Sara Blakely

The woman behind the boom in shapewear is one of the youngest
self-made female billionaires on the planet. But the path to Blakely’s
success took some detours.

In her earlier years she had designs on law school, but did poorly on
the LSAT, even after taking it twice. She later applied to work at
Walt Disney World, trying out for Goofy. But at 5’6′, she didn’t hit
the height requirement, and became a ride attendant instead.

She later sold fax machines for seven years, and eventually emptied
her savings account of $5,000 to invest in her undergarment invention
that would launch her company, Spanx. She taught herself about the
hosiery business by reading about it online, and the self-starter is
now at the helm of a multi-million dollar company.

Last year Blakely joined The Giving Pledge, a campaign founded by
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, which encourages billionaires to give
half their wealth to charity. She was the first female billionaire to

Jan Koum

Jan Koum was 16 when he immigrated to America from Ukraine with his
mother. The two struggled in their new country, relying on government
assistance to survive.

Koum taught himself computer networking as a teen, and as an adult,
co-founded the messaging app WhatsApp, which Facebook bought this year
for $19 billion. He signed the paperwork for the Facebook deal on the
door of the welfare office where he once got food stamps.

Chan Laiwa

Though she is a descendant of the Manchu dynasty, Chan Laiwa’s family
was so poor in the 1940s she was forced to leave high school and work
instead, eventually starting her own furniture repair business.

Over the decades her business grew, and it wasn’t until she was in her
40s that she moved to Hong Kong to invest in real estate. She started
small, with just 12 properties, and then went bigger and bigger. Now
the real estate magnate is the head of Fu Wah International, a firm
that has ventures in real estate, tourism, electronics and other

Chan once told a Chinese website that poverty was the best college
education she could have hoped for.

Sheldon Adelson

Now the owner of a Las Vegas mega-resort and many other properties,
Sheldon Adelson wasn’t always a high roller. He shared a bedroom with
both his parents and siblings growing up in Massachusetts. His father
was a taxi driver and his mother ran a knitting shop.

Adelson started his first business at 12 years old, when he purchased
a license to sell newspapers in Boston. He is now known as a business
tycoon and investor, and is one of the wealthiest men in the world.