After reading this you’ll rethink everything! People of ordinary means but extraordinary vision — Entrepreneurs, Industrialists, Media Personalities, Athletes, Humanitarians — Their modern-day unbelievable stories transcend the definition of success to INSPIRE millions.
- People Who Inspire — 21 Unbelievable RAGS TO RICHES Success Stories Of The World.
- Some of these millionaires and billionaires lived in homeless shelters, extreme poverty and hardships beyond imagination.
- Many of these icons of empowerment were victims of traumatic abuse before they rose to the pedestal of prosperity.
- Their current larger than life personas make it seem that the grass is greener on the other side, but the truth is as contrasting as it is inspirational.
- There incredible rags to riches success stories show the world how ambition, passion and resilience can spur anybody to greatness and among DKODING’s ‘People Who Inspire’ millions.
All of us remain in our class bubbles. Some might stretch it a little. But then there are some who crash through — breaking society’s barriers through the sheer grit and determination to build incredible success stories. While most of us are gifted with platforms to fulfil our potential, some come from extraordinary torrid circumstances, fight poverty, hunger and abuse — push back against the world to write their own destiny. These are the people whose global fame, business conglomerates, million-dollar mansions and vintage car models are the rewards of unflinching determination and perseverance that they displayed in the most excruciatingly testing times.
Here’s 21 exceptional modern-day rags-to-riches ‘People Who Inspire’ stories that prove — you make your own destiny:
OPRAH WINFREY — American Television Icon
Not just did America’s one of the most powerful and richest women grow up in perils, she suffered abuse for years.
Oprah Winfrey was born to an unmarried teen mother and spent most part of her tumultuous childhood, shuffling between family members from her mother, to grandmother and father. While living with her grandmother, Winfrey faced extreme sexual abuse, being raped for the first time at the age of 9 by her cousin who was 19.
Oprah grew up in poverty of the sort where she couldn’t afford clothes and wore potato sacks. Her life finally took a normal turn when she went on to live with her father at the age of 14 and landed a radio show while in college. Since then, the Queen of TV has gone on to become a global voice against abuse and is an inspirational rags to riches success story for millions unempowered.
Turn your wounds into wisdom. The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.– Oprah Winfrey
DR. ISHARI K GANESH — Indian Educator and Business Tycoon
Born in the modest of circumstances in a corporation hospital in Chennai’s Washermanpet area, Dr. Ishari K. Ganesh today runs state-of-the-art educational institutions, charitable hospitals and a global business conglomerate.
Starting out in the anonymity of the masses, an ambitious young visionary and activist Ishari K Ganesh had to confront harsh the realities of our world from a young age. The sudden demise of his father and brother literally shattered the family’s dreams and aspirations leaving behind Ganesh penniless with the responsibility of his mother and sister.
Struggling to get by and despite the lack of privilege to force a change, Ishari K Ganesh envisioned a world where he and others like him could fulfil their true potential. His three-decade journey through hardships culminated in the education and philanthropy behemoth Vels Group. Starting out with a meagre 36 students and a staff of 10 in 1992, Dr. Ganesh’s education behemoth today encompasses 36 institutions, 36,000 students and employs more than 6,000. Dr. Ganesh, the humanitarian runs several charitable institutions, supports sports and young athletes and is a revered patron of cinema. Mirroring the vision and story of India’s former President Late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr. Ishari K Ganesh’s success story is proof that if you can dare to dream of an extraordinary future, your reality will catch up.
Knowledge is Power. To spread your wings and achieve your dream, the aim should be to gain and spread knowledge. Success and everything else will follow.– Dr. Ishari K Ganesh
MARK CUBAN — American Entrepreneur & Investor
The American entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban is one of the richest men of America leading a life that everyone who knows him envies. However, no one can believe that Cuban’s is the story of rags to riches with no support whatsoever from his family.
Born in a lower middle class American family in 1958, Cuban’s father was an automobile upholster and mother was a homemaker. He moved to Dallas, Texas in the early 80s and worked multiple odd jobs like selling products, bartending, etc. until he founded his first company MicroSolutions. He made his first million when he sold the company in 1990.
Cuban’s reputation as a public entrepreneur hails from his early investment in a plethora of startups with the money that he received after selling his company. These startups include 2929 Entertainment, Brondell, AXS Entertainment, etc. Since then he has gone on to acquire NBA team Dallas Mavericks and is a prominent TV personality. Cuban’s success story keeps reaching new highs.
