There are two main roads to becoming a billionaire: inheriting your fortune or building your wealth on your own. Only those who build their own fortunes can be considered “self-made.”
Forbes created a “self-made score” to rank billionaires on a scale from silver spooners (1) to bootstrappers who overcame major obstacles along the way (10). The following self-made billionaires earned a 9 or 10 on Forbes’ scale. Click through to see which billionaires built their wealth from the ground up.
- Net worth: $6.3 billion
Fashion icon Ralph Lauren — born Ralph Lifshitz — grew up in the Bronx, New York, as the son of Jewish immigrants. His first job in fashion was working as a part-time stock boy at a local department store when he was a teenager, Forbes reported.
Lauren started his eponymous company in 1967 at a tiny office in the Empire State Building. His big break came when Neiman Marcus placed an order for 1,200 of his ties. From there, the Ralph Lauren brand grew. Lauren stepped down as CEO in 2015, but he still controls 84% of the voting rights.
- Net worth: $6.7 billion
Born in Hungary, hedge fund tycoon George Soros left his home country at 17 to attend the London School of Economics. He put himself through school by working as a railway porter and waiter, Forbes reported.
Soros worked as a hedge fund manager in New York from 1969 to 2011, and famously shorted the British pound in 1992 to make a reported $1 billion profit. The fund that he founded, Soros Fund Management, LLC, still manages an estimated $8.4 billion in funds.
- Net worth: $7.6 billion
David Geffen is now the richest man in Hollywood, but he truly started at the bottom of the ranks. Born to Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, Geffen’s first job in the entertainment industry was working in the mailroom at the William Morris talent agency.
Geffen worked his way up to be an agent, and eventually branched out to found and co-found his own companies within the industry, including Asylum Records, Geffen Records, DGC Records and DreamWorks.
- Net worth: $81.7 billion
Sergey Brin moved to the U.S. with his family from Russia when he was 6 years old. A true American dream story, Brin went on to attend the University of Maryland and Stanford, where he met Larry Page. Together, they co-founded Google in 1998. Brin gave up his role as president of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, in 2019. Today, Forbes reported, Brin is the funding source of a high-tech airship project.
- Net worth: $2.5 billion
Oprah Winfrey is so famous that she only has to go by one name, but her upbringing contrasts sharply with the glitz and glamour of her life now. The longtime talk show host was born to a teen mother in rural Mississippi and grew up without indoor plumbing. Despite her tough childhood, Winfrey went on to host her talk show for 25 years and parlay it into a business and media empire.
Forbes estimated that the reinvested profits from her show and her film projects would add up to more than $2 billion, and she also owns 25.5% of the OWN cable channel — a stake that’s worth roughly $65 million.
In March 2020, she headlined a show about COVID-19 as part of her deal with Apple TV+ to create original content. A year later, she conducted a blockbuster interview with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, about why they left their roles as senior members of Great Britain’s royal family and relocated to California.
- Net worth: $13.3 billion
David Green, the founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, grew up poor. He is the son of a preacher and once worked as a stock boy at a general store for 60 cents an hour, Forbes reported.
He opened the first Hobby Lobby store in 1970 in Oklahoma City with a $600 loan. Green’s single craft store has expanded into an entire empire with 957 locations in 46 states that brought in $6.4 billion in sales in 2020.
- Net worth: $1.4 billion
Robyn Rihanna Fenty, commonly known as Rihanna, grew up in a troubled household in Barbados with a father who fought addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine. At the same time, she tried to get through her childhood while facing severe headaches. To escape her troubles, she formed an all-girl singing group, and when she was 15, a music producer discovered her. She moved in with the producer and his wife in Connecticut, and eventually auditioned for Jay-Z. Her music career was born.
She joined with French retailer LVMH to found the Fenty Beauty line, named after her given last name. Forbes reported Fenty brought in more than $550 million in revenue in 2020.
Charles Dolan and Family
- Net worth: $4.6 billion
Cable pioneer Charles Dolan dropped out of college and got his start in the TV business by creating sports newsreels for local stations out of his home in Cleveland. In 1952, he moved to New York and earned a living making industrial films.
