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No matter how ambitious, driven, or disciplined you are, we all have days when we need a little extra kick to get up and make it happen.
The good news is: It’s never too late to become a success story and go from rags to riches.
The rags to riches stories below will show you the limitless possibilities available when you work to MIH (Make it Happen).
You don’t have to come from old money, hold fancy degrees or resort to illegal practices to succeed and become wealthy.
Read these 21 poor to rich success stories about people who had the odds stacked against them but nevertheless succeeded and surprised everyone around them.
Bookmark this article and read it again later!
Rags to Riches – 21 Inspirational Success Stories from People Who Made It Happen
The term ordinary doesn’t do these millionaires justice, because there is nothing ordinary about the way they amassed their wealth.
However, the following stories do prove that average—sometimes even below-average—salaries can become massive fortunes in the hands of money-conscious people.
This is why it's not just how much money you make that matters, it’s what you do with the money you make.
1. Grace Groner
In 1931, a secretary by the name of Grace Groner started a new job at Abbott Labs. Three years later, she purchased 3 shares of Abbott stock at $60 each for a total $180 investment.
Groner allowed those shares to grow, and over the course of her lifetime, kept reinvesting its dividends.
By the time of her death at the age of 100, her original 3 shares had grown into more than 100,000 shares thanks to stock splits, dividend reinvestments, and appreciation.
And thanks to a disciplined approach to investing, Grace Groner turned $180 into a $7 million fortune over the course of about 75 years.
Groner left nearly all of her estate to her alma mater, Lake Forest College.
This allowed its 1300 students to pursue opportunities they may never have had, like internships and study-abroad programs. According to the Lake Forest College Spectrum Magazine, Groner was ‘with her money.
She got her clothes at rummage sales and lived in a simple one-bedroom cottage. Her possessions included a few pieces of plain furniture, some mismatched dishes, and an old TV set.
Rather than own a car, Grace chose to walk.
Even though Abbott stock split a number of times throughout the years, Grace never sold her shares.
The discipline of starting small and reinvesting funds over many decades was how she slowly built her multi-million dollar fortune.
2. Sylvia Bloom
Sylvia Bloom was a secret millionaire who lived modestly and took the subway to work at a Wall Street law firm where she was a secretary.
Over time, she built a fortune that was spread among 3 brokerage houses and 11 banks.
Ms. Bloom spent a lifetime reinvesting dividends instead of spending the profits from her investments.
Sylvia and her husband, a firefighter, could easily have been living on Park Avenue, but instead chose to stay in a rent-controlled apartment.
Bloom was frugal but not cheap. For example, she dressed well and even owned a fur coat.
The fur coat she owned, though, was a reasonable Persian Lamb and not a top-priced Ermine.
Bloom continued working for the same law firm for 67 years and passed away in 2016, shortly after retiring. By the time of her death, she was worth $9 million and left $8.2 million to charity.
Upon her passing, even her closest friends and family were shocked to learn of Bloom’s fortune.
The story of Sylvia Bloom is an unusual one, largely because deferred profits over a lifetime is not an easy thing to do.
3. Ronald Read
Upon returning from serving his country during World War II, Ronald Read worked as a gas station attendant and janitor in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Read lived frugally and enjoyed investing in stocks while learning the market.
When he passed at the age of 92 in 2014, Ronald Read left $1.2 million to his local library and $4.8 million to the hospital where he ate breakfast every day; always a peanut butter English muffin and a cup of coffee.
Although he never earned a big income, he invested along the way and followed the stock market closely to make the most of his portfolio.
Most importantly, Ray knew the value of slow growth and the importance of reinvesting his profits back into his portfolio.
He focused on building wealth and created a full life for himself, one that wasn’t dependent on flashy cars or fancy living to bring him happiness.
By the time of his death, Read earned $8 million through stock investing investments.
Entrepreneurs Who Turned “Water Into Wine” – Rags To Riches Stories
Investing in the stock market is surely one of the best ways to grow your wealth, however, entrepreneurship is probably the second-best.
