8 Rags to Riches Stories: How These Millionaires & Billionaires Became Wealthy

Who doesn’t love a good rags to riches story?

Freya Kuka of Collecting Cents has compiled a collection of eight of them for your enjoyment. America has more than its share of these inspirational figures, but the list below spans the globe to include successful folks from several continents.

These risk-takers started with very little and wound up with more money than most people dream about.

What lessons can you learn from their stories? Are there principles you can apply to your own pursuit of wealth?




8 Rags to Riches Stories: How These Millionaires & Billionaires Became Wealthy


Some of the most successful people the world has to offer started out with absolutely nothing to call their own. You often hear people whine about how they are destined to always worry about money because they have been ‘dealt a bad hand’ by life.

So, what decisions can you make to play that poor hand well?

Rags to riches stories can not only be the motivation you need to get started but they may also be the idea you need to take the right step at the right time. So, here are what I consider to be some of the most inspiring and informative success stories.


Do Won Chang: Founder of Forever 21



Image via Business Insider

According to the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, Do Won Chang and his wife Jin Sook landed a spot at No. 222 with a combined net worth of $3 billion but they struggled to get there.

Do Won is Korean-born and moved to America looking for opportunity which, at that time, was not easily available in Korea. He did not waste a minute once he landed in Los Angeles on a Saturday.

He had a job as a coffee shop employee by Monday and another two jobs a few weeks later. At the time Do Won was 22 and working three jobs. He worked as a coffee shop employee, added eight more hours on at a local gas station, and kept himself even busier with a third office cleaning job.

It was while he was working at the gas station that he noticed the best cars were always owned by people in the clothing industry. This is what led him to take on a job at a clothing store. After three years of being in the U.S. and saving money on the side, the couple opened up their first store with the $11,000 they had managed to accumulate.

After this, it was all about making the right decisions. Do Wan took advantage of the fast fashion trend and bought clothes directly from manufacturers to save costs.

Throughout his rise to the top, the one thing that aided Do Won was his ability to smell opportunity from a mile away- he sealed the deal by deciding to chase it every time.


J.K Rowling: Author of the Harry Potter series


Photo by Troy Jarrell on Unsplash


I was one of the kids that were lucky enough to grow up on Harry Potter and looking back it is hard to believe that the woman that contributed to some of my childhood was finding it hard to pay rent while she did it.

J.K. Rowling battled depression, financial difficulties, grieving over the death of her mother, and having to raise a child by herself while living on benefits. At the end of a pretty difficult journey, she found comfort in working on her writing while her daughter slept.

Once the first few chapters of the book were complete, she sent the manuscripts to publishers that rejected her left, right, and center. Finally, the Bloomsbury Publishing company agreed to publish the book but warned Rowling that she should get a day job because being a children’s author is not enough to feed a family.

When the first book released it was evident no day job would be needed. Rowling was the first author to reach the billionaire mark and her successful series has sold at least 500 million copies across the globe. The series has made over $7.7 billion with the subsequent movies also bringing in money by the billions.

Rowling’s journey is summed up in her own words.


“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” -J.K. Rowling


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George Soros: The Hedge Fund Tycoon That Escaped the Nazis


George Soros is known as the ‘Man who broke the Bank of England’ due to his sale of the $10 billion worth of the pound sterling currency during the 1992 Black Wednesday UK currency crisis. This sale alone made him a profit of $1 billion.

Looking at his net worth now, it is hard to imagine that Soros was born in Hungary into a Jewish family during the occupation of the Nazis. His family, on numerous occasions, had a brush with death but managed to survive using falsified papers.

After the war, Soros left for London in 1947 and worked as a railway porter and a waiter to get him through his studies at the London School of Economics.

Eventually, he moved to the United States which is where he was destined to make his fortune as one of the most successful investors the world has ever seen.

He has gone on to donate more than $32 billion to the Open Society Foundations which has helped support organizations that fight for democracy, equality, equal opportunity, education, and a free society for all.

If there is one piece of investment advice you could possibly take with you from this story, it should be this:


“Markets are constantly in a state of uncertainty and flux and money is made by discounting the obvious and betting on the unexpected.”- George Soros.


Oprah Winfrey: The First African American Female Billionaire in History


Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954 to a single teenage mother who for the first few years of her life left her to be raised by her maternal grandmother. She was eventually sent back to live with her mother when her grandmother fell ill.

Extreme poverty and sexual assault at the hands of family members eventually led Oprah to run away from home by the age of 13. By 14, she had had her first child who died shortly after.

Things started to turn around during her high school and college years when she won a pageant competition and even started reading the news for a local radio station. At this point, she had managed to get the ball rolling and there was no stopping it.

After she graduated college, she went on to become a news anchor and then a chat show host for the talk show People Are Talking which she co-hosted with Richard Sher.

As time went on she became more known and more liked. It was not long before her own show (The Oprah Winfrey Show) took off.

As of 2020, she is worth $2.6 billion and also went on to found the Oprah Winfrey Network.


Roman Abramovich: Born a Russian Orphan, He Now Owns the Chelsea Soccer Team



Image via Pixabay


Roman Abramovich’s wealth has mostly come in the form of steel and investments. He owns a stake in the steel giant Evraz, the U.K.‘s Chelsea soccer team, and Norilsk Nickel.

However, his journey started as an orphan in Russia who left college to become an entrepreneur. It was evident he had a knack for making a profit out of nothing. That was proven during his time in the military when he sold stolen gasoline to army officers for a profit.

Abramovich liquidated at least 20 different companies during the 1990s which is what really started his journey towards being part of the Forbes’ Billionaires list.

