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Born poor, now self-made billionaires

Last updated on: November 20, 2009 18:36 IST

Born poor, now self-made billionaires

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Rediff Business Desk in Mumbai

Meet the inspiring people who struggled against all odds to make it big. They turned adversities into advantages. From being without food, to taking up all kinds of odd jobs, they have proved that nothing is impossible! Their success stories reflect passion, hard work and excellence.

"I have had all of the disadvantages required for success."

Larry Ellison

He was adopted by a middle class family in Chicago nine months after he was born to an unwed Jewish lady. Larry Ellison, co-founder and  CEO of Oracle Corporation was a bright student, showed a good aptitude for maths and science. But he left the University of Illinois at the end of his second year, after his mother died.

He later studied computer designing. He moved to California where he did several odd jobs for about 8 years. Finally, as a programmer at Ampex, he participated in building the first IBM-compatible mainframe system. In 1977, Ellison and two of his Ampex colleagues, Robert Miner and Ed Oates, founded their own company, Software Development Labs with just $1400 from his savings. The company was later renamed Oracle Corporation.

He is currently listed on the Forbes list of billionaires as the fourth richest person in the world. Ellison is the third richest American, with an estimated net worth of $27 billion as of September 2009 . The 65-year old Ellison known for his extravagant lifestyle, races sailboats and flies planes.


Image: Larry Ellison

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Ed Liddy

Ed Liddy, former chief executive officer of American International Group (AIG) had to face lot of hardships before he rose to great heights. Ed Liddy's father died when he was just 12 years old. According to a BusinessWeek report, he had a poverty-stricken childhood.

Liddy graduated from Catholic University of America in 1968 and received a master's degree in business administration from George Washington University in 1972. He worked with Ford Motor before joining G D Searle & Co in 1981.

The 63-year old Liddy earned about $130 million during his eight-year tenure at Allstate. In the wake of the financial crisis, Ed Liddy came to rescue the ailing AIG, worked for a salary of $1. But the act turned disastrous when the company handed out employee bonuses totally $165 million after it had accepted $170 billion in government bailout funds.

This forced him to quit AIG.


Image: Ed Liddy.

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"China traditionally has been a tea-drinking country but we turned them into coffee drinkers."

Howard Schultz

A successful entrepreneur, 56-year old Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO Starbucks in his younger days was determined to win the battle over poverty. He became the first person to graduate in his family.

Schultz's inspiring journey started when he went to Seattle to check out a popular coffee bean store called Starbucks, which was buying many of the Hammarplast Swedish drip coffeemakers he sold. He finally joined the company and was promoted as head of marketing and operations in 1982.

But he parted ways as the owners refused to accept his plans of offering coffee in stores or diversifying into restaurants. Schultz went ahead and started his own coffee-bar business, called Il Giornale.

Interestingly, a year later Schultz bought Starbucks for $3.8 million. As CEO of Starbucks in 2008, Schultz earned a total compensation of $9,740,471, which included a base salary of $1,190,000.


Image: Howard Schultz

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Ursula Burns

Ursula M. Burns became the first black lady to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in July 2009. The 51-year-old Burns started her career as an engineering intern in 1980.

Burns led several business teams including the office color and fax business and office network printing business. In April 2007, Burns was named president of Xerox, expanding her leadership to include the company's IT organisation, corporate strategy, human resources, corporate marketing and global accounts.

Burns ranked 10th in the Fortune list of '50 Most Powerful Women in America'.  Her salary package for 2008 stood at $887,500, but total compensation stood at a whopping $6,003,126.

In an interview with the New York Times, she described growing up poor with "lots of Jewish immigrants, fewer Hispanics and African-Americans, but the great equaliser was poverty." Burns' mother used to run a home day care centre.


Image: Ursula Burns

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Lloyd Blankfein

Son of a clerk, the 55-year old Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs is today one of the richest executives in the world. Blankfein started his career as a corporate tax lawyer for the law firm Donovan, Leisure, Newton Irvine.

In 1981, he joined Goldman's commodities trading arm, J Aron, as a precious metals salesman in their London office.

Blankfein hit the headlines recently when he apologised for Goldman's role in the financial crisis, saying that the bank "participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret."

Lloyd's total compensation in the last fiscal stood at $25.84 million.


Image: Lloyd Blankfein

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Frank Stronach

Billionaire Frank Stronach who owns Magna International, a global automotive company belonged to a poor family. He moved to Canada from Austria in 1954 with about $40 with a working knowledge of tool and machine engineering.

In 1957 he formed a tool and die company, Multimatic Investments Limited, which subsequently expanded into the production of automotive components. In 1969, Multimatic Investments Limited merged with Magna Electronics Corporation Limited, and subsequently became Magna International Inc.

In 1971 Stronach introduced his management philosophy, known as Fair Enterprise, to Magna. Fair Enterprise is based on a business Charter of Rights that predetermines the annual percentage of profits shared between employees, management, investors and society, and makes every employee a shareholder in Magna.

Magna International is today a global automotive empire with 326 manufacturing plants, engineering centres and sales offices across North America, South America, Asia and Europe that employ about 82,000 people. The 77-year old Stronach's net worth is $661 million.


Image: Frank Stronach

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"The two most powerful things in existence: a kind word and a thoughtful gesture."

