From Nil to Billions: The Billionaire CEOs Who Started With Zilch

The idea of the American Dream is inextricably tied to wealth. The Dream spawned in the minds of these three self-made men who would beat the odds, become CEOs of empires and break the billion-dollar threshold. Allow their stories to inspire and rekindle your own American Dream.

David Murdock

The man who would be become a billionaire real estate and food mogul started out from the lowest position on the economic ladder. After serving his country in World War II, David Murdock was left destitute and without a home, according to He managed to borrow $900 from a helping hand that he used to purchase a Detroit diner. After selling it for $700 profit, he set his sights on the Southwestbut he needed a car. Murdock must have found a way of obtaining an auto loan with bad credit to buy a vehicle. He hit the road to Arizona and began constructing homes that miraculously evolved into a full-fledged real estate empire. In 1985, Murdock acquired Hawaiian real estate outfit Castle-Cooke and Dole, the latter of which is now the largest fruit and vegetable producer in the world, according to Dole went public in 2009, the same year that Murdock received his high school diploma.

Howard Schultz

The CEO of Starbucks spent his childhood growing up in the projects of Brooklyn, New York. Schultz's skills at football allowed him to escape the community and attend Northern Michigan University on a football scholarship. Post college, Schultz worked at Xerox and as a general manager for Hammarplast, a Swedish drip-coffee maker, according to He later pursued a position at Starbucks for an entire year before he was hired as a director of marketing and operations in 1982. Dissatisfied with Starbucks' management, Schultz quit and launched his own coffee business, Il Giornale. Through the success of this business endeavor, he purchased Starbucks a year later for $3.8 million, according to Now, as we all know, Howard Schultz leads one of the most successful coffee franchises of all time.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren began life in the Bronx in 1939, and rose to become the billionaire fashion connoisseur of Polo Ralph Lauren. After dropping out of a Manhattan college for a brief foray in the Army, Lauren then landed a job as a tie salesman for Brooks Brothers, according to Feeling that tie aesthetics were lacking, he began designing his own in 1967 and branded them with the name Polo. Lauren expanded his business to include a full menswear line and women's suits. The famous short sleeve cotton shirt embellished with the Polo insignia was released in 1972 and became the brand's flagship product. The Polo brand proliferated throughout the 1980s and 90s, and the iconic clothing line went public in 97. His massive fortune is estimated at $6.5 billion.
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