Not every American billionaire attended an Ivy League school, or even went to college. There is a select group of "Blue Collar Billionaires" who may prefer driving pick-ups to cruising in luxury sedans. From humble beginnings they started their fortunes with sweat equity in, mostly, blue-collar industries.
- Net Worth: $7.5 B
- Industry: Oil and gas
- Residence: Oklahoma City, OK
Growing up with 12 siblings on a sharecropping farm had Harold Hamm working as a young child. After graduating from high school, Harold found a job with an oilfield service contractor before he borrowed $1,000 to start up a one-truck oilfield service business in Ringwood, Oklahoma that was the beginning of Continental Resources, the publicly-traded company of which he still holds 70 percent of shares. Hamm's stayed true to his roots, driving his own pick-up and raising five children with his strong work ethic.
In an interview with BusinessWeek Hamm is quoted as saying, "I get as much excitement going to work today as I did when I was 20 years old."
- Net Worth $5.7 B
- Industry: Supermarkets
- Residence: San Antonio, TX
Charles C. Butt, the H-E-B grocery chain's current chairman and CEO, was born during the Depression and began working in his grandmother's grocery stores at age eight. By the time he was 12, Butt said he was working every Friday afternoon and Saturday. "That's just what was expected of me," said Butt in an interview with Supermarkets.com.
The former bag boy went on to graduate from Harvard and Wharton, but he never stops learning. An industry journal reports that H-E-B is a thought leader, mostly because Butt is focused on studying customers. "Customers are under enormous pressure when it comes to two key items in their budgets - food and fuel - so we're attempting to attune ourselves as closely as we can to his or her needs."
- Net Worth $5 B
- Industry: Construction, mining
- Residence: Missoula, MT
The child of divorced parents, Dennis Washington moved around a lot during elementary school. After high school, he got a job in heavy construction in Alaska that led to a position with his uncle's construction company. By age 26 he was vice president of the largest construction company in Montana. Three years and a $30,000 loan from a Caterpillar dealer later, Washington started his own company. Within ten years Washington Construction would be listed among the largest in the U.S.
Another calculated risk buying a Butte copper mine provided resources for other expansion into dam building, railroads, and marine shipping. "It's all possible because of teamwork and people with a passion for their work," said Washington in an interview for WashCorp.com.
- Net Worth $1.25 B
- Industry: Cable television
- Residence: Liberty, NY
Alan Gerry dropped out of high school in Sullivan County, New York to join the Marines during World War II. After his tour of duty, Gerry did stints as a truck driver, chicken ranch hand and construction worker, but began training in electronics to work on then-new televisions.
From putting up antennas and delivering sets, Gerry started his own TV repair business with an ad that said, "Got a TV problem? Call Alan Gerry – 1955." In an interview Says Gerry, "The telephone number was 1955. And the phone started ringing, and it never stopped ringing since."
Gerry borrowed $20,000 to get into the cable business in 1956. Four decades later, Cablevision Industries was a hot property. The country's eighth-largest cable provider had 1.3 million subscribers and sold to Time Warner Cable.
- Net Worth $1.3 B
- Industry - Coffee
- Residence – Seattle, WA
It's not likely that Howard Schultz could have afforded a $4 Starbucks latte when he was growing up. Schultz's family lived in a Brooklyn housing project where his father supported a wife and three kids on odd jobs like driving a diaper service truck.
Thanks to a football scholarship, Schultz became the first of his family to attend college, much to his mother's delight. She didn't approve though, when Schultz left his job at Hammerplast, a Swedish housewares company, for a small business which sold only coffee beans. In an interview with Mirror News Schultz said, "She started crying. She said, 'A coffee company? Are you crazy? Who's going to buy coffee?' But I just felt I had to follow my dreams."
He became Starbucks Corporation's CEO in 1987. Today the chain operates more than 17,000 stores in almost 49 countries, and generated over $10.7 billion in 2010 revenues.
- Net Worth $3B
- Source: Airlines, Casino Construction
- Residence: Beverly Hills, CA
Kirk Kerkorian has a true rags-to-riches story. His Armenian immigrant parents were devastated in the recession of 1921 and young Kerkorian had to hit the streets to sell newspapers to help make ends meet. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and put his schoolyard scrappiness to work as a professional boxer moonlighting as a furnace installer for 45 cents an hour.
During WWII flew suicide missions for the Royal Air Force, afterwards made a business flying surplus military airplanes which would become Trans International Airlines. Flying customers to Las Vegas (and getting bit by the gambling bug) led Kerkorian into construction and a gamble that building mega-resorts like the MGM Grand would bring him the big bucks. He was right, proving his theory that "good, common sense" trumps years of education and experience.
"When you're a self-made man you start very early in life. In my case it was at 9 years old when I started bringing income into the family. You get a drive that's a little different, maybe a little stronger, than somebody who inherited," told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Source: Wealth estimates from Forbes.com.
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