What I’ve learned is you just got to stay focused and believe in yourself and trust your own ability and judgment.– Mark Cuban
PARAS PANDIT — Indian Real Estate Tycoon
When he started out, Paras Pandit dreamt of owning a single apartment flat. Today he owns thousands of them.
Hailing from the Indian state of Gujarat, Paras Pandit emerged from an unfair life ridden with sorrow and hardship, defying the odds to end up as a real estate mogul. Losing his father to an accident at the tender age of 14 in 1993, Pandit and his two siblings were brought up by his mother — who worked odd jobs to ensure they receive at least the minimum. In his own words “In those days, we struggled to put food on the plate twice a day. We lived in a single room. I had no money for travel but only the kindness of bus conductors. My mother fought the world alone to ensure we had a place in it. She is my inspiration. My mission in life became to give her the life and luxury she deserved.”
Pandit refused to let lack of resources become a hurdle in his way. Money-Money-Money was the root of all problems. Money would solve them. He tried his hand at one venture after another — from organizing events to selling pagers and mobiles before real-estate gave him his big break and life’s calling in 1999. Pandit never looked back, went on to create Sheetal Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. in 2004 and a multi-million-dollar empire. Today, scores of landmark commercial, luxury residential and affordable housing projects in India carry his name.
Alongside his proud mother, Pandit is now a well-known humanitarian who has enriched and empowered many lives on his way to the top. From a nobody, Pandit today commands the highest standing in power circles and reverence in the society.
From selling pagers on a Hero Honda motorcycle to owning a fleet of luxury cars, Paras Pandit grabbed life from the scruff, aspired and achieved everything luxury it has to offer.
Don’t be afraid to take risks in life. Win or lose, you’ll be an inspiration for others.– Paras Pandit
SHAH RUKH KHAN — Globally-Acclaimed Indian Movie Star
He was a nobody. An outsider. Now when India says Bollywood, the world hears ‘Shah Rukh Khan’.
This is the stature of recognition and influence that Indian Cinema’s ‘most famous actor ever’ has earned for himself. Described as ‘The Biggest Movie Star in the World’, Shah Rukh Khan is Bollywood’s cover rags to riches story. Khan’s journey to stardom, fame and every luxury money can buy, the iconic persona that he enjoys today, did not have grand beginnings. Shah Rukh Khan was just 15 years old when his father, Mir Taj Mohammed, died due to cancer. 11 years later, his mother Lateef Fatima’s demise due to diabetes, was another big setback for the actor. Since then, the actor took the responsibility of taking care of his elder sister Shehnaaz and is till date, very close to her.
An outsider with no money or might to make any impact, Khan kept making dents on the doors of big production houses. After early struggles in TV and theatre, when Cinematic success arrived, he went on to rule the India’s movie business, earning the name “King Khan”. Blockbuster after blockbuster earned Khan global love and riches that he wouldn’t have dreamt of growing up on pennies in middle-class lanes of Delhi.
Success is not a good teacher. Failure makes you humble.– Shah Rukh Khan
MICHELLE MONE — Scottish Entrepreneur & Politician
The stunning Scottish entrepreneur and parliamentarian, Michelle Mone’s rags to riches inspirational story is the one that every woman must read and recite.
Born in Glasgow in 1971, Mone dropped out of school at the age of 15 due to bullying and family conditions. This was the time when her father became unable to work anymore due to spinal disorder and therefore, Mone started her modeling career to support her family financially.
After marrying Michael Mone at the age 19, the Scottish entrepreneur went on to found MJM International Ltd. and gave birth to the famous Ultimo bra, kickstarting her journey to become one of the most famous female entrepreneur successful stories in Scotland.
Never say never, but there are not enough hours in the day!— Michelle Mone
DO WO CHANG — American-Korean Fashion Mogul
Alongside his wife Jin Sook Chang, Do Wo Chang entered America as a newly married couple from South Korea speaking broken English, degree-less, penniless – how far would you expect them to go? But thanks to the formula of American Dream.
Before forming an international fashion retail chain Forever 21, Wo Chang served coffee at the coffee shop, pumped gas at the gas station and even worked as a janitor. After three long years, the Korean-American businessman decided to take a plunge in the retail garment industry as he noticed the trend of a plethora of wealthy people coming from the industry. In 1984, the couple opened a 900 sq ft. shop in LA with the money that they made with the odd jobs. They named the store ‘Fashion 21’. Their rags-to-riches success story is well-documented.
The idea and determination worked and the store made $700,000 in its first annual sales. By 2010, Forever 21 had 500 stores across America and by 2015, the combined net worth of the founder duo was valued at $5.9 billion. However, the platinum days of Changs only went downhill a little. The retail chain soon started facing a rigorous competition the combined net worth of Changs fell down to $1.6 billion.
