1. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO and Chairman, Goldman Sachs
He was a strong enough student to earn a full ride to Harvard. The realization that his father’s job as a sorter for the Postal Service was replaced by a machine after he retired was something that frightened Blankfein — motivating him to Harvard Law and later to Wall Street.
In April, Al Sharpton and Lloyd Blankfein bonded during a financial regulation speech Obama gave at Cooper Union after Sharpton found out they used to be neighbors.
2. Larry Ellison, Oracle Co-Founder and CEO
But he worked his way up with zero family connections and no inherited wealth. Ellison didn’t know he was adopted until he was 12.
Ellison dropped out of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign after his adoptive mother died. He later enrolled at the University of Chicago, only to drop out after a semester from poor grades. (Ellison’s best friend, Steve Jobs is also adopted).
Ellison ended up going from one odd job to another, with just enough to survive on fast food and buy gas. He eventually got a job at Ampex Corporation in the 1970s where he found his calling. In Mike Wilson’s book “The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison,” Wilson wrote that Ellison and two co-workers Ed Oates and Bob Miner worked on a project that would be the start of the billion-dollar software empire, Oracle.
Ellison once joked that he “had all the disadvantages required for success.”
3. Ursula Burns, Xerox CEO
Burns’ mother, whom she calls her biggest influence, constantly repeated different sayings to her while she was a child. The mantras included: “Where you are is not who you are.”
According to Entrepreneur, he started his first job at the age of nine when Dejoria, his mom, and his brother would wake up at 4 a.m. everyday to fold and deliver newspapers.
But at one point his mom could not support him anymore, and he was sent to a foster home. He was homeless twice before making his fortune, including when he was 22, working jobs from being a janitor to driving a tow truck.
Dejoria was left to take care of his 2-year-old son on his own and was so poor he resorted to exchanging soda bottles for change. The turning point came when he got a job working as a salesperson at Redken hair company and was influenced to start a hair company with his friend Paul Mitchell. He is now worth $4 billion.
5. Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul
Oprah Winfrey was born to unmarried teenage parents. As a child, she split time between her mother Vernita who lived in Milwaukee, Wis. and her father Vernon who lived in Nashville, Tenn. reports the Biography Channel. Her mother was never really around much to take care of her, and Winfrey was abused by several family friends and relatives in Milwaukee.
Winfrey’s first job? She worked as a “quiet grocery store worker” and was not allowed to talk to customers.
In 1968, she moved permanently to Nashville after becoming pregnant at the age of 14. After her week-old baby died, her father decided to help her turn her life around by instilling strict discipline and making sure that she would get an education, reports People.
She eventually became an honors student in high school and attended Tennessee State University on a full scholarship. Winfrey later transitioned into television, and became Nashville’s first African-American female news anchor.
6. Sheldon Adelson, CEO and Chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp
Anderson grew up in working-class Dorchester, Massachusetts. His father was a cab driver and his mother ran a knitting store.
Adelson’s first taste of business was at the age of 12 when Adelson started selling newspapers on local street corners. Eventually Adelson wanted to own the newspaper corner, and borrowed $200 from a credit union to do so. “I come from a very poor family. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I had to work for everything I had,” Adelson said.
He has received honorary degrees from top schools like Harvard Business School and Columbia Business School, but never graduated from college himself. He studied corporate finance at the City College of New York but dropped out.
7. Howard Schultz, Starbucks Chairman and CEO
Schultz’s humble beginnings have also influenced the way he runs the company. The Guardian reports that Schultz was always interested in creating a company that his own father (who worked as a truck driver, factory worker and taxi driver) never got the chance to work for.
When Schultz was 7, his father lost his job working as a diaper service delivery driver after he broke his ankle. Schultz’s Starbucks is known for providing healthcare benefits to its employees. According to Entrepreneur, Schultz grew up in the Canarsie Projects of Brooklyn. Schultz lived in a cramped two-bedroom unit in an apartment building that housed about 150 families. He recalled how embarrassed he would be when he found out that the sleepaway camp he went to as a kid one summer was “a subsidized program for underprivileged kids”.
Schultz eventually went to Northern Michigan University on an athletic scholarship, being the first person in his family to go to college.
8. Guy Laliberte, Cirque Du Soleil Founder and CEO
But Laliberte has been taking big gambles since the early 1980s when he dropped out of college at the age of 19. Strapped for cash but doing what he loved, he worked on the streets of Europe and Canada as a street performer. He blew fire and walked on stilts, and eventually got a troupe together that entertained people on the street — from juggling and dancing to playing songs.
He took his circus group of street performers all the way from Quebec to the Los Angeles Arts Festival in 1987, praying that they would capture an audience. (Laliberte didn’t have had enough gas money for the ride back).
But major luck was on Laliberte’s side when he and his acrobatic troupe captured casino mogul Steve Wynn’s eye. Wynn brought Cirque du Soleil to Las Vegas four years later. Since then Cirque du Soleil empire has created Laliberte a $2.5 billion fortune for Laliberte, according to Forbes.
9. Roman Abramovich, Oil Tycoon and Owner of Chelsea FC
He later dropped out of college and served in the army, and later started his controversial business career. He reportedly sold stolen gasoline to other officers in his unit. After he left the army he got married and took the money his in-laws gave him on his wedding day and started a business selling plastic ducks from a tiny Moscow apartment.
Abramovich also spent a good amount of time working as a street trader and as a mechanic at a local factory. Selling black-market goods helped to triple his wealth and gave him the chance to run a plastic toy manufacturing plant. His ambition eventually landed him in the oil business where he made billions. In 1995 he and his business partner bought Russia’s Sibneft Oil Company for a song. Abramovich later moved on to the aluminum industry and acquired the U.K.’s Chelsea soccer team in 2003.
10. Li Ka- Shing, Chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Limited and Cheung Kong Holdings
Ka-Shing is the chairman of two enormous holding companies Hutchinson Whampoa Limited and Cheung Kong Holdings. (His empire boasts gigantic holdings in health and beauty and shipping industries.) At age 15, he was forced to quit school after his father died of tuberculosis, eventually finding work in a plastics factory where he worked 16 hours a day.
After years of working at the factory, he eventually created his own company, building on his accumulated knowledge of the plastics industry. His charity organization, the Li Ka-Shing Foundation, was created in 1980 and has donated a total of about $1.45 billion so far. The foundation focuses on medical care and education — neither of which Ka-Shing received as a child.