He went on to found the predecessor to HBO, sold it in 1973, and then founded Cablevision. He sold what became a giant cable company to Altice for $17.7 billion in 2016, Forbes reported. He, his wife and their six children now hold controlling stakes in AMC Networks and Madison Square Garden’s sports and entertainment companies.
Harold Hamm and Family
- Net worth: $19 billion
Harold Hamm single-handedly transformed the U.S. oil industry by bringing fracking to North Dakota’s Bakken region in the 1990s. But before he got rich off of oil, he spent his childhood picking cotton. Born to Oklahoma sharecroppers, Hamm eventually went from working in the fields to working at a gas station.
His first business was a trucking company that transported water to and from oilfields. Then in 1971, he took out a loan to drill his first well. Today he runs Continental Resources, one of America’s largest independent oil companies. Hamm and his five children own 80% of the company, which produces enough oil and gas to fill 400,000 barrels a day, Forbes reported.
- Net worth: $11.3 billion
Israel Englander’s parents immigrated from Poland in 1947 after spending time in a labor camp in the former Soviet Union. His father’s family was killed in the Holocaust. Israel was raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he developed an interest in stock trading.
A hedge fund trader, Englander founded Millennium Management with $35 million in 1989. Forbes reported the hedge fund has nearly $53 billion under its management.
- Net worth: $11.3 billion
Diane Hendricks, the co-founder and chairperson of ABC Supply, grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin with her eight sisters. In 1982, she and her husband Ken co-founded ABC, one of America’s largest wholesale distributors of roofing, siding and windows.
She has run it since his death in 2007 and led it through two major acquisitions. ABC Supply now has close to 800 locations and earned nearly $15 billion in revenues in 2021, Forbes reported.
- Net worth: $17.1 billion
A med school dropout who grew up in Queens, New York, Carl Icahn is now one of the most successful Wall Street investors of all time. He started as a broker in the ’60s, eventually founding a brokerage firm in 1968. He made his fortune in the ’80s through corporate raiding. He has given part of his fortune to the New York medical community, donating $200 million to what is called the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Forbes said.
- Net worth: $10.7 billion
Shahid Khan came to the U.S. from Pakistan at age 16 with only $500 to his name. He attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and supported himself by working nights as a dishwasher. With a background in engineering, Khan can credit his fortune to his design for a one-piece truck bumper. His Flex-N-Gate auto parts supplier now has 69 plants worldwide and 26,000-plus employees, Forbes reported.
Since December 2011, he has owned the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League. Later, Khan bought the Fulham football club of the English Premier League.
John Menard, Jr.
- Net worth: $15.9 billion
John Menard Jr., the founder of the Menards home improvement stores, grew up on a farm in Wisconsin with his seven siblings. In 1958, he opened a construction business, which he financed by working nights at a local movie theater.
Menards originally started as a pole building business. But as customers began asking for lumber and other building materials, Menard expanded his business to sell these items. His home improvement chain now has over 300 stores and amasses about $13 billion in annual sales, according to Forbes.
- Net worth: $28.4 billion
Len Blavatnik was born in Ukraine and raised outside of Moscow. He came to America in 1978 to study at Columbia University. The foundation of his wealth came from the “aluminum wars” in Russia during the ’90s, during which he began buying newly privatized aluminum plants, Bloomberg reported.
He also invested in oil, purchasing a 40% stake in the oil company TNK in 1997. Blavatnik sold his stake in 2013 for $7 billion, Forbes reported. He is also the owner of Warner Music and has a holding company with stakes in e-commerce company Rocket Internet, fashion label Tory Burch and more.
Tom & Judy Love
- Net worth: $9.6 billion
Tom Love dropped out of college to join the Marines. When he returned, he and his wife, Judy, founded the first Love’s Travel Stops & Country Store in 1964 at a gas station that they leased with a $5,000 loan from his parents. Today, the Love’s convenience store chain has more than 490 locations across 41 states and boasts revenues of $20 billion, Forbes reported.
- Net worth: $13.4 billion
WhatsApp is the world’s biggest messaging service, and Jan Koum is the main man behind it as its co-founder and former CEO. But before he was one of the richest people in tech, Koum and his mother immigrated to California from Ukraine when he was 16. He swept floors to help make ends meet.
