northern Michigan.

After graduating with a degree in communications, Schultz started his career at Xerox before discovering a small coffee shop called Starbucks. He still remembers the first time he visited, in Seattle “I can’t explain it, but I knew I was in a special place and the type of product spoke to me”.

Charmed by the coffee, he left Xerox to become the company’s chief executive in 1987. He began with 60 shops and now has more than 21,000 stores in 65 countries, while building a net worth of $5.2 billion.

In a past interview, Schultz said: “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. I may have a suit and tie on now but I know where I’m from and I know what it’s like.”

Remembering where he started served as motivation for his hard work and he didn’t let other people’s expectations hold him back in the pursuit of his dreams.

 

          Ursula Burns

Burns also grew up in a social housing project, in Manhattan, in an area where gang activity was dangerously active. She was raised by her single mom, who worked two jobs so she could afford to give her children a better education. Her efforts paid off and Burns got in New York University.

She excelled at math and science at a time when women were being discouraged from taking these courses. Burns used her academic prowess to land a summer internship at Xerox, as she was completing her Master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

She proceeded to work her way up the company ladder. Today, Burns is the chief executive officer at Xerox which makes her the first African American CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. This is quite an accomplishment considering the fact that there are only 16 female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies.

Her ambition and diligence allowed her to break a cycle of struggle.

 

          Steve Jobs

Jobs’ is the son of two young, working-class, immigrant parents who struggled to support him and make ends meet, so he was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs, who pledged to create a college fund for their son.

However, Jobs was never a big fan of formal education, instead he preferred to invest his time learning about computers and technology, a fascination of his.

So, after dropping out of college after his first semester, he started working at a video game manufacturing company. At 21, Jobs created the first-ever Apple machine together with Steve Wozniak. They funded their entrepreneurial adventure by selling Jobs’ Volkswagen bus and Wozniak’s scientific calculator.

Only 2 years later, at 23 years old, Jobs was worth $1 million. He was the youngest person on Forbes’ list of the USA’s richest people at the time — a big achievement considering he didn’t inherit any family wealth. At 24 he made $10 million and crossed the $100 million mark by the time he was 25. At the time of his passing, he was reportedly worth $10.2 billion.

 

          Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi came from a self-described “humble middle class” environment in India. She moved to the US in pursuit of a management degree with barely any money.

She worked as a receptionist from midnight to sunrise to earn enough to buy her first suit for a job interview and to pay for her college tuition. All of her work paid off as she landed positions at top firms Johnson & Johnson and Motorola upon graduation.

After six years of directing international corporate strategy projects at Boston Consulting Group and another four years as vice president at Asea Brown Boveri, Nooyi is now the CEO at PepsiCo earning more than $10 million dollars a year.

A strong work ethic allowed Indra Nooyi to rise from her humble beginnings to be voted the most powerful woman of the year in 2010 by Fortune Magazine.

 

          Leonardo Del Vecchio

Del Vecchio was one of five children who could not be supported by his widowed mother. For that reason he was sent to an orphanage at age 7 and never got adopted. With barely anything to his name, at just 14 years old, he started working in a factory making molds for auto parts and eyeglass frames. 5 years later he joined evening classes to study industrial engineering, continuing to work during the day all along in order to afford it.

At 23, he opened his own eyeglass frame molding shop. That shop ended up expanding to the world’s largest producer of sunglasses and prescription eyewear.

Leonardo Del Vecchio is now 85 years old and his current net worth is $26.6 billion, making him the 2nd wealthiest person in Italy. He is known for his futuristic approach and timely business decisions and strategies, that drove his company to now manufacture for some of the world’s most famous brands such as Ray ban, Versace, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Prada, Chanel and Armani.

 

          Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel lived in a poorhouse in France, late 19th century. Her mother passed away when she was only 12 years old and her father decided to send her to a convent known to care for the ‘poor and rejected’. Even though it was a harsh period of her life, that’s where she learned the art of sewing – a skill that would evidently change her life.

When Chanel turned 18, she moved out and started her career as a seamstress and cabaret singer. The dream of becoming a popular performer didn’t last long. It was during this time she met Etienne Balsan, an ex calvary officer and textile heir. He introduced her to a life of extravagancy where she discovered her passion for luxury fashion.

Chanel ended up meeting an English man named Captain Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, who financed her first boutique. Her classic, elegant, simple styles were a huge hit with the upper classes, so much that she was able to pay back her husband’s initial investment within the first year and open a second shop.

In the early 1900’s Chanel’s primary way to grow her business was through networking (with influential women in France). Credited with introducing casual wear to women’s fashion and making black clothing popular, she used her creativity and talent to create an iconic fashion legacy that lives on to this day.

 

These self-made entrepreneurs show us that you do not have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to find success. They were able to use their intellects, skills and non-monetary resources to reach the top of their business, despite their humble beginnings.

We hope these stories of resilience and strength inspire you to become the best version of yourself.

 

“Your journey begins with a choice to get up, step out and live fully” – Oprah Winfrey