It comes with more risk, for sure, but it can also prove more lucrative. The following rags to riches stories will show you why.
4. Dru Reiss
New to Texas in 2007, Dru Reiss stumbled on an old printing machine in a friend’s barn.
After googling it and discovering its potential, Reiss began learning about the printing business since he always wanted to swim into the waters of entrepreneurship.
That’s when he embarked on a journey to start a flexible packaging printing business.
In 2008, his friend Roy Salinas joined him as a partner in the business. The two went on a 3500-mile road trip across the country in a rented purple Chevy, sleeping on friend’s floors along the way.
Throughout the trip, the partners got their printing business in front of as many decision-makers as possible, hoping someone would give it a chance.
And a few did, so the company grew quickly, and Reiss and Salinas eventually bought it out from the original owners.
By 2016, “Popular Ink” was earning $25 million in annual sales.
“I firmly believe that not anybody can be a millionaire. You gotta really, really want it,” said Riess in a 2017 interview with CNBC, “If you believe in yourself then you might have a sliver of a chance to become a millionaire.”
5. Mike Vetter
Mike Vetter had a kit-car-building hobby that he enjoyed when he wasn’t flipping burgers at Burger King. He eventually learned how to replicate Fieros and Lamborghinis, and sold them as kit cars for a small profit.
Cease and desist letters eventually arrived from both the Fioro and Lamborghini companies, forcing Mike to stop replicating the cars.
However, instead of quitting, Mike used the opportunity as an excuse to begin creating his own designs. Today, Mike sells customized cars for between $125,000 to $500,000 apiece.
Of his success, Vetter says“ “I'm living proof that every one of us can have anything that they want. You simply set a target and work towards it. It may not arrive as fast as you hoped, but if you keep working at it, it will come.”
6. John Paul DeJoria
John Paul DeJoria, a 1st-generation American from Los Angeles, became an entrepreneur before his 10th birthday by selling Christmas cards and newspapers.
As an adult, John grew tired of seeing big cosmetic companies test their potentially harmful products on animals, so he used his entrepreneurial skills to make a change.
In 1980, he partnered with a friend by the name of Paul Mitchell, and the two vowed to make hair products that would never be tested on animals.
The partners took out a $700 loan to launch their hair product line and used a post office box and answering machine in place of an office.
Today, Paul Mitchell Systems is an iconic brand that has evolved into a 75-product line with over a hundred schools across the nation—and more launching internationally.
John Paul DeJoria lives by the motto “Success unshared is failure.”
7. Richard Branson
Innovator and celebrity entrepreneur Richard Branson has been called “One of today’s most-loved CEOs.”
But starting out, things weren’t so easy for Branson. In an interview with CNN Money, the Mogul explained “I was seen as the dumbest person at school,” he said, “The idea that I could be successful didn’t dawn on me.”
As a kid, Branson struggled with dyslexia, which affected his performance at school. His grades suffered, but his passionate nature grew.
At 15, Branson started a magazine called “Student” because he “wanted to edit a magazine,” and noticed that there were no national publications produced by students, for students.
The magazine didn’t end up being a very profitable venture for him. However, he did make a bit of profit selling mail-order discount records with ads he placed in the magazine’s classifieds.
Shortly afterward, Richard Branson opened his first record store, which branched into a record label shortly afterward. Virgin Records went on to become one of the most iconic and well-loved record stores of all time.
The record company eventually grew into The Virgin Brand, which now employs over 70,000 people.
Over time, Branson created 12 different billion-dollar businesses and was named one of the most influential people in the world in 2007.
As of 2022, his net worth was over $4.1 billion.
8. Joy Gendusa
While she may not be a household name, in 1998, Joy Gendusa revolutionized direct mailings in a post-digital world.
With her company, PostcardMania, she turned a fledgling direct mailing business into a wildly successful, multimillion-dollar a year business.
Today, under her stewardship, the company makes more than $50 million a year.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing for Joy. Her inspiring story starts with working long, hard hours for not much money as a graphic designer.
