Many stories of the richest men in the world seem to portray them as someone poor rising to riches through a combination of smarts, pluck and initiative.
These rags-to-riches stories may be true for a small number of the richest men in the world — that they’ve done something so good to have earned their obscene wealth.
That they’ve studied hard, worked hard, prayed a lot, and invested in all the right things.
But the reality is a lot more complex than that.
The myth of the “self-made” richest men in the world
When Kylie Jenner was named the youngest self-made billionaire in 2019, reports slammed that title — mainly because she’s part of a family of billionaires, The Kardashians.
She defended the “self-made” label, telling Paper Magazine that she didn’t inherit any money as she was cut off from Kris and Caitlyn Jenner at the age of 15.
She was told to make her own money. “What I’m trying to say is I did have a platform, but none of my money is inherited,” Jenner said.
Therein lies a clear example of how the world sees the richest men in the world. What is “self-made” varies depending on who you ask.
According to Forbes, they are “someone who built a company or established a fortune on her own, rather than inheriting some or all of it.”
Collins Dictionary is not as generous, defining “self-made” as becoming “successful and rich through their own efforts, especially if they started life without money, education, or high social status.”
This explains why reports often show different percentages of billionaires who are self-made, ranging from 55% to 72%.
This means more than half got there by just inheriting their wealth — except the wealthiest men of them all.
Our analysis of the top five richest men in the world reveals their upbringing and road to success did not endow them with Kardashian-like access or money.
And what’s most striking is that:
- The top five richest men in the world went to prestigious universities in the US and Europe
- Most pursued a degree in a field different from their career
- Most built innovative products and systems
LMVH head Bernard Arnault was named the richest man in the world. Source: Stefano Rellandini/AFP
1. Bernard Arnault
French mogul and business magnate Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault is top of the list of the richest men in the world.
The 74-year-old is worth a staggering US$237. 6 billion, according to Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List.
Arnault is the founder and chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company.
Think brands like Louis Vuitton, Sephora, Tiffany & Co, and TAG Heuer.
But his road to hundreds of billions of dollars had an unlikely start in what’s a seemingly irrelevant degree, followed by smart but ruthless business moves.
Born in Roubaix, France, on March 5, 1949, Arnault attended Maxence Van Der Meersch High School in Roubaix.
He then joined his father’s construction company but had bigger plans for his future.
Arnault was reportedly obsessed with Christian Dior as a brand, in particular its perfume.
When he realised Boussac, the company that was managing it was going bankrupt, he thought of how to take over.
He forked out US$15 million of his family’s money and combined it with a loan he took from Lazard Bank and bought over the entity.
When he purchased Boussac, there were several companies under it including Dior, Peaudouce, Le Bon Marché and Conforama.
Despite promising employees they wouldn’t lose their jobs, Arnault fired 9,000 workers and pocketed US$500 million by selling off all the businesses except Dior and Le Bon Marché.
He was nicknamed a “wolf in cashmere” by his rivals for his well-thought-out and ruthless takeover plans.
Soon after, he took over LVMH, and so began his climb to overseeing an empire of 75 fashion and cosmetic brands.
In April 2023, the conglomerate was worth US$500 billion, the first time a European company has reached such a lucrative sum.
Twitter CEO Elon Musk is one of the richest men in the world for the six companies he’s founded and runs. Source: Chandan Khanna/AFP
2. Elon Musk
Controversial business tycoon and co-founder of six companies Elon Musk is worth US$178.2 billion.
He was born June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa and by 10, had taught himself computer programming.
Musk had a great time at Queen’s. He recalls and learnt a great deal in those first two years.
“It was fun and interesting. I’d call them formative years,” he says.
“One thing that I learned at Queen’s, both from faculty and students – was how to work collaboratively with smart people and make use of the Socratic method to achieve commonality of purpose.”
Musk’s background and knowledge he received from university ignited ideas he had from many years ago, and he founded PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, Twitter, and Boring Company.
Jeff Bezos is a successful entrepreneur and investor among many other things that have made him one of the richest men in the world. Source: Michael Tran/AFP
3. Jeff Bezos
The third richest man in the world spot goes to Jeffrey Preston Bezos, the American entrepreneur who founded giant retailer, Amazon.com out of his garage.
Bezos, who was born in 1964 in New Mexico, US, is today worth US$128.7 billion.
He attended River Oaks Elementary School from grades four to six before the family moved to Miami, Florida.
