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From Small Acorns

Nothing provides more encouragement to the budding young entrepreneur setting out on the first steps of a very long journey to untold wealth and success than a real-life rags to riches story.  The world of commerce and trading can be cruel and unforgiving, but for those who make it the sky really can be the limit.

Here are some of the better known individuals who came from relatively humble beginnings to become household names for their achievements in business.

J.K. Rowling

Joanne Rowling (see added the “K” later for reasons which are not entirely clear) was a single mother living on state benefits and struggling with depression when the Harry Potter series of children’s books first suggested itself to her.  Like most successful authors she was forced to taste the bitter pill of rejection by publishers on more than one occasion before managing to persuade one that there was a market for her work.

Roman Ambramovich

The Russian megabucks owner of Chelsea Football Club was orphaned at the age of two and brought up by extended family members who were all of humble origins.  As a student of the Moscow Auto Transport Institute he was inspired to set up a small company manufacturing and selling toy ducks, from where he made the not conspicuous leap into trading retreaded tyres.  However he later moved into commodities, taking advantage of the new markets opened up by perestroika to secure his fortune.

George Soros

A survivor of Nazi persecution, Hungarian-born Soros came to London as a penniless college student, sustaining himself with basic jobs including as a waiter and a railway porter.  Funding his own way through the London School of Economics he left to work in a souvenir shop. Somehow managing to ingratiate himself into a New York bank where the managing director was a fellow Hungarian, he progressed through the banking industry. Soros identified a flaw in the UK’s position in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, making a cool $1 billion by trading currency on what became known as Black Wednesday.

Jan Koum

Koum left his native Ukraine at sixteen for a new life in the United States, where he lived on food stamps and a very tight budget.  Nevertheless in 2009 the technologically-gifted youngster saw a gap in the burgeoning messaging market and teamed up with a man named Brian Action to create the WhatsApp application which revolutionised the simple text message.  Today the app is used by millions of people all over the world, making Koum a billionaire.

Richard Branson

The pioneer of the Virgin empire was not exactly poor, but at his independent school he was far from being a success and his headteacher, reflecting upon both his innovative flair and his general attitude commented astutely that he would end up either a millionaire or in prison.  Although he had already set up his own record label and opened an Oxford Street store, his breakthrough was considered to have been his signing of Mike Oldfield with his massively successful album Tubular Bells which had been rejected by others as unsellable. Today the Virgin brand spans a whole host of ventures, including trains, mobile phones and an international airline, and Branson is one of the most recognisable faces in modern business.