9 of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories in business

Do Won Chang headshotGetty Images/Alberto E. RodriguezDo Won Chang worked three jobs to make ends meet before starting Forever 21.

Some of the richest people in the world were born into their wealth.

But many of them started with nothing, and through hard work, talent, grit, and a bit of luck, managed to rise to the very top.

These 9 stories remind us that it’s possible to overcome just about anything, from parents passing away, to extreme poverty, and more.

Max Nisen and Eric Goldschein wrote an earlier version of this story.

George Soros survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary to become one of the world's most successful investors.

George Soros survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary after his father paid a government employee, whose Jewish wife he had helped hide in the countryside, to let him pose as his godson. In 1947, he escaped the country, which had come under communist rule after the war, to stay with relatives in London. Soros put himself through the London School of Economics by working as a waiter and railway porter.

After graduating, Soros sold goods at a souvenir shop, writing countless letters to managing directors at merchant banks in London until he finally got a job. That was the beginning of a long and enormously successful career in finance, including his famous bet against the British pound in 1992, which earned him more than a billion dollars in profit in one swoop.

John Paul DeJoria lived in his car before John Paul Mitchell Systems took off.

Kevin Winter/Getty

As a first-generation American, DeJoria had it rough from the beginning. His Greek and Italian parents divorced when he was two, and he sold Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family before he turned 10. He was eventually sent to live in a foster home in Los Angeles.

DeJoria spent some time with an L.A. gang before joining the military. After trying his hand as an employee for Redken Laboratories, he took a $US700 dollar loan and created John Paul Mitchell Systems. He hawked the company's shampoo door-to-door, living out of his car while doing so. But the quality of the product could not be denied, and now JPM Systems has annual revenues of nearly $US1 billion. He also created Patron Tequila and has a hand in a variety of industries, from diamonds to mobile phones.

Do Won Chang worked three jobs to make ends meet before starting Forever 21.

Do Won Chang and his wife, Jin Sook, moved to America from Korea in 1981. When they first arrived, Do Won was forced to work three jobs at the same time to support them, as a janitor, a gas station attendant, and in a coffee shop. Eventually, they were able to open their first clothing store in 1984.

That one store grew into Forever 21, which pioneered fast fashion and is now a multi-national, 480 store empire that generates around $US3 billion in sales a year. It's a family business, with the couple's daughters Linda and Esther helping to run the company.

'Forever 21 gives hope to people who come here with almost nothing,' Don told the LA Times. 'And that is a reward that humbles me: The fact that immigrants coming to America, much like I did, can come into a Forever 21 and know that all of this was started by a simple Korean immigrant with a dream.'

Guy Laliberté ate fire on the streets before introducing Cirque du Soleil to the world.

Michael Buckner/Getty Images

The Canadian-born Laliberté began his circus career busking on the streets: playing accordion, walking on stilts, and eating fire. He tempted fate by bringing a successful troupe from Quebec to the Los Angeles Arts Festival in 1987, with no return fare. The bet paid off, and the circus group was eventually brought to Las Vegas, where they became the world-famous Cirque du Soleil we know today.

Today, Laliberté is the CEO of Cirque, a professional poker player and space tourist, with an estimated net worth of $US1.98 billion.

Howard Schultz grew up in the Brooklyn projects before becoming CEO of Starbucks.

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Schultz grew up in the Bayview projects of Canarsie, Brooklyn. He always wanted to climb 'over the fence' and go beyond the lifestyle provided by his truck-driving father. He excelled at sports and eventually earned a football scholarship to the University of Northern Michigan.

After graduating with a degree in communications, Schultz went to work for Xerox before discovering a small coffee shop called Starbucks. Enamoured with the coffee, he left Xerox to become the company's chief executive in 1987. After beginning with 60 shops, Starbucks now has more than 21,000 stores in 65 countries, and Schultz has a net worth of $US3.1 billion.

Leonardo Del Vecchio was an orphaned factory worker whose eyeglasses empire today makes Ray-Bans and Oakleys.

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Del Vecchio was one of five children who could not be supported by his widowed mother. After growing up in an orphanage, he went to work in a factory making molds for auto parts and eyeglass frames, where he lost part of his finger.

At 23, he opened his own moulding shop. That eyeglass frame shop expanded to the world's largest maker of sunglasses and prescription eyewear. Luxottica manufactures sunglasses from brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley, with 6,000 retail shops like Sunglass Hut and LensCrafters. His net worth is estimated at $US23.5 billion.

Kirk Kerkorian went from boxer and Royal Air Force pilot to Las Vegas mega-resort owner.

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Kerkorian, the son of Armenian parents who learned English on the streets, dropped out of 8th grade to become a boxer. His family was a casualty of the Great Depression, and Kerkorian went about finding skills to help bring income home. He became a daredevil pilot for the Royal Air Force during World War II, delivering supplies over the Atlantic on routes that would crash one in four planes.

From the money he made running supplies, Kerkorian became a high roller on the craps table and eventually a real estate magnate in Las Vegas: he bought The Flamingo and built The International and MGM Grand, stalwarts of the Vegas scene.

Kerkorian died in June 2015.

Richard Desmond went from living above a garage to creating a magazine publishing empire.

Desmond grew up the son of a single mother after his parents divorced. The two of them lived above a garage, and, according to Desmond, he was 'very fat and very lonely.' He quit school at 14 to focus on being a drummer, working as a coat-checker to help pay the bills. Though he never became rich from his own musical talents, he later opened his own record shops.

Eventually Desmond published his first magazine, International Musician and Recording World. The Desmond magazine empire would expand to publications like a British version of Penthouse and OK!, a worldwide favourite. He now owns publications around the globe and is involved in philanthropic work. He still plays with his band, RD Crusaders, whose members include former musicians from The Who and Led Zeppelin.

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