Everyone loves an underdog story, especially of the rags-to-riches type. It’s pure inspiration to hear about famous millionaires and billionaires who started with nothing and climbed their way up to the ranks of the rich and famous. After all, that’s what the American dream is all about, isn’t it? Starting with nothing, working hard and “making it”?
If you’re looking for your dose of daily motivation, take a look at these stories of well-known finance experts and investors who came from little to nothing but managed to find their place among the wealthiest Americans.
Suze Orman is one of the most well-known names in popular finance today. In addition to countless appearances on financial news networks and mainstream media, including Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Orman wroted and hosted a number of PBS specials and had her own radio and TV shows. She currently hosts “Suze Orman’s Women & Money Podcast.”
The author of over a dozen books, many of them New York Times bestsellers, Orman has a net worth of approximately $75 million, but she wasn’t born into multimillionaire status. After growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a working-class family, Orman took some financial missteps early on and soon ended up with $250,000 in credit card debt and a $50,000 loan. Orman’s financial career began when she got a job as a broker at Merrill Lynch. After climbing the ladder and ultimately becoming a vice president of investments at Prudential Bache Securities, Orman went on to found her own firm, the Suze Orman Financial Group. The rest, as they say, is history.
Mark Cuban is the outspoken billionaire that everyone seems to know, thanks to his ownership of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and his prominent role on TV’s “Shark Tank.” Cuban is famous for dispensing financial advice, but he’s equally candid about his own rags-to-riches success. After years of sharing an apartment with six buddies, running up credit card debt and not being able to pay his bills, Cuban put in the effort to teach himself how to program.
After years of working around computers — and continually learning — Cuban eventually founded his own computer systems company, MicroSolutions. Cuban ultimately sold that company for $6 million, but he was far from done. Five years later, Cuban and his friend Todd Wagner founded Broadcast.com, a company that was purchased by Yahoo in 1999 for a whopping $5.6 billion. Now with a net worth of approximately $4.7 billion, according to Forbes, Cuban attributes his success to his willingness to continue to learn. As the billionaire told Men’s Health, “The reality is, most people don’t put in the time to keep up and learn. That’s always given me a competitive advantage.”
George Soros is a famed hedge fund manager who currently boasts an astonishing net worth of $8.6 billion, according to Forbes. His most famous investment call was when he shorted the British pound in 1992, netting an incredible $1 billion profit for his efforts. But Soros’ modest upbringing gave no indication that he would become one of the wealthiest people in the world.
Soros was born in Hungary in 1930 to a Jewish family during the rise of Nazi Germany. After surviving the war thanks to false identity papers, he emigrated from Hungary at age 17, taking jobs in London as a railway porter and night club waiter. After nine years of struggling to pay for his education at the London School of Economics, Soros moved to the United States in 1956 and amassed a fortune working in finance and investments. In 1973, he opened his own hedge fund, Soros Fund Management, and went on to earn a spot as one of America’s most successful investors.
There is perhaps no investor more famous than Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway known as the “Oracle of Omaha.” But Buffett has come a long way from his birth in Omaha during the Great Depression to his rank as the fifth-wealthiest person in the world – and one of the most philanthropic, having given away $48 billion and pledged to donate 99% of his wealth, Forbes reported.
Like Mark Cuban, Buffett has drawn a lesson from everything he has done in his life, like when he bought his first stock at $38 per share — at age 11 — and sold it at $40. The lesson wasn’t that he made $2 per share, but that by watching the stock too closely, he bailed out and could do nothing but watch as the stock later hit $200 per share. But Buffett also learned a lot by selling chewing gum at age 6, and by delivering newspapers at age 13.
After attending business school and mentoring under famous investor Benjamin Graham, Buffett founded his own investment firm at age 26. Within six years, Buffett had earned his first $1 million, and by 1985, Forbes estimated his net worth at $1 billion. Thirty-seven years later, Buffett’s net worth sits at $100.9 billion.
Ray Dalio may not be known by the average American, but he’s one of the wealthiest people in the world, ranking No. 66 on the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List with a net worth of $22 billion.
Dalio is the founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, with $154 billion under management. He made his first stock investment at age 12, buying $300 of Northeast Airlines, a position that tripled for him. Dalio had a keen eye — and ear — for investments even at this young age, as he got the tip on Northeast Airlines from his job as a golf caddy.
From there, the Queens native worked his way through Long Island University and Harvard Business School before getting his first job on Wall Street. He founded Bridgewater Associates shortly thereafter. He’s now one of the most influential investors on Wall Street, with Wired Magazine even dubbing Dalio the “Steve Jobs of investing.”
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Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.