While still in high school, he had a stint at McDonald’s and started his first venture called the Dream Institute, which was an educational camp for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.
His best memory of Princeton was finishing problems set in partial differential equations.
“To anyone starting at Princeton, try to figure out what you’re genuinely interested in. and pursue those things, rather than find what is the most lucrative out there,” he says.
With this mindset, Bezos worked at an investment bank, D.E. Shaw & Co, but in 1994, quit and moved to Seattle to open a virtual bookstore.
Out of his garage, Bezos and his employees began building software – to what we know as a multi-billion dollar company, Amazon.
If he had to go back in time as an undergraduate, Bezos says, he would give himself this advice:
“Take pride in your decisions and hard work, but not in your gifts. Rather, enjoy them.”
Larry Ellison made his money from Oracle as well as strategic investments in stocks and real estate. Source: Phillip Faraone /Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP
4. Larry Ellison
Lawrence Joseph Ellison is a skilled businessman and investor who is worth US$121 billion. But he didn’t come from money; rather in 1944, when he was born, his single mother looked after him.
But after he contracted pneumonia at nine months old, she couldn’t care for him and handed him to his aunt and uncle in Chicago, who ended up raising Ellison.
His dream was to go to the University of Southern California’s medical school, get married, have a family, and practise medicine in Los Angeles.
Everyone in the family wanted him to be a doctor, including his girlfriend and so Ellison obliged, he says, enrolling at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
“Growing up lower middle-class on the south side of Chicago, medicine was considered the pinnacle of professions, noble and humane,” he says.
However, Ellison soon realised medicine wasn’t in his blood and he didn’t have the drive to continue.
It was here that he was exposed to computers and found a love for programming.
He met his partners, Ed Oates and Bob Miner, and together the three of them founded the Software Development Laboratories, the forerunner for Oracle.
Oracle continued to grow and expand, accelerating trends in computing while increasing product offerings.
Ellison’s wealth grew as his financial portfolio expanded. He gained more as a board member of companies like Tesla and Apple.
Bill Gates is not only one of the richest men in the world, but also a philanthropist. Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images North America/Getty Images /AFP
5. Bill Gates
Everyone has heard of the name Bill Gates before. He’s always been one of the richest men in the world and for good reason.
He comes in at our number five spot, amassing US$114 billion in net value.
This world-renowned entrepreneur is best known for the success of Microsoft Corporation.
But Bill’s foray into this adventure began at quite a young age.
William Henry Gates III(Bill) was born on October 28, 1955, to parents Bill Gates Sr and Mary Maxwell Gates.
What most people don’t know was that the Gates was already a powerful family by the time Bill came into the world, with both parents having attended the University of Washington.
In fact, the two were said to have met while studying there and later married.
His father was a famous attorney for Preston Gates & Ellis, while his mother was a prominent businesswoman.
Bill attended Lakeside School, Seattle, a private institution where he befriended Paul Allen, who would later end up co-founding Microsoft together.
At 13 years old, he wrote his first computer programme, which was a game to be played against the computer itself.
By the time Bill finished high school, he was a National Merit Scholar and scored 1590 out of 1600 on his SATs.
It’s no surprise he scored a seat at Harvard University, where he started off studying law.
However, his childhood passion for computers lingered on and he shifted the focus to computers and programming.
The richest men in the world often invest in artwork like the Andy Warhol depicting Marilyn Monroe here. Source: Noocher Deghati/AFP
In 1975, he left university to begin working on the software venture that we today know as Microsoft.
By 1978, Microsoft’s year-end sales exceeded US$1 million, with fans calling him tough but focused.
At 31 years old, Bill becomes the youngest billionaire in the world.
Some 30 years later, Harvard awarded Bill with an honorary law degree but he did make an interesting point.
If he had to enrol at university right now, he would study a different subject, he says during a Q&A session with some Harvard students.
“I would go into software, which today means going into artificial intelligence,” he says.
