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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.