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Inspiration from the 400 Wealthiest Americans (Part 1 of 2)
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While flying back from a television taping in Palm Springs, CA earlier this month, I finished reading one of my favorite magazines. Every year, I devour the contents and usually hold onto the issue for months on end, regularly referring back to it. Now, some people will think that my behavior is a bit odd, but hopefully you’re someone who’ll see the “method to my madness.” Below, I’ve decided to list the inspirational backgrounds of just some of the “self-made” people in this magazine issue (no one below claims inheritance as their reason for being one of the 400 Wealthiest Americans — ALL EARNED IT):

-Twenty-eight (28) different people on the list dropped out of college, law school or business school.
-Seven (7) different people were high school dropouts.
-Four (4) different people’s families fled Nazi Germany or Nazi occupation.
-His parents picked cotton while raising all 13 children in a one-bedroom home.
-He spent his youth manning firework stands, bagging groceries, and selling candles.
-He was rejected by the best film schools, then enrolled, but dropped out of Cal State Long Beach.
-Two (2) started in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency.
-He was adopted by a working-class couple, dropped out of Reed College, and founded his company in the proverbial garage.
-Two (2) different people’s families fled China.
-He left college one semester short of his degree to start a company with his brother.
-He grew up dirt-poor; his father dug sewer trenches.
-He grew up poor; sold lemonade and magazines through the Depression.
-His first job was selling greeting cards door-to-door.
-As a farm-boy, he spent his childhood raising pigs and dairy cows, getting up at 4 a.m.
-He left college to serve in the Navy, then took a 50% pay cut to start his own car-leasing business.
-He built barns to pay off his college tuition.
-He fled Hungary during Soviet occupation, and then started a plane brokerage business while studying economics at UCLA and disguising his youth by communicating via telegram.
-He dropped out of college and took to the road selling plush toys.
-He dropped out of 8th grade and became a millionaire by age 30.
-He was a Marine in Vietnam, and then worked as a crop-dusting pilot.
-He dropped out of college to flip burgers, but saved his money to invest in oil and real estate.
-He’s the son of a poor Preacher and worked at the local five-and-dime store in high school, while making wooden frames in his garage at night.
-He survived a Labor camp during the Holocaust while his wife escaped Auschwitz.
-As the son of an auto dealer, he quit his job to sell used computers.
-He brazenly opened a second sandwich shop location while his first one was failing to create an “aura of success.”
-After his bosses at San Jose State turned down his proposal for adult education programs, he started his own.
-He spent 7 years selling fertilizer and later, mortgaged his house to buy a truck and weed killer to sell to a customer.
-He’s a bartender’s son who was raised in housing projects and sold life insurance and worked construction jobs to pay for college.
-He’s a former used-car salesman.
-He’s a computer salesman-turned-entrepreneur who sold his house for $150,000 then borrowed another $10MM to buy a sewer-and-drain company.
-He sold encyclopedias and spent time as a leasing agent.
-He paid his way through college by working at a print shop.
-He’s a former bartender.
-He skipped college, but bought a used garbage truck instead.
-He was fired from his eventual competitor’s company before starting his own firm.
-He hawked peanuts and popcorn at sports events.
-He started his company with $3,500 and furniture purchased from Goodwill.
-He went to Wall Street with $4,000 in poker winnings.
-He bought his first patch of real estate at age 20.
-As a Jazz musician’s son, he executed his first trade at age 12.
-As the son of a grocery store manager, he spent his childhood stacking bread and chasing shopping carts.
-He dropped out of his Harvard Ph.D. program to drive a NYC taxi.
-He worked construction jobs in Alaska before borrowing a bulldozer on credit and founding his own company in Montana.
-He started investing as a Harvard undergrad after reading article an FORBES about the Home Shopping Network.
-He kept busy during high school reading corporate reports and financial textbooks.
-He dropped out of high school at age 14 and delivered milk for his family’s dairy store during the Depression.
-He earned childhood cash selling popcorn.
-He, “Never got an ‘A’ in high school.”
-He sold computers out of his father’s basement.
-His first job was fixing used television sets which he then sold to low-income families; he bought his first rental home at age 19.
-He got his start gambling and arranged gambling pools while studying at Duke.
-He sold houses as a student at Santa Clara University.
-He borrowed $300 from his wife and founded his real estate development firm.
-He started working at age 7 to help support his family.
-His family escaped the Soviet Union after the revolution.
-He founded his bank from a trailer and now has the largest one in his region.
-He paid his college tuition repairing vending machines, working a hotel night shift, and then becoming a loan processor.
-He sold flowers on L.A. street corners.
-He’s a former cabdriver.
-He skipped college and failed as a professional song-writer.
-His family fled Cuba during the revolution.

Whew! Now if the hair on the back of your neck isn’t standing up on end with a bit of shock and amazement like you’ve just been FRIGHTENED at just some of the 400 wealthiest Americans’ backgrounds, then I don’t quite know WHAT will move you. THIS is an AMAZING list! This is a case-study in overcoming the odds! Appalachian State has NOTHING on these guys (I just ordered their tee-shirts for the members of my local business coaching groups as a reminder to “F*#@ the Odds!”).

One of the trends I hope you noticed above is that many of these people didn’t stay on the “traditional academic” educational route – many bailed and chose to learn from the “Real World” instead. As someone with three degrees and nearly a fourth (I wisely chose to become a law school dropout instead), I’m the first to admit that academic education isn’t all its cracked up to be… and these guys prove it. Many others from the list above overcame early hardships, whether fleeing hostile dictators or scraping by in impoverished upbringings. They also usually began working very young and developed a superior work ethic, with many of them having at least brief stints in sales. Lastly, they ALL have been tenaciously persistent in their endeavors… and that’s just what this year’s FORBES 400 list tells us – I’m sure there are many more stories yet to be revealed.

One Comment

  1. Paul Wiltz says:

    Chris,
    Excellent information that I plan to share with my staff and with clients.
    Respectfully,
    Paul R. Wiltz
    President
    Monet Inc.

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