These corporate takeovers were the beginning of his reputation as an investment mogul. With his multiple investments that turned millions in profit, it is fair to say that Roman has done pretty well for someone who was not left a single rouble by his parents.


Grace Groner: The Woman That Turned a $180 Stock Investment Into 7 Million Dollars


Most people make the mistake of thinking that a high paying job is all they need to become financially well off and never have to worry about money again. I would argue that it is less about the money going into your account and more about what you do with it.

Grace Groner has gone down in history as the woman that managed to take her $180 investment in Abbott stocks and grow it to 7 million dollars.

She did this with the help of dividend reinvestments, stock splits, and the natural appreciation of her shares.

By the time she died at age 100, her initial three shares had grown to over 100,000 shares. It only really became noticed when she left the majority of her wealth to her alma mater, Lake Forest College.

Grace’s life was simple even when she had millions in the bank. She never acted like a millionaire. She lived in a one-bedroom cottage, walked instead of using a car, and never spent her money on many ‘wants’.

The key takeaway here is a simple plan that is followed for a long time will always beat a complicated plan that makes adjustments every step of the way.

Grace held on to her stock through 13 recessions, wars, countless economic downturns, and who knows what else. This would have made even the most seasoned investor rethink their decision but the one thing she did right was she never wavered.

The only mistake Grace made was not investing in more companies’ stocks (putting all of her eggs in one basket) but thankfully for her, it worked out.


John Paul DeJoria: He took a stand against animal testing and built a company to prove there was a better option


John Paul was a first-generation American whose entrepreneurship journey started before the age of ten when he started selling newspapers and Christmas cards to help his family financially.

A few years later he started working for the Redken factory and as he was growing up he became increasingly frustrated with the number of products that were tested on animals- shampoos, conditioners, soaps, and pretty much any other cosmetic product that was potentially dangerous was being legally tested on animals.

He decided to create an alternative for people who agreed with him. In the year 1980, he and his friend Paul Mitchell took a $700 loan from the company he worked for and created his own brand — John Paul Mitchell Systems — a cosmetic brand that did not test products on animals.

He slept in his car, sold products door-to-door, and soon discovered his love for the product was shared by his consumers. As of 2020, he is worth $2.7 billion.


[PoF: I believe there is a better option when testing cosmetics. However, animal research has been invaluable in the field of medicine and surgery.]


Steve Jobs: You Are Probably Reading This on a Device He Helped Create



Photo by AB on Unsplash


Steve Jobs was born to immigrant parents and was adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs, a couple based in California- he grew up in what is now known as Silicon Valley.

His father introduced him to electronics at a young age and Jobs was tinkering around with different devices pretty much every day. He was never one for formal education and soon dropped out of college. During this time, he founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in his parents’ garage.

The company grew quickly and soon became a multi-million dollar success story but at around this time, things started to go south.

New products were not doing well in the market and the Macintosh’s failure to sell was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The CEO at the time, John Sculley, forced Jobs to retire after regular arguments with the company’s board of directors.

After selling his shares and leaving his creation behind, Jobs took on numerous other projects whether that was the formation of NeXT Computer Co. or his purchase of Pixar Animation Studios.

While all of these projects did keep Jobs busy, he was destined to work at Apple. He sold NeXT to Apple and returned as CEO. His return to Apple meant the creation of products that have gone down in history. Some of these would be the iMac, the iPod, and the iPad.

Steve Jobs’ innovative nature proved to be ahead of his time at some points in his journey but it is also what made him a billionaire in the end. When Jobs passed away in 2011, he was reportedly worth around $10.2 billion.

One of Jobs’ most famous quotes sums up his own success story.


“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” -Steve Jobs




According to CNBC, 20% of Americans do not save any of their income at all and those who do are not saving a lot. Redefining what wealth means to you is a good first step to take if you want to live a life where money is not a worry and you get to do what you love.

One takeaway from these eight stories should be “go for it.” More often than not if you think you are on to something, you most probably are.


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What are some other great rags to riches stories you’re familiar with? Links encouraged in the comment section.


10 thoughts on “8 Rags to Riches Stories: How These Millionaires & Billionaires Became Wealthy”

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  2. Outstanding information about successful persons, they become rich after a hard struggle. Thanks for sharing such a great biography, they become successful because of their career authentic jobs. Lets start the first stair of your carrier, visit Online jobs for US students and others.

  3. That Grace Groner excerpt is especially inspiring as it is a more accessible option for everyday people to strike it rich.

    The rest of the list has individuals that have those rare characteristics that everyday folks just do not possess. It requires a combination of skill and luck to achieve levels like they did.

    What is refreshing is that the world still provides such opportunities to those who grab them. A lot of these folks are quite recent in history. So there still is a chance for first generation wealth.

    • So true about the characteristics. I definitely don’t possess some of these entrepreneurial insights, but have been very blessed to have invested in my nephews startup (which was acquired in 2016). I’ve crossed so many brilliant entrepreneurs and seen their visions manifest into prosperity.

      I always try to meet people outside of medicine to keep my ears close to the ground and to a lesser extent get some of those country club deals thrown my way! haha

    • Profound ignorance
      This is about how Soros accumulated his wealth not his political affiliation.
      As for the Democrats and socialism- you’ve been watching too much fake FOX news

      • Except that calling Fox “fake news” without mentioning CNN giving debate questions in advance to Hilary or MSNBC and the Russian Collusion hoax, should win a propaganda award as well.

        Only the Wall Street Journal is trusted by most of our polarized electorate on either side anymore. Google it.


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