Without much appreciation for her work and clients that didn't respect the value she brought, she flipped the script and created her own company with zero funding—one that stands in testament today to the value of hard work and the adept execution of a great idea, even if others think it may not work.
9. Elon Musk
Today, Elon Musk is the richest person in the world with a net worth of almost $229 billion.
But this rags to riches story didn't start with a multimillionaire scheming how to make more money. In fact, Musk wasn't born into old money.
He was born in South Africa and is the oldest of three kids. His father was an engineer and his mom was a nutritionist.
After the divorce of his parents, Musk lived with his father and then started private school where he was bullied for years.
But he had an aptitude for technology and turned that interest into a programming hobby.
One of his early projects was a Space Invaders-style game that he sold to PC and Office Technology magazine for just $500.
He ended up studying at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a physics degree as well as an economics degree from the Wharton School.
After creating various companies in California, he turned an ownership position with PayPal into a $1.5 billion payout, which he would use to fund Tesla, now the most successful electric car company in the world.
Musk has also established other companies such as SolarCity, SpaceX, The Boring Company, OpenAI, and Neuralink.
His companies are currently disrupting the automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, energy, transportation, infrastructure/tunneling, AI, and healthcare industries, and Musk continually brings his unique style to all sorts of fun and interesting projects.
America is indeed the land of opportunities for those who aren’t scared to dream big and get on the less-walked way.
Immigrants often come with nothing to the US, but quite a few of them have proven that innovation and hard work can bring you success and wealth, no matter where you come from.
10. Sergey Brin
Mike Brin, the father of Sergey Brin, dreamed of becoming an astronomer, but the Communist Party forbade Jews from pursuing higher education in certain subjects, including physics.
When Mike decided to study mathematics instead, Moscow University required him to take an entrance exam in a separate room for Jews, which was notoriously referred to as the “gas chambers”.
To ensure his son didn’t have to endure the same persecution, the family left Russia in 1977 and by 1979 made their way to the U.S.
Young Sergey grew up and went on to college, where one day he was assigned to accompany a man named Larry Page around campus.
The pair did not get along very well at first but soon bonded over talk of data sets and how to extract information from them.
Later, what started as a discussion on search engine ranking factors soon became a research project and search engine called “Backrub.”
11. Thomas Peterffy
Thomas Peterffy came to America in 1965, without any money and unable to speak English. He managed to start a career as an architectural draftsman, and eventually became a computer programmer.
Peterffy eventually went on to develop computerized equity-trading models and revolutionized the stock exchange industry by trading with a hand-held computer.
Today, Thomas is the CEO and founder of Interactive Brokers, with a net worth of $20.3 billion.
12. Shahid Khan
When Shahid Khan arrived in the U.S. from Pakistan, he took a job working as a dishwasher while attending college. He worked hard and completed his degree.
Eventually, he went on to buy an auto parts supplier business, Flex-N-Gate, from his former employer.
Khan designed a one-piece truck bumper that laid the foundation for his success.
His business now has 62 plants across the globe and employs 24,000 people.
Shahid Khan is currently one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth of $7 billion.
Khan now also owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the UK's Fulham football club. Also, he is currently the richest person of Pakistani origin.
13. Do Won Chang
Do Won Chang arrived with little money in the U.S. on a Saturday and immediately began scouring the “help wanted” ads.
By that Monday, he was working his first American job—as a dishwasher at an L.A. coffeehouse.
But the $3/hour wage wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so Do Won took a 2nd job pumping gas and also started a small cleaning business on the side.
While working at the gas station, Chang noticed that some of the nicest cars were driven by men who worked in the garment industry.
While pumping gas, he used to ask the men what they did for a living and talk to them about their success.
The men in the nice cars inspired Chang to take a job at a retail store where he learned his way around the clothing industry.
Do Won had a different mindset than most. He explains that while working at the clothing store, “I treated it like it was my own business and the boss really liked me.”
In 1984, Chang and his wife, Jin Sook, took the $11,000 they had saved up and used it to open their own business in a 900-square-foot store in L.A.