Ken Langone

Ken Langone is a venture capitalist, an investment banker and co-founder of Home Depot, one of the most successful companies in the Fortune 500. His father was a plumber and his mother worked in a cafeteria. His parents had to mortgage their house to send Langone to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

An ambitious and optimistic Langone worked as a ditch digger and a butcher's assistant to make money while studying. After graduating, Langone found a job in the investment department of Equitable Life Assurance company, where he worked full time while attending night classes four nights a week at the New York University School of Business.

He got his MBA from NYU in 1960. Today, the New York University sponsors a night school program called the Langone Program in the Leonard Stern School of Business with a curriculum that includes Ken Langone's business model.

The 73-year old Ken Langone believes in business relations based on integrity and ability. As an investment banker and entrepreneur, his business record highlights the values of persistence and sound business principles. His total compensation as director of Home Depot in 2008 stood at $1,136,219.00.


Image: Ken Langone

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"Why do I need succession planning? I'm very alert, I'm very vibrant. I have no intention to retire."

Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson started working at a young age selling newspapers. He then took up roles as a mortgage broker, investment adviser and financial consultant.

The 76-year old Adelson is the chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corp, the parent company of Venetian Macao Limited which operates The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

Sheldon Gary Adelson started a business selling toiletry kits, and in the 1960s he started a chartered tour business with two friends. He went to the City College of New York but did not complete his graduation.

Adelson's estimated wealth was of $26.5 billlion, making him the third richest person in the United States according to Forbes for both 2007 and 2008. In the 2009 list, his ranking dropped to 178 with a net worth of $3.4 billion.


Image: Sheldon Adelson

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Ken Lewis

The high profile chairman of Bank of America, Ken Lewis worked his way through Georgia State University as an accountant and an airline ticket-agent, graduating with a finance degree in 1969. He worked as a credit analyst at North Carolina National Bank.

The bank was eventually taken over by Bank of America. He became Bank of America's chief operating officer in 1999 and chairman in 2005.

In April, the Bank of America shareholders voted to separate the positions of Chairman of the Board and CEO, effectively removing CEO 61-year old Lewis from his position as Chairman of the Board of BofA, though he remained both the bank's president and its CEO due to the shareholders' resentment over the takeover of Merril Lynch for $50 billion. 

Lewis has announced his retirement from Bank of America effective as of December 31, 2009. The Securities and Exchange Commission and New York's Attorney General are investigating whether Lewis misled Bank of America shareholders before the Merrill Lynch acquisition.

Merrill has paid out billions in bonuses to its staff that were allegedly not fully disclosed. His annual compensation in 2008 fiscal year stood at $1,500,000.


Image: Ken Lewis.

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"When you're a self-made man you start very early in life. In my case it was at nine years old when I started bringing income into the family. You get a drive that's a little different, maybe a little stronger, than somebody who inherited."

Kirk Kerkorian

Billionaire Kerkorian owns Tracinda Corporation. He is also known as one of the key figures in shaping the city of Las Vegas. Kerkorian, however likes to keep a low profile.

His charitable foundation has granted more than $200 million but has not allowed anything to bear his name. His father was an illiterate immigrant. But Kerkorian had made up his mind to make it big. However, he was expelled from Foshay Junior High for fighting. He joined another school but dropped out in the eighth grade.

He worked hard, taking up many odd jobs to help his poor parents. He became an amateur boxer under the tutelage of his older brother Nish, a boxer. At 17, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. When he was 25 he joined the Morton Air Academy where he rose to the rank of a lieutenant and became an army flight instructor.

During World War II Kirk flew daredevil missions across the Atlantic for the Royal Air Force. He then started a plane charter service. He took it public in 1965. In 1968 he sold out to the TransAmerica Corporation. Kerkorian got about $85 million worth of stock in the TransAmerica conglomerate.

In 1973 he acquired MGM, the famous movie studio, and opened the MGM Grand Hotel, which was the largest hotel in the world at that time. In 1992 Kerkorian started MGM Grand Air, a super luxury airline that only flew LA-NY flights. But he had to close down in 1994. The 91-year old Kerkorian with a net worth $5 billion is the world's 98th richest person.


Image: Kirk Kerkorian.

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Angelo R Mozilo

Angelo R Mozilo was the co-founder and chief executive officer of Countrywide Financial until July 1, 2008. The 70-year old Mozilo started the company in 1969.

The company soon grew to become one of the biggest mortgage lenders in the US. Countrywide was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1984. They granted huge loans to borrowers without verifying their repayment abilities.

Promoting risky loans, the company played a crucial role in huge subprime mortgage crisis. Finally, this led to the collapse of the company. The company was subsequently taken over by the Bank of America. CNN named Mozilo as one of the 'Ten Most Wanted: Culprits' of the 2008 financial collapse in the United States.

The Securities and Exchange Commission in June filed civil-fraud charges for 'deliberately misleading investors about the significant credit risks being taken in efforts to build and maintain the company's market share.'

Mozilo's compensation during the housing bubble from 2001-06 is under scrutiny. During that period, his total compensation (including salary, bonuses, options and restricted stock) was $470 million.

A butcher's son, Angelo Mozilo worked hard right from his childhood to make ends meet.


Image: Angelo R Mozilo

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