You can’t go into business thinking that success will come to you in one or two years.– Do Wo Chang
DR. SANJAY GUPTA — Indian Education Magnate
Years ago, a young and penniless Dr. Sanjay Gupta sold candles on the pavements of Old Delhi to make a living. Today, he owns an empire that is helping millions accomplish their dream of an educated and prosperous future.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of India’s school circuit’s most revered visionaries is a rags to riches story of building an extraordinary enterprise through ambition and bravado in the face of struggle. Born without a morsel of privilege, Dr. Gupta started his journey doing odd jobs in the narrow streets of Old Delhi as a teenager to supplement the family’s meagre income. But through sheer will and determination, Dr. Gupta rose from fixing watches, making candles, and repairing scooters to creating one of the most prolific educational and charitable groups in India.
The Ramagya Group that Gupta built brick by brick, is today involved in myriad social, educational, and charitable activities for the common good. His schools are counted among the most prestigious, innovative and modern, leading the cultural and learning revolution from the forefront. Never having enjoyed the privilege of quality education, Dr. Gupta is today creating world-class facilities to benefit generations of children born in India.
Success in life boils down to how you nurture yourself to create opportunities for a better future, for others first and then yourself.– Dr. Sanjay Gupta
LEONARDO DICAPRIO — American Famous Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio was a lost soul destined to be shoved down a rabbit hole. But he had plans to break the glass ceiling.
The Titanic, Wolf of Wall Street and Revenant fame, Leonardo DiCaprio is a success story that needs no introduction. There is no form of appreciation and recognition in terms of acting that Leonardo DiCaprio hasn’t been showered with. You would thing he is one of the more blessed souls on Earth. However, his childhood was quite contrary to his Oscar-winning career graph where he saw almost all kinds of menace on the streets of New York.
Leo grew up in a poor family living in the outskirts of L.A. and witnessed drug abuse, poverty, violence and even prostitution at a young age. DiCaprio says that all that he witnessed in his early life motivated him to never lead his future in that direction. Consequently, he tried his luck in Hollywood, and the rest is history.
If you can do what you do best and be happy, you’re further along in life than most people.– Leonardo DiCaprio
MAHENDRA SINGH DHONI — Indian Cricket Legend
The King of Indian cricket, M.S. Dhoni had no plan or ambitions to make it big in the sport. Rather, this is the story of a man who is exceptionally good on field and gets along well with the sport without even trying hard.
Coming from a very humble Indian family, MS Dhoni‘s parents expected him to take up a railway job in Kharagpur and sail through life safely. However, he listened to his calling and kept working on his passion for cricket while simultaneously working as the train ticket examiner. His unusual talent was recognised by his Divisional Railway manager while he played for the SER team and the rest is history.
Dhoni went on to become India’s most successful cricket captain ever and became a household name and favourite child of the country. From a ordinary upbringing of Ranchi, Dhoni’s rags to riches story is an inspiration for generations of athletes to come.
If you don’t really have a dream, you can’t really push yourself; you don’t really know what the target is… One day, reality will be better than your dreams.– MS Dhoni
JAN KOUM — Ukrainian Tech Magnate
Who would believe that the boy who had to line up for a food stamp at a local social service offer would go on to make billions worth in net income!
The creator of the world’s most used messaging app WhatsApp, Jan Koum was born in a politically troubled village of Ukraine, Kiev, to a housewife and construction manager. The mother and son duo emigrated to Mountain View in Jan was just 16 whereas, his father failed to make it to the U.S. due to Soviet political unrest. As a child, Jan used to mop grocery store floors while his mother looked after the children until she was diagnosed with cancer and the two lived off the disability allowance.
Koum’s mother passed away in 2000 and his father in 1997. Nevertheless, Koum never lost hope and hit the jackpot when his creation became the world’s most used messaging app. Jan Koum’s rags to riches tale is the tech industry’s most told success story.
Experience from our youth shapes what we do in our later life.– Jan Koum
RITESH AGARWAL — Indian Hospitality Baron
The story of OYO’s founder and India’s youngest millionaire Ritesh Agarwal isn’t a conventional rags-to-riches story. But is deservedly right up there.
Born to a middle-class business family of Odisha, Ritesh Agarwal did odd jobs like selling sim cards to not let his family know about his entrepreneurial ambitions. While preparing for IIT at Kota, Agarwal often used to travel down all the way to Delhi to attend business conferences and meet like-minded people. He doubted that his family wouldn’t understand his streak and therefore, did everything by himself.
