Awe-Inspiring Rags-to-Riches Stories: Must Read for MBAs.


Undoubtedly, one of the most inspiring stories of a brilliant businessman. Samuel Moore Walton was born just before the advent of The Great Depression in a small-town of Oklahoma, USA. He grew up in hard times as his family was struggling to make ends meet. During this period, he used to milk the family cow, bottle the surplus and deliver it to the customers. Subsequently, he delivered newspapers on a paper route and sold magazine subscriptions. After graduating from economics, he joined the US Army Intelligence Corps during World War-II.

After leaving the Army in 1945, he and his wife moved to Arkansas where he had a brush with retail store management in a first-ever variety store. Later on, using a loan of $20000

from his father-in-law, he started a Ben-Franklin franchise store. It was much later in 1962 when Walton opened his first Walmart Store. It was the result of years of hard-work spent in devising incredibly simple but path-breaking business strategies to create a one-of-its-kind low-cost business model. And from there, there was no looking back. Eventually, he turned a single dime store in a hardscrabble cotton town into a $485 billion Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world.


Usually, the tech-billionaires that we know of usually came from affluent backgrounds. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg’s father was a well-off dentist. Bill Gates was technically a millionaire before creating Microsoft. Larry Page’s and Sergey Brin’s fathers were both professors and the latter’s mother a NASA engineer. Jan Koum’s (Founder of WhatsApp) story compared to others is like chalk and cheese. And by far the most dramatic. Jan Koum was born to an impoverished family in Soviet-era Ukraine.

He was so poor that he queued with his Mom for food stamps, swept the floors of grocery store. During the excruciatingly gut-wrenching Ukrainian winters, he used to bath with cold water in -20 degrees temperature. At 16, he immigrated to California with his mother for hope of a better life. He had a knack for computers. So, he secured a job at Yahoo! as an infrastructure engineer where he met Brian Acton- his future business-partner and also future best friend. In 2008, he applied for a job at Facebook but was rejected outright. Two years later, on 24th February 2009- on his birthday, he incorporated WhatsApp, which went on to become on of the world’s biggest messaging application. Finally, in February 2012, Jan Koum sold Whats App for a mammoth $19 billion to Facebook.

Chris Gardener

He is the man whose ups and downs of life was the inspiration behind the film ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ starring Will Smith. He had a tough childhood marred by physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence and poverty. As truly depicted in the movie, while attending an unpaid internship program, Chris spent a year on the streets with his son and even took refuge in a Church shelter or a bathroom at a subway station in California.

One day, he spotted a red convertible Ferrari and offered the man behind the wheel a parking spot. Then, Chris asked the hot-shot man “What do you do and how do you do it?” The man answered, “I am a stock-broker”. Later, over lunch, that man named Bob Bridges discussed the basics of Wall Street and Chris’s chances of becoming a stock-broker. Consequently, after working with Bear Sterns & Co. he founded his brokerage firm Gardener Rich in Chicago. He is now a multi-millionaire international businessman, philanthropist and a renowned motivational speaker. In his own words: its not bad for a guy who, six years before founding his own brokerage firm, was fighting, scratching, and crawling his way out of the gutter with a baby on his back!


Arguably, Mr.Ambani’s story is the grandfather of all success stories and the most retold legend of corporate India. Dhirubhai Ambani was born as second son to a lower-middle class teacher. He was raised in frugal conditions. He started off his entrepreneurial career by selling ‘pakoras’ to pilgrims in Mount Girnar (Junagarh disctrict- incidentally his place of birth). At 16, he moved to Yemen and worked for A.Besse & Co. for a paltry sum. In 1962, he came back to India and started a company Reliance Commercial Corporation with a capital of 15000/-.

His intrinsic business philosophy of ‘Profit we share ; Losses are mine’ attracted many money-lenders and business associates. And he was known to always keep his promises. He used to say “Between my past, the present and the future, there is one common factor: Relationship and Trust. This is the foundation of our growth”. A few years later in 1969-70, he started his first textile mill and launched the brand ‘Vimal’. Later, he diversified into Petrochemicals, Telecommunications, IT, Energy, Power, Retail and what not. The Times of India rightly quoted that0 ‘Ambani was the greatest creator of wealth in the century’. The department of Post also released a Rs.5 stamp in his name. Flabbergasting, isn’t it?


Most of us are aware with the extremely popular brand ‘Forever 21’ but what we don’t know is the story of how it became what it is today. So this is how the the story of the most enterprising businessmen couple which you may never have heard of goes. A native of South Korea, Do Wong was a cleaner, dishwasher and served a gas station attendant before becoming one of the richest man in the world. He literally grew up working in Coffee shops. Do Wong immigrated to USA with his wife Jin Sook the dream of becoming a retail businessman.

After years of struggle, in the year 1984, with whatever savings they had, opened a small reasonably-priced retail clothing store in Los Angeles. Considering the prevailing circumstances, it was touted as a risky, do-or-die business move. They called the store  ‘Fashion 21’. Later, the name of changed to ‘Forever 21’ (A clever Branding Strategy). Through constant hard-work and loads of luck, the business grew steadily with around 500 stores now present in more than 50 countries world-wide and earning millions of dollars annually. This husband-wife team have become an inspiration to thousands of immigrants from Asia and other developing and under-developed countries who come everyday to USA with big dreams to live up to.

P.S: Other notable rags to riches success stories worthy of mention: Steve Jobs (Apple, Pixar, Atari), Oprah Winfrey (The Oprah Winfrey Show), John D Rockefeller (Standard Oil), Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines), Howard Schultz (Starbucks) and Ralph Lauren (Ralph Lauren Corporation). Perhaps, I will cover them in the next part of the series.

Contributed By : Pranshu Awasthi (Class of 2007, IBS Gurgaon).

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