Employment Trends

First jobs of millionaires and billionaires

Written by Eric Titner

When we think about our futures, who among us doesn’t dream of following in the footsteps of rich and successful people? You might be shocked to discover what some of these amazingly wealthy people did for their first jobs. Let’s take a closer look.

A study conducted by the sales recruitment specialist company Aaron Wallis revealed that the most common first job amongst the billionaire crowd is a salesperson. Approximately 10% of these fabulously wealthy folks started out in the world of sales, which stands to reason—this position allows individuals to build their negotiating and deal-brokering skills, learn how to be persuasive in the face of overwhelming negative odds, and discover the value of persistence, which are common traits of successful people. Financial investor George Soros, entrepreneur Mark Cuban, and Dell founder Michael Dell can be counted amongst those who got their start as salespeople.

Other common first jobs of the ultra wealthy include stock traders (Carlos Slim Helu, telecom magnate), engineers (Mikhail Fridman, business magnate), accountants (Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike), and software developers (Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft), but the list is surprisingly robust—you can practically name any job and it’s likely that at least one millionaire or billionaire got his or her start doing that.

Have these rich folks typically stayed within the fields that they started in and made their fortunes there? Well, sometimes they do, like Mark Zuckerberg, whose first job was starting Facebook. However, more often than not their first jobs have little to do with how they made their money. Amancio Ortega, founder of fashion mega-brand Zara, started out as a shop hand for a shirtmaker.

Since education and career path are often intertwined for most folks, let’s take a look at a few other interesting statistics from the Aaron Wallis study. Among 100 of the world’s top billionaires, approximately 30% inherited or worked for family businesses, 53% worked for other businesses, and 17% actually started their own businesses. Around 75% obtained a college degree, with the mostly commonly pursued academic path being engineering (22%). Business and accounting degrees are also popular among this economically elite group.

So, what’s the takeaway from this look at the first jobs of millionaires and billionaires? The truth is, many of us dream of becoming wealthy and wildly successful, but may have assumed that it’s a path that’s not open to us. Think again! Clearly, the road to riches for many successful millionaires and billionaires didn’t start off paved in gold. This is good news for you if you feel as if you haven’t quite found your professional niche just yet. The road to success can start from any location!

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.