Later, Ritesh Agarwal dropped out of college and established OYO for affordable and standardized accommodations throughout India. Today it is the world’s largest hotel chain and Agarwal is one of the youngest billionaires across the globe – an unparalleled success story
Don’t worry about being successful. Work towards being significant and the success will naturally follow.– Ritesh Agarwal
SEAN ‘DIDDY’ COMBS — American Music Mogul
America’s richest hip-hop artist with around $900 million in net worth is a true example of how determination can overcome any odds of life.
Perhaps hip hop’s most famous rags to riches success story, Diddy’s father, Melvin Combs, worked with a convicted drug dealer and was shot in his car in Central Park when Sean was just three. His mother immediately moved the family to Mount Vernon, NY which changed everything.
Like other kids on the street in Vernon, Diddy too had the chance of indulging in gangs and drugs however, the hip-hop artist chose to complete his education and even went to college to pursue a major in business. While attending college in Washington, Diddy used to commute multiple days in a week to New York for an internship he landed with the rapper Heavy D.
Don’t be afraid to close your eyes and dream. But then, open your eyes and see. If you’re chasing your dream, you’re not running fast enough. Run faster.– Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs
JENNIFER LOPEZ — American Entertainment Icon
From a troubled childhood deprived of stable food and proper shelter, to palaces and islands, Jennifer Lopez’s fantastical journey is unparalleled an unparalleled rags-to-riches account.
Not every story of the troubled road to success looks similar. While growing up, Jennifer Lopez watched her parents work tirelessly to provide shelter and food to their daughters. The wild successful Latin star, Lopez had to leave it all to do what she really wanted to do. At the age of 18, Jennifer Lopez walked out of her home and slept on the sofa of her dance studio after her mother disapproved of her ambitions and asked her to complete her college.
The focused and passionate American entertainer moved to Manhattan, deserting her conservative family, and later grabbed multiple opportunities due to her talent and perseverance.
You have to remember the value of your individuality – that you have something special to offer than nobody else can.– Jennifer Lopez
LEBRON JAMES — American Basketball Superstar
Born to a single teenage mother, NBA’s golden boy LeBron’s early life was tormenting to say the least.
Born to a single teenage mother, LeBron lived in extreme poverty, devoid of basic necessity like electricity and food. After his grandmother died, the NBA star and his mother had to move to places after places to have a shelter to live under. His sheer grit and determination to be the best resulted in one of the most revered success stories of modern-day sports
James had to drop out because he couldn’t afford traveling to school everyday. LeBron’s life finally took a turn when his mother sent him to live with his basketball coach and there began the making of a legend who has ruled the court for almost two decades now.
Success isn’t owned. It’s leased. And, the what you owe is due every single day.– LeBron James
KUNWER SACHDEV — Indian Power Entrepreneur
From ordinary middle-class upbringing to extraordinary vision, the journey of India’s Solar man is a millennial tale of inspiration.
Growing up, the power-man of India Kunwer Sachdev and his family never had much money. Born in a middle-class Punjabi family of India, Sachdev worked odd jobs like selling pens house to house with his brother while pursuing engineering. After graduating, the Founder and MD of Su-Kam went on to found a TV cable communication business in Delhi.
A visionary that Kunwer Sachdev always was, he soon plunged into the futuristic potential of the power backup industry and started Su-Kam. Known as the ‘Inverter Man of India’, he is the first Indian entrepreneur to file patents in Indian power backup industry for technology and design. Kunwer Sachdev’s success story has become a case study for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Decisions are never ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s the outcome which may be either positive or negative.– Kunwer Sachdev
JAMIE VARDY — English Football Star
After a life highlighted by rejections, talent, grit and never-give-up attitude landed Jamie Vardy in the spotlight. But it wasn’t just luck.
Rejection is never good enough a reason to give up. Nothing is. The English footballer’s is a story of bouncing back strong from rejections and failures. Jamie Vardy, who now holds the record for the highest number of Premier League goals with 38 goals, was rejected by Sheffield Wednesday for being too small. After a year, Vardy found himself with Northern Premier League at Stocksbridge Park Steels, working part-time in a carbon fibre factory to make the ends meet. Today, Vardy’s rags to riches success story has made him not just a household name in England but across the globe.
Every time I have stepped up a level, I wasn’t expecting it to happen, but once it did, I just made sure I worked as hard as I possibly could to stay there.– Jamie Vardy
RIHANNA — Barbadian Pop Megastar
The music industry’s Queen Riri grew up in a troubled family as the eldest child to an accountant mother and warehouse supervisor father.