“To the degree you like science, engineering and economics, pick as much of that as you have an appetite for because those are the agents of change for all institutions.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder, and executive chairman of Amazon studied at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, USA. From 1982-1986, he also went to Princeton University, USA. Jeff Bezos has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in electrical engineering degree.What percentage of millionaires didn't go to college? ›
Eighty-eight percent of millionaires graduated from college, compared to 38% of the general population.Who is the richest person without education? ›
1. Bill Gates. Bill Gates is a billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, but he's most known for his role as the co-founder of Microsoft.What percentage of the richest people went to college? ›
Four of the 25 richest Americans attended the university, though Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out before graduating. In fact, one-fifth of billionaires on the list, including Michael Dell and Larry Ellison, dropped out of college before finishing their undergraduate degree.Do 90% of millionaires make over $100000 a year? ›
And one crucial detail to note: Millionaire status doesn't equal a sky-high salary. “Only 31% averaged $100,000 a year over the course of their career,” the study found, “and one-third never made six figures in any single working year of their career.”Did 79 millionaires inherit $0? ›
' Here's How They Got Where They Are. Many or all of the products here are from our partners that compensate us. It's how we make money.How many people are successful without a college degree? ›
Based on these findings, those who become highly successful without college education appear to be in the minority, roughly 6 percent.How many of the richest people dropped out of school? ›
Indeed, according to a study by U.K. job site Adview, one in eight of the Forbes 400, which are the 400 wealthiest billionaires in the U.S., are college dropouts. They came to this conclusion by looking at the 362 billionaires with publicly available education information; 44 were dropouts.How many billionaires are dropouts? ›
In 2019, 34 billionaire dropouts were reported all over the world. This number relates to 1.7 percent of people who were no longer part of global billionaire population.What level of education do most millionaires have? ›
Further, The National Study of Millionaires by Ramsey Solutions unveiled that 88% of millionaires have at least a bachelor's degree, and 52% of millionaires actually have a degree from a Ph.
It found that 88% of millionaires graduated from college, compared to 38% of the general population. In addition, 52% of millionaires had a master's or doctoral degree, compared to 13% of the general population. This isn't the only research to find a strong link between wealth and level of education.Are most millionaires educated? ›
88% of surveyed millionaires graduated from college.What occupation has the most millionaires? ›
In broader terms, the finance and investment profession has the most millionaires. It also has the most billionaires, with 371. Here's a list of the seven best careers if you want to be a millionaire.Do you need a degree to be a millionaire? ›
You don't need a college degree to become wealthy or be successful. Many people can build wealth or become rich without a college degree.What creates the most millionaires? ›
The financial service industry has created the most millionaires in modern times. The financial system manages the money of people worldwide.What salary is considered very rich? ›
Based on that figure, an annual income of $500,000 or more would make you rich. The Economic Policy Institute uses a different baseline to determine who constitutes the top 1% and the top 5%. For 2021, you're in the top 1% if you earn $819,324 or more each year. The top 5% of income earners make $335,891 per year.How much money is considered extremely wealthy? ›
You might need $5 million to $10 million to qualify as having a very high net worth while it may take $30 million or more to be considered ultra-high net worth. That's how financial advisors typically view wealth.Do millionaires have a lot of cash? ›
Many millionaires keep a lot of their money in cash or highly liquid cash equivalents. And they tend to establish an emergency account even before making investments. Millionaires also bank differently than the rest of us.Are most millionaires married or single? ›
- Most millionaires work at Fortune 500 companies. ...
- Many poor people become millionaires by winning the lottery. ...
- Millionaires usually drive new cars. ...
- Many millionaires drop out of college to start work. ...
- Single people are more often millionaires than married people. ...
- It is impossible to save enough to be a millionaire.
According to data: 27% of the ultra wealthy are self made: It defines them as people with a "middle-class or poor upbringing and no inheritance." 46% have a head start: Almost half the super rich people surveyed either had some inherited wealth or an affluent upbringing.
