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From broke to billionaire - how famous entrepreneurs made it to the top

New technologies and increasing globalisation mean there are more opportunities than ever before to rise right to the very top of the business world. These five entrepreneurs started out with nothing but ambition and talent, and went on to build billion dollar businesses from the ground up. The common thread between them? An entrepreneurial spirit and the drive to succeed. Combining hard-work with a flash of innovation, these individuals conjured success out of nothing, and there’s no reason why you can’t follow in their footsteps.

 "It doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish that counts."

Oprah Winfrey

 Oprah Winfrey (Source: www.zimbio.com)

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah is now a household name all around the world, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, you could even say she grew up with the cards stacked against her. Born into an impoverished African-American family, she had to contend with the challenges of becoming a single mother as a teenager. However, by the age of 32 she had landed a regular spot on TV. As a business-savvy communicator, Oprah capitalised upon the exposure this afforded her to launch the multimedia companies Harpo Productions and Oprah Winfrey Network, meaning that she is now worth a reported $2.9 billon.

Jan Koum

Jan Koum (Source: www.cnet.com)

Jan Koum

You may not have heard his name before, but you will have probably used the service that earned him his fortune. Born in Ukraine, Jan emigrated to the USA and arrived in California penniless at the age of 16, where he taught himself computer programming while working in a supermarket. His self-education was enough to get him into university, and after a stint as an ICT engineer at Yahoo, Jan launched an immensely popular mobile messaging app in 2009 called WhatsApp, which he sold to Facebook for $19 billion in 2015.

Zhang Xin

Zhang Xin (Source: www.youtube.com)

Zhang Xin

If one country encapsulates the opportunities created by the globalisation of the world economy, it’s China, and Zhang Xin is the prime example of its growing number of rags-to-riches success stories. Now the head of SOHO China, a leading Chinese real estate developer, Zhang Xin was raised in poverty during her teenage years, often working gruelling hours on low-pay in factories to make ends meet. Xin saved carefully for five years and finally purchased a flight ticket to London to study English, after which she enrolled at the University of Cambridge. Her patience, self-discipline, and foresight have certainly paid off; her net worth is now estimated to be more than $3 billion.

Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz (Source: www.thebestyoumagazine.co)

Howard Schultz

Starbucks have come to epitomise the big, global corporate brands which dominate the 21st century marketplace, but it started out as a small-time, local coffee shop, where Howard Schultz landed a job in the 1980s. Having grown up in social housing in New York, Howard became the first member of his family to attend university, with the help of a scholarship and part-time jobs to fund his studies. When his ambitions outgrew Starbucks’ limited business plan, he raised the money to start his own rival coffee chain, and after two years he’d made enough money to buy the Starbucks brand for $3.8 million. Today, Starbucks rakes in $15 billion in sales every year, making Schultz worth an estimated $2.2 billion.

Michael Adenuga

Michael Adenuga (Source: www.howafrica.com)

Michael Adenuga

It’s an unlikely story, but Michael Adenuga, the son of a Nigerian school teacher, has gone on to become the second richest person in the country. The first step on his journey towards self-improvement took him to the USA, where he studied Business Administration – working as a taxi driver to pay for his tuition. After graduating, Adenuga returned to Nigeria and eventually inherited a small sawmill from his father, the profits from which he used to set up a small but lucrative business importing lace. The key to his success has been constant innovation, and, not content with his first $million, he has since launched enterprises in construction, banking, and the petroleum industry. However, it is in the telecoms sector that he has really made his mark, becoming one of the richest people in Africa with a staggering $4 billion to his name.