That later had grown to be the infamous Forever 21 clothing store—opened by two married South Korean immigrants, who came to America with nothing, and neither of whom had much more than high school education.
The chain has since grown into 790 stores across 48 countries, and the Changs’ had been billionaires for a long time until they lost most of their personal net worth, downgrading to millionaires status.
Billionaires Who Started Out Poor – Rags To Riches Stories
We all love a good underdog story. Luckily, the world isn’t short of them.
Many people who are billionaires today, at some point had nothing in their pockets—let alone rich parents to bail them out.
14. JK Rowling
JK Rowling was a single mom, struggling with depression and trying to survive on welfare when she published her first book, based on her idea for a character named Harry Potter.
Jobless, Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in cafes with her infant daughter sleeping next to her. She sent the manuscript to book publishers but received loads of rejections, one after another.
In a 2013 commencement speech at Harvard University called “The Benefits of Failure,” Rowling talked of her struggle between pursuing her writing and pleasing her parents:
“I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was write novels.”
Sadly, Rowling’s parents took the view that her “overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage or secure a pension.”
It was a dark time in her life, but Rowling has no regrets now. Instead, she says: “It is impossible to live without failing unless you live so cautiously that you haven’t lived at all.”
Despite her early differences with her parents, Rowling is adamant about not blaming her parents.
In her speech, she explains that she doesn’t blame them, and says that there’s an expiration date on how long you can blame your parents.
“The moment you are able to take the wheel,” she says, “the responsibility lies with you.”
As you probably know, Rowling’s first book turned into a series, and to date, Rowling has sold over 500 million copies in over 200 territories that have been translated into 80 languages and turned into 8 blockbuster films and five spin-offs.
Rowling was the first author to be included on the Forbes Billionaires list but lost her billionaire status after donating a big portion of her fortune.
15. Howard Schultz
Little Howard Schultz never imagined he’d own a coffee empire. He grew up in a blue-collar family that struggled after his dad encountered medical problems while uninsured.
“Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families,” said Schultz in an interview with British tabloid The Mirror.
Howard was the first in his family to graduate college, thanks to a football scholarship.
Schultz first stumbled onto Starbucks in 1981, when it was a simple roasting company.
He became the company’s CEO who wanted to recreate the ambiance of true Italian Coffeehouses like the ones he had seen in Milan.
By 1987, with the help of investors, Schultz purchased Starbucks, and the rest is history.
16. Harold Hamm
Raised by sharecroppers in Oklahoma, Harold Hamm was required to work in the cotton fields as a child. By the age of 16, he took a job at a gas station to support his family.
In his junior year of high school, Harold’s family moved to Enid, Oklahoma. At the time, Enid was an oil town in the middle of an oil boom.
Hamm was impressed by the “oil people,” whom he described as charismatic and “bigger than life.”
When it came time to write a high school thesis, Harold wrote his on the topic of petroleum oil.
This allowed him a peek inside the industry, turning his interest in oil into a passion. Soon after, he began dreaming of becoming an oil explorationist.
After high school, Hamm started working in the oil fields as a tank truck driver and began learning more about the oil industry.
Along the way, he adopted a cadre of mentors who taught him about wells and oils, and geography.
Within a few years, young Harold found a cosigner who helped him get a loan to open his first company, Harold Hamm Trucks. He continued to learn the industry and, by the age of 25, drilled his first well.
Harold Hamm’s first well wasn’t a huge success, but it did pay for itself – and gave Hamm the confidence to try another. The 2nd was much more profitable, and he used the money to go to college and get an education.
Hamm’s passion for oil-fueled his determination to continue learning and exploring new ideas within the industry.
Eventually, Hamm went on to become the founder, chairman, and CEO of Continental Resources, a 10 billion dollar oil company.
17. Mark Cuban
You'd hardly confuse Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, for someone that didn't get everything they wanted out of life.
But did you know that Cuban started out as a garbage bag salesman that sustained himself on condiment sandwiches in his early years?
Even in college, various side jobs kept the bills paid, but success with a computer consulting firm helped him earn his first million.