According to a 2022 study by Experian Automotive, a lot of wealthy folks simply don't drive fancy cars. The study found that for people with household income of more than $250,000, 61% don't drive luxury brands.What degree do most successful people have? ›
The research found that more than half of the leaders studied (55 per cent) had either a social sciences (44 per cent) or humanities bachelor's degree (11 per cent). Those in government jobs were more likely to have studied social sciences, while those in non-profits favoured the humanities.What percentage of Americans do not have a degree? ›
|Education||Age 25 and over||Age 25-30|
|High school diploma or GED||89.80%||92.95%|
In 2021, the highest level of education of the population age 25 and older in the United States was distributed as follows: 8.9% had less than a high school diploma or equivalent. 27.9% had high school graduate as their highest level of school completed. 14.9% had completed some college but not a degree.Is Elon Musk a dropout? ›
He moved to California in 1995 to attend Stanford University. After two days, he dropped out and, with his brother Kimbal, co-founded the online city guide software company Zip2. In 1999, Zip2 was acquired by Compaq for $307 million and Musk co-founded X.com, a direct bank.Which school has the most billionaires? ›
Counting all degrees, Harvard University comes in first place in terms of the total number of billionaire alumni. The University of Pennsylvania comes in first if only bachelor's degrees are counted, according to the most recent 2022 Forbes report.Who drops out of school the most? ›
In particular, American Indian/Alaska Native high school students have the highest high school dropout rate at 9.6% (NCES, 2021). This is much higher compared to the overall average dropout rate of 5.1% (NCES, 2021).Who is the youngest drop out billionaire? ›
The New Youngest Self-Made Billionaire In The World Is A 25-Year-Old College Dropout. Alexandr Wang, 25, is the youngest self-made billionaire. And while he still partners with buzzy companies, today he's got $350 million in government defense contracts under his company, Scale AI.How many billionaires never graduated high school? ›
For starters, it's a much harder feat to accomplish. Just 23 of America's 400 richest have only high school degrees and 2 dropped out of high school without going on to college. That means just over 6% of The Forbes 400 have accumulated this vast amount of wealth with such little education.Are high school dropouts more successful? ›
Studies show that dropouts will earn $200K less than high school graduates during their lifetime, and they are estimated to earn almost $1M less than those with bachelor's degrees. Additionally, high school dropouts are three times more likely to be unemployed than graduates.
88% of surveyed millionaires graduated from college.What percentage of successful people didn t go to college? ›
Based on these findings, those who become highly successful without college education appear to be in the minority, roughly 6 percent.How many millionaires never graduated high school? ›
For starters, it's a much harder feat to accomplish. Just 23 of America's 400 richest have only high school degrees and 2 dropped out of high school without going on to college. That means just over 6% of The Forbes 400 have accumulated this vast amount of wealth with such little education.How many rich people are college dropouts? ›
Indeed, according to a study by U.K. job site Adview, one in eight of the Forbes 400, which are the 400 wealthiest billionaires in the U.S., are college dropouts. They came to this conclusion by looking at the 362 billionaires with publicly available education information; 44 were dropouts.Where do 90% of millionaires come from? ›
“90% of all millionaires become so through owning real estate.” This famous quote from Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of all time, is just as relevant today as it was more than a century ago. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world have built their wealth through real estate.What is the average college millionaire GPA? ›
According to the book “The Millionaire Mind,” the average college GPA of a millionaire was 2.9. They found no statistical correlation between economic productivity and academic performance. “Smarter” people tend to take less risk.Do the majority of millionaires have a degree? ›
It found that 88% of millionaires graduated from college, compared to 38% of the general population. In addition, 52% of millionaires had a master's or doctoral degree, compared to 13% of the general population.How many people regret not going to college? ›
Only 9% of those who attended a public institution wish they had not gone to college, the Federal Reserve survey found. Those numbers were slightly higher for those who went to private for-profit schools — 14% said they would not have attended college in hindsight.Is it harder to be successful without college? ›
Even if a degree is not needed in the beginning, it may be required in order for you to move higher up within your company or field. That being said, you can certainly be successful without a college degree — your skills and talents can get you hired.Is it rare to be successful without college? ›
You don't need a Bachelor's degree to be successful. Many successful people don't have a college degree, including: Bill Gates - Microsoft founder. Steve Wozniak - Apple co-founder.
While a number of prominent college dropouts later became ultra-wealthy — particularly tech titans like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates — it's generally rarer for high school dropouts to become among the richest people in the world. But still, it does happen from time to time.What school produces the most millionaires? ›
- Harvard. 7%
- MIT. 5%
- Stanford University. 5%
- University of Pennsylvania. 4%
- Columbia University. 4%
- Yale University. 4%
- Cornell. 3%
- Princeton University. 3%
Among his many outlandish career moves is one that dates back to 1995 when he dropped out of Stanford after only two days at the prestigious institution. After earning two bachelor's degrees, one of which was from the University of Pennsylvania, Musk entered a Stanford Ph. D. program in physics at the age of 24.Do college dropouts become successful? ›
Surprisingly, the most successful entrepreneurs we have today did not earn even a bachelor's degree (Hess, 2017). Some of these people who dropped out of college are Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Dell's Michael Dell, Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Oracle's Larry Ellison, and Apple's Steve Jobs.