Self-Made Business People – How They Did It

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Businessman looking out a window

Self-made millionaires are often household names. The way they are able to start out with practically nothing and defy incredible odds to create their business empires exemplifies the American Dream. Who hasn’t dreamed of rising to the top with a self-made company that becomes an overnight success?

But these self-made millionaires and billionaires have certain personality traits in common. Those traits come together to form a “perfect storm” of determination, imagination, and sharp business acumen necessary to turn their dreams into reality.

Probably the most famous self-made billionaire in recent history was Bill Gates who, according to journalist Sam Parr’s article, “The Fastest Self-Made Billionaires” on The Hustle, began his career by selling a street traffic monitoring system he created for $20,000 at age 15. Gates formed Microsoft from the ground up starting in 1975, and a mere three years later was already seeing $2.5 million in revenue as it was adopted by 30 percent of the world’s computers.

Students who are currently enrolled in an online master’s in business administration degree will have the chance to decide, once they graduate, to pursue either business management career opportunities in already-established companies or take the entrepreneurial route and form their own startup.


Examples of Self-Made Business People

The most popular self-made businessmen and women also provide the best examples of the road to self-made success. And while historical figures like John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., are world-renowned for their self-built empires, recent examples of modern business people are more applicable to current MBA students:

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, began his rise to stardom before he even left college, according to his page. A student at Harvard in 2002, Zuckerberg and some friends embarked on a project to create a social network for students of the Ivy League school that would allow them to create personal profiles, upload pictures, and communicate with each other.

By 2005, Facebook boasted of 5.5 million users and was found in colleges and other schools all over the world. When advertising revenue started flowing in, Zuckerberg retained control of his company, refusing to sell to already established corporations like Yahoo! and MTV Networks.

By the time Zuckerberg took the company public in 2012 it was already raking in millions of dollars in advertising revenue, making its initial public offering (IPO) the biggest internet IPO ever. Today, Facebook continues to be a world leader in data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm development with Zuckerberg at the helm as CEO.


Oprah Winfrey, one of the most recognizable self-made female millionaires in the world, successfully elevated herself out of dire circumstances in her youth to her current position as a television and film producer. She is also the owner of Harpo Productions, Inc. and the Oprah Winfrey Network, a prolific actress and movie producer, a partner in Oxygen Media, and a political activist partly responsible for the National Child Protection Act. Additionally, the Oprah Book Club reviews and recommends books for millions of devoted readers. writes that Oprah was born into poverty and grew up in an inner city Milwaukee apartment, subjected to abuse for many years. She managed to move in with her father at age 14 in Nashville. Her strict father’s structured environment helped Oprah to drive her life toward a major in speech communications and performing arts.

As a young adult, Oprah worked as a reporter and a news anchor. In 1976, she co-hosted a talk show called People are Talking, which eventually evolved into The Oprah Winfrey Show. From there, she experienced a meteoric rise to success, constantly pushing into new business opportunities and underserviced markets.


Michael Dubin, founder of the popular Dollar Shave Club, worked in marketing and advertising in his early professional life, writes contributor Jaclyn Trop. He enjoyed working in environments where he was challenged to do what he could with a limited amount of resources (a trick he learned from attending comedy improvisation classes).

In 2011, Dubin was chatting with a friend’s father-in-law at a party when the man said he was stuck with a warehouse full of surplus razors. Dubin grabbed at the opportunity and registered the name immediately.

Dollar Shave Club was promoted as a way around annoying, overpriced trips to drug stores to buy razor blades out of locked plastic cases. Instead of wasting time and money going to the store to buy razors, the razors would be sent directly to each club member. Dubin started his company in 2012 with an investment of $6 million. In 2017, Dollar Shave Club pulled in more than $200 million.


Andre Young, better known to the world as hip-hop superstar Dr. Dre, is another perfect example of someone who started life in a violent, inner city environment with nothing and rose quickly to the top of his industry, according to Rolling Stone’s biography page of Dr. Dre.

In his youth, Young was moved from school to school in an attempt to avoid gang-related violence. He decided to go against the flow and submerse himself in music while many of his friends entered a life of crime. In 1986, he met O-Shea Jackson (Ice Cube), and began writing rhymes for Eric “Eazy-E” Wright.

As he continued to rise through the ranks of hip-hop music he co-founded the hugely successful Death Row Records record label. He also discovered and produced such up-and-comers as Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Xzibit. Later in his career, he started his own audio equipment firm called “Beats by Dre,” which he eventually sold, making him a billionaire.


Traits to Become a Self-Made Business Person

All of the featured self-made millionaires and billionaires share certain personality traits and business habits. The most successful self-made people in the business world look at money a little differently than the rest of the world.

To provide a perfect example, Zuckerberg once borrowed $6 million from the bank to purchase a home even though he could easily have paid cash for the property, according to  Zuckerberg negotiated an interest rate of just one percent, while the average inflation rate per year currently sits at about three percent. This means that, barring a major event, Zuckerberg is actually making money off of his bank loan.

Consultant Alex Charfen lists several of the most common attributes found in nearly all self-made business successes in his article, “The 10 Principles of Self-Made Billionaires.” These attributes include:

  • Simple purposes: Entire industries are driven forward by an ingenious entrepreneur’s desire to make something simpler. For example, Bill Gates’ desire to put a personal computer in every home gave birth to a massive computer industry.
  • Simple plans: Employees are engaged by simple, direct plans in which they desire to play a part. The elaborate details required to turn simple plans into realities are filled in later.
  • Low tolerance levels: Successful entrepreneurs limit what they will tolerate from employees and other stakeholders. Unhelpful people who show little professional results are not tolerated.
  • Complete reliance: Self-made billionaires rely heavily on other people and develop professional relationships with those who have something valuable to offer.
  • Dedication: Successful business people are dedicated to their employees, investors, customers, and people in general making them a pleasure to work for.
  • Clear communication skills: Self-made businessmen and women rely on clear avenues of communication and well-established communication systems.
  • Push communications: Most successful business people require that all needed information be delivered regularly without having to ask for it.
  • Frugality: Very little waste takes place in the presence of a self-made billionaire. Everything that is purchased must be consumed; otherwise it should never have been purchased in the first place.
  • Blend of narrative and data: Successful entrepreneurs make decisions based on a blend of information. They listen to cold, hard data as well as their staff’s feelings, desires, and instincts on topics and then make their decisions by weighing all available information.
  • Proactive transparency: Self-made billionaires are proactively transparent, meaning they proactively avoid misunderstandings within their organizations.

Students with an eye toward entrepreneurship who are striving to be the next billionaire success story should attempt to cultivate these attributes in their own lives. Graduates may face a choice: Do they want to look for employment in an existing firm somewhere, or do they want to go it alone and create a startup company of their own?


Ohio University’s Master Of Business Administration Degree

Recognized by US News & World Report as a “Best Online MBA” program, Ohio University’s online masters in business takes advantage of the latest in online classroom technology to bring students an engaging and academically rigorous experience that can benefit them throughout their careers.

The Ohio University online MBA program offers concentrations in finance, health care, executive management, and business analytics. To learn more, call or contact Ohio University today.


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The Importance of Culture to Business Success



Self-Made Billionaires – The Hustle

Mark Zuckerberg –

Oprah Winfrey –

Dollar Shave Club –

Dr. Dre – Rolling Stone

Principles of Self-Made Billionaires –