With that, he doubled down and created a web broadcasting empire that added another comma to his net worth, which allowed him to purchase a majority stake in the Mavericks by the year 2000.
Today, it's estimated that Cuban is worth about $4.7 billion.
Celebrities Who Persevered And Went From Rags To Riches – Rags To Riches Stories
Talent, persistence, and smart work can take you anywhere you want. At least, that was the case for these successful people who once had nothing but a pile of problems and setbacks.
18. Jay Z
Shawn Corey Carter was raised by his single mother after his father left the family when he was 11.
Today, he’s known as Jay-Z, and one of the wealthiest music artists in America, selling over 50 million albums and accepting 14 Grammy Awards.
The entrepreneur didn’t stop at rapping. He continued to build on his wealth and success—he owns Roc-A-Fella Records, Armand de Brignac, TIdal, and has stakes in many successful ventures, including Uber.
His net worth is estimated at $1.4 billion.
In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Jay-Z explained some of the challenges of his childhood:
“Crack was everywhere—it was inescapable. There wasn’t any place you could go for isolation or a break. You go in the hallway; [there are] crackheads in the hallway. You look out in the puddles on the curbs—crack vials are littered in the side of the curbs. You could smell it in the hallways, that putrid smell; I can’t explain it, but it’s still in my mind when I think about it.”
19. DJ Khaled
The son of musicians, Khaled Mohamed Khaled was born in New Orleans to Palestinian immigrant parents and grew up listening to Arabic music.
Young Khaled had a passion for rap and soul music, and eventually took a job at a record store that would lay the foundation for his future music career.
Working his way up from DJing at school dances to the Miami music scene and beyond, he eventually became known as DJ Khaled.
Today DJ Khaled is a music mogul—record producer, radio personality, DJ, record label executive, author, and more—worth over $75 million.
In a 2016 interview with Ellen Degeneres, Khaled warned the beloved talk show host to “Stay away from they.”
“Who is “they?” she asked.
DJ Khaled responded:
“They are the person that told you – you would never have the Ellen show. ‘They’ is that one person in the room, when you get a raise and that one person in the corner be like ‘man, I hate that person.’ They are the people that don’t believe in you. That say that you won’t succeed. So, you stay away from ‘they.’”
20. Halle Berry
Oscar-winner Halle Berry moved to Chicago to be an actress in her 20’s but ended up in a homeless shelter. Yet, that didn’t stop her from pursuing her dream as an actress.
By the early 2000s, Berry became one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses. To date, she is the only black woman to have won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
After she achieved success, The Chicago Sun Herald asked Berry about her relationship with her mother. She said:
“…I think she is happier that I haven't changed over the years, that I am still me, that I care about her, and that we are the same as we always were. And I think that is what makes her most proud”
21. Steve Harvey
After quitting his job at a factory to pursue his dreams of becoming a comedian, Steve Harvey quickly realized that success wasn’t going to come easy.
Comedy gigs were not coming fast enough and Steve ran out of money.
Harvey spent the next 3 years of his life washing up in hotel bathrooms and gas stations while living out of his car. He even used an Igloo cooler in the back seat of his car as a makeshift refrigerator.
Then one day he got a call to appear on “Showtime at the Apollo,” and things began to take a turn.
Today, Steve Harvey hosts his own talk show and has a net worth of about $200 million. Along the way, he’s worked as a comedian, actor, producer, and author.
Of his rocky beginnings, Harvey says:
“Failure is a great teacher, and I think when you make mistakes and you recover from them and you treat them as valuable learning experiences, then you’ve got something to share.”
Will You Be The Next Inspirational Success Story To Go From Rags To Riches?
Can you find the common thread between these rags to riches stories?
People who get wealthy through investing tend to place a high emphasis on delayed gratification.
The patience to let their profits grow over time and the ability to hold out for something bigger is often their key to great wealth.
Successful entrepreneurs have a hunger for learning and are brave enough to try new things, even when they might fail.
Since the road to success is always a bumpy one, successful entrepreneurs also possess the patience to continue trying again after failing – often more than once.