Koum dropped out of San Jose State University and eventually worked at Yahoo. He stayed there for almost nine years before leaving to start WhatsApp, which was bought by Facebook for $22 billion in 2014. Koum resigned as the company’s CEO four years later.
- Net worth: $6.6 billion
Hedge fund founder Bruce Kovner once worked as a New York City cab driver, but he’s come a long way from living off passenger tips. He founded the global macro hedge fund Caxton Associates and ran it for three decades; he retired in 2011. He is now the chairman of CAM Capital, which manages his personal investment and business portfolios.
- Net worth: $7.5 billion
Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus grew up in a fourth-floor walk-up tenement in New Jersey as the son of Russian immigrants. He dreamed of going to Harvard Medical School but couldn’t afford it. Still, he managed to become a huge success without an Ivy League degree.
He and Arthur Blank co-founded Home Depot in 1978 after being fired from the hardware store where they worked. They took the company public in 1981.
- Net worth: $6.8 billion
Patrick Soon-Shiong grew up in South Africa, the child of Chinese immigrants and one of eight children. His parents owned a general store, and Soon-Shiong worked as a newspaper delivery boy as a teenager to earn money for college. A brilliant student, he started college at 16 and went on to become a doctor at 23.
Hospitals were still segregated by the time he had his degree, but Soon-Shiong was determined to work at a white hospital, even though this meant earning half the salary of his white colleagues. He followed one of his mentors to Los Angeles, where he and his wife moved with no car and very little money.
Soon-Shiong began working at UCLA but left to develop drugs, including the successful cancer drug Abraxane. He made $9.1 billion from the sale of his drug companies Abraxis and American Pharmaceuticals, Forbes reported. In 2018, he diversified his holdings by buying the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune for $500 million.
- Net worth: $7.4 billion
John Morris started Bass Pro Shops in 1972 when he began selling fish tackle in the back of his father’s liquor store in Springfield, Missouri. In 2017, he doubled the size of Bass Pro Shops when he bought Cabela’s, a rival, for $5 billion. The combined company has $6.5 billion in annual sales, Forbes reported.
- Net worth: $20.8 billion
Digital trading pioneer Thomas Peterffy grew up penniless in Hungary, but that didn’t stop him from becoming an extremely successful entrepreneur. And he got started early. While he was in high school in Hungary, Peterffy sold contraband Juicy Fruit gum to his classmates at a 500% markup, Forbes reported.
At 21, he immigrated to the United States and began working as an engineer. He was able to save up $200,000, which he used to buy a $36,000 seat on the American Stock Exchange. He went from trading options to eventually founding his own brokerage, Interactive Brokers, in 1993, which is how he made his wealth. In 2019, he stepped down as CEO but remains chairman of the board.
- Net worth: $6.2 billion
A Montana resident, Dennis Washington once lived in government housing and shined shoes for pocket money. After graduating high school, he headed to Alaska to work in construction. His first job was greasing equipment, and he later worked as a heavy crane operator.
He used his construction experience to start his own company, Washington Construction, with a $30,000 loan. Apparently bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, he also started the business group Washington Companies and owns a copper mine and a regional railroad. He also has stakes in two diamond mines and in the container ship company Seaspan Corp.
- Net worth: $89.7 billion
Larry Ellison never finished college. He dropped out of the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Forbes reported. But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a major success story.
Ellison co-founded software company Oracle in 1977 and served as CEO until 2014. He is now chairman of the board and chief technology officer. He still owns 35% of the company, according to Forbes. Two years ago, he moved to the Hawaiian island of Lanai, of which he owns 98%. He bought it in 2012 for $300 million, and in June, The Real Deal wrote that “Ellison is a landlord or boss for most residents – and both for some.”
- Net worth: $10 billion
Autry Stephens grew up on a Texas farm, where his family grew peanuts and fruits. After reading about jobs available in petroleum engineering, he majored in that field at the University of Texas because he thought the job would allow him to travel the world. But he wound up not straying far. In 1979, after some time in the corporate world, he opened business as an independent consulting engineer, and in 1996, formed Big Dog Drilling Company with one rig. That one rig evolved into Endeavor Energy Resources, which Forbes said ranks among the biggest private producers of oil in the nation.
Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.
Disclaimer: some photos are representational only.