Her father was an alcoholic and drug addict and would spend more than half of his paychecks on his lifestyle, leaving the family devoid of any food and money. Rihanna witnessed alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence and financial scarcity while growing up in her home in Barbados. But sheer never-say-die grit and a little bit of fate transformed Rihanna’s career into one of the most famous rags to riches stories of the 21st century.
At school, the global heartthrob was bullied for her lighter complexion which was the result of Irish descendants of her father. She was just seven when she found escape in music and started dreaming of stepping in shoes of her idols like Madonna and Janet Jackson.
Keep your eyes on the finish line and not on the turmoil around you.– Rihanna
NICKI MINAJ — American Music Sensation
The leader American rapper Nicki Minaj led a distressing childhood in poverty while growing up.
At the age of 5, Nicki Minaj‘s family emigrated from Trinidad to an impoverished neighborhood in Queens, New York. While working a number of odd jobs to make the ends meet, it was the role of waitress when Minaj discovered and honed her love for rapping. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Nicki Minaj said, “When I first came to America, I would … pray that God would make me rich so that I could take care of my mother.” Minaj is among people who inspire and has gone on to spearhead a new generation of women artists and keeps on adding new milestones and accolades to her success story.
You wanna know what scares people? Success. When you don’t make moves and you don’t climb up the ladder, everybody loves you because you’re not competition.– Nicki Minaj
PETER DINKLAGE — Celebrated American Actor
While trying to make a fortune in Hollywood, Peter was exploited and rejected for his dwarfism on a regular basis until his debut in 1995 in “Living in Oblivion” that left the world awestruck.
Growing up with achondroplasia, which is a form of dwarfism, it would be unfairly fair to say that Peter Dinklage was always dealing with hardships of one sort or another. He describes himself as being bitter and angry during his adolescence and would often build walls around him. Bullying and rejections were common to him wherever he went.
In 1991, Dinklage graduated and moved to New York to set out a path for himself in acting. He lived in a shared apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a friend and an army of rats that lived in his heating vent. Dinklage went on to play Tyrion Lannister, the most loved character from the hit cult TV show Game of Thrones. Defying the odds when there were mountains of hurdles stacked against him, Peter Dinklage scripted his very own rags to riches success story, fulfilling the American dream.
I waited a long time out in the world before I gave myself permission to fail. Please don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it. Do it.– Peter Dinklage
PC MUSTAFA — Indian FMCG Young Turk
While most millionaire startup founders come from Ivy League Universities, PC Mustafa hails from a different league altogether.
Perhaps the most famous rags to riches success story of startup landscape in India, the Founder and CEO of ID Fresh, P.C. Mustafa hails from a village of Kerala with acute shortage of electricity and accessibility back then. After failing in class 6th, he decided to not study further and join his father in his daily wage work. However, he was sent back during later years and went through a drastic transition of being a topper in his later years and eventually joining IIM-Ahmedabad.
Growing up, his father ran out of money while he was still in school and therefore, was admitted to Farook College in Kozhikode after class 10th where free meal and accommodation was provided to a few students. He not only struggled with bullying and being looked down upon, Mustafa also faced trouble in speaking English during college life.
If you have the passion to start something, do it immediately. Don’t wait for tomorrow because delay kills your passion gradually.– PC Mustafa
Before You Go: Frequently Asked Rags to Riches Questions
While the dictionary definition of Rags to Riches means someone attaining all the luxuries in life from having little to nothing when they started. But in the modern lingo, the term has a broader meaning encompassing success stories that defy odds.
While the exact origin of the idiom, which is an alliteration, is unknown, the term was first used in reference to stories written by American writer Horatio Alger between 1834 and 1899.
In all probability, rags to riches has vastly changed in the modern world where capitol seldom exchanges hands in a significant shift in balance. However, with the 21st century bringing more opportunities to the common man than ever before, rags-to-riches is a tale very much possible today.
Oprah is the epitope of hope and positivity. Her words and vision have made a lasting impact around the world.
Dr. Ishari K Ganesh had the opportunity to gain wisdom and get inspired by India’s former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the celebrated scientist and humanitarian. Dr. Ganesh has made Dr. Kalam’s vision of Knowledge is Power as his mission with Vels Group.
Baroness Michelle Mone recently completed five years as a parliamentarian in 2020. Having sold her multi-million-dollar company Ultimo in 2014, Mone continues to be active in social endeavours as an adored public personality. Her net worth is currently estimated at around $47 million.