7 Wildly Successful People Who Started From the Bottom


No jaw-dropper here: Research shows that people who grow up in poverty have a tougher road ahead than those who are well off from the get-go. But there’s no reason why that road can’t lead to success.

In fact, some of the wealthiest people in the world today were once poor—like these seven, whose tenacity, hard work and resilience helped them overcome their circumstances and rise to the top.

Howard Schultz

Starbucks executive chairman and former CEO

Growing up, Schultz would have had to save his pennies to afford a grande latte. Raised by his truck driver father and stay-at-home mom in a Brooklyn housing project, Schultz described his family as “pretty much destitute.”

“I knew the people on the other side [of the tracks] had more resources, more money, happier families,” he told the Mirror. “I wanted to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond what people were saying was possible.”

Well, mission accomplished. Schultz was the first in his family to go to college. Later, during a stint working for a housewares company, he was introduced to a small coffee chain in Seattle that he eventually purchased and transformed into the Starbucks empire.

Ursula Burns

Xerox chairman and former CEO

When Burns became the chairman and CEO of Xerox in 2009, she was the first black female leader of a Fortune 500 company—a feat that’s even more impressive when you account for her challenging childhood in the projects on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

“People told me I had three strikes against me: I was black. I was a girl. And I was poor,” she told LeanIn.org. Her single mom raised three children on a salary that never topped $4,400, Burns revealed to CNN.

Still, she had determination in spades, and studied mechanical engineering at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute before starting out as a Xerox summer intern. Now, the newly minted Uber board member has “more money than my mother would have ever imagined, and I still don’t judge my success by that,” she says.

JK Rowling

Author of “Harry Potter” books

Rowling didn’t grow up poor, but she ended up there in her in her late 20s as a single mom. In 1993, Rowling, who had been teaching English in Portugal, escaped her unhappy marriage and moved to Scotland with an infant daughter in tow. “I’d been as poor as it’s possible to go in the U.K. without being homeless,” she said on the Daily Show. Unemployed and living in a tiny apartment, she fell into a deep depression that verged on suicidal.

She told the Daily Mail, “I remember…not eating so my daughter would eat. I remember nights when there was literally no money. I would have done anything to work.” Yet it was during these desperate years that she finished the bulk of the “Harry Potter” manuscript—and what happened after that is, well, magic.

Robert Herjavec

“Shark Tank” star, investor and CEO of Herjavec Group

At 8, Herjavec moved with his family to Canada from Croatia to escape communism, arriving with just a single suitcase and $20 and crashing in a family friend’s basement. Eventually, his dad got a factory job earning $76 a week. “It was my first impression of not being well off,” he told Business News Daily. “I realized that compared to everybody else, we were really poor.”

To help pay the bills, he delivered newspapers and waited tables, before landing a job in the tech sector by agreeing to work for free at first. Leveraging that experience, he launched an IT company out of his basement—which he later sold to AT&T Canada for a reported $30.2 million.

Sarah Jessica Parker

Actress and fashion designer

Carrie Bradshaw may have been knee-deep in Manolos, but a universe away, in Cincinnati, SJP’s mom bought her two pairs of 99-cent shoes a year as a kid. Her family was on welfare because her parents’ income—her stepfather was a truck driver, her dad was a writer and her mom didn’t work—couldn’t support their eight children.

''I remember my childhood as Dickensian,'' she told the New York Times. ''I remember being poor…. We didn't have electricity sometimes. We didn't have Christmases sometimes, or we didn't have birthdays sometimes, or the bill collectors came, or the phone company would call and say, 'We're shutting your phones off.'''

She started acting professionally at 8, in part to contribute financially to the family. And although her net worth is now in the millions, she still lives relatively frugally and has a “desire to save, save, save,” she said. “I am terrified of being broke.”

Related: 101 Ways to Save More Money Now

Suze Orman

Financial author, advisor and former TV host

Who would have guessed that this financial whiz was broke for the first 30 years of her life? Raised in Chicago by Jewish immigrant parents, her father ran a take-out chicken stand and her mother was a secretary. She recounted to the Chicago Tribune memories of her dad running into a burning building for a cash register containing less than $100, not being able to pay $1 to go swimming with friends, being ignored at a department store because of her father’s shabby attire and her parents’ constant fights about money.

She worked as a waitress for years, before deciding to open her own restaurant, financed by her regular customers. Upon their urging, she invested the money. Although she lost it all when the market collapsed, the experience sparked her passion for finance. Before long, her career—and net worth—soared.

Related: 14 Investing Questions You Should Be Able to Answer

George Clooney

Actor and philanthropist

Although he’s frequently photographed living it up at one of his multi-million dollar abodes, Tinseltown’s favorite silver fox had a hardscrabble upbringing.

I sold insurance door-to-door. I sold ladies’ shoes. I worked at an all-night liquor store. I would buy suits that were too big and too long and cut the bottom of the pants off to make ties so I’d have a tie to go on job interviews,” the Kentucky native told The Daily Beast. “I grew up understanding what it was like to not have health insurance for eight years.”

Now that he’s loaded, Clooney’s paying it forward as a philanthropist for causes from human rights to poverty relief.

acorns+cnbcacorns cnbc

Join Acorns


About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

All investments involve risk, including loss of principal. The contents presented herein are provided for general investment education and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any specific securities or engage in any particular investment strategy. Acorns is not engaged in rendering any tax, legal, or accounting advice. Please consult with a qualified professional for this type of advice.

Any references to past performance, regarding financial markets or otherwise, do not indicate or guarantee future results. Forward-looking statements, including without limitations investment outcomes and projections, are hypothetical and educational in nature. The results of any hypothetical projections can and may differ from actual investment results had the strategies been deployed in actual securities accounts. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Advisory services offered by Acorns Advisers, LLC (“Acorns Advisers”), an investment adviser registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Brokerage and custody services are provided to clients of Acorns Advisers by Acorns Securities, LLC (“Acorns Securities”), a broker-dealer registered with the SEC and a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”). Acorns Pay, LLC (“Acorns Pay”) manages Acorns’s demand deposit and other banking products in partnership with Lincoln Savings Bank, a bank chartered under the laws of Iowa and member FDIC. Acorns Advisers, Acorns Securities, and Acorns Pay are subsidiaries of Acorns Grow Incorporated (collectively “Acorns”). “Acorns,” the Acorns logo and “Invest the Change” are registered trademarks of Acorns Grow Incorporated. Copyright © 2021 Acorns and/or its affiliates.

NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns Grow Incorporated.