Rags to World's ...Some of the world's most acclaimed billionaires had to overcome the biggest hurdles before they found their fortunes. Forbes reveals billionaires who beat the toughest odds on their way to the top.
Steel tycoon’s parents both died by the time he was 4 years old. He was raised by relatives. After brief stretch in Soviet military, sold plastic ducts from his apartment. Participated in controversial Russian oil export deals before taking over oil outlet Sibneft in 1995. Flipped it to Russia's Gazprom for $13 billion a decade later. Bought stake in steel giant Evraz. Soccer fan owns U.K.'s Chelsea club; also world’s biggest yacht. Divorced twice, had his sixth child with his girlfriend in December.
Once sold cards and newspapers to help support his single mother. She later sent him to foster care when she couldn’t support him. Homeless for a time, living in his car and pushing hair care products door-to-door. With $700 cofounded own line of hair care products, John Paul Mitchell Systems, in 1980. Later pioneered high-end tequila market with Patron distillery. Launched ultra-posh Ultimat vodka line last year. Now frequents red carpet events, flashing peace sign for paparazzi.
His single teenage mother who gave birth to Ellison in the Bronx sent him to live in Chicago with his aunt and uncle, who later adopted him. He dropped out of college reportedly after his adoptive mother died. Founded Oracle in 1977, now one of the world's biggest software companies. Got $130 million pay package in 2009, making him second-highest-paid CEO in the U.S., according to our recent compensation survey. Sailing buff owns mega-yacht and won latest America’s Cup.
San Francisco native was adopted by a working-class couple and grew up in nearby Santa Clara, Calif. Dropped out of Reed College when he couldn’t afford tuition but continued auditing classes. Jobs started Apple computer outlet in parents’ garage in 1976. Fired after power struggle 1985. Started Pixar. Returned to Apple 1996. Health of revered chief executive has been scrutinized after he took leave of absence for a liver transplant. Back now, leading continued expansion in music and media through devices and software including iPod, iTunes and new iPad.
China native’s family fled to Hong Kong in 1940. Had to quit school at age 15 after his father died of tuberculosis. Worked in a plastics factory to support his family. Li later made plastic flowers to be exported to the U.S. Today runs Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa, massive conglomerates with interests in ports, oil and gas, electricity, retail, telecom and real estate. Generous donor has given out $1.45 billion to education, medical research.
Acrobat showman started as a stilt-walking, fire-eating street performer. Founded Cirque du Soleil in 1984 with pavement exhibitionist pals. Hit it big when casino mogul Steve Wynn brought act to Las Vegas in 1991. Since then has expanded shows to include themed-versions featuring The Beatles and Elvis. Next up: Michael Jackson shows. Poker guru has won card tournaments; also recorded Web videos from space.
While writing wizardry single mother lived on welfare in Edinburgh, Scotland. Broke and depressed, author once told reporters she contemplated suicide. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1997 and quickly became a bestseller and the first of a seven-book series that captivated children and adults worldwide. First of films series released in 2001. First six of the magical movies grossed more than $5 billion.
Born to single teenage mother, Oprah grew up on grandmother’s farm in Mississippi. Moved to Wisconsin where she says she was a victim of sexual abuse. Talk show debuted in 1986, now a haven for women worldwide. Guests range from celebrities, to politicians to victims of abuse. Expanded empire to include broadcasts in 145 countries, O magazine, esteemed book club and "favorite things" lists. Daytime talk queen is moving show to a night slot on new Oprah Winfrey Network cable channel.