What 11 highly-successful people were doing at 16

Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library/Wikimedia CommonsPresident Donald Trump was a student at the New York Military Academy.

  • Sometimes talent is apparent at a young age. Bill Gates, worth $US92.8 billion today, founded his first company at age 16.
  • But sometimes it’s not so clear. Steve Jobs’s grade point average in high school was an abysmal 2.65 – mostly Bs and Cs.
  • Read on to see how 11 of the most-accomplished people in the world spent their younger years.

Though we often like to think the signs of talent or intelligence are clear at a young age, that’s not always the case.

Many of the world’s most successful people didn’t necessarily seem that way from the get-go. Kim Kardashian’s classmates said she was quiet, while Steve Jobs earned mostly Bs and Cs in high school.

Sometimes the path to fame is obvious, though. Bill Gates was only 16 when he founded his first company.

Read on to learn what the biggest names in the world were like when they were mere underclassmen.


Beyoncé spent much of her childhood in the talent show circuit, being managed by her father and practicing in front of clients at her mother’s hair salon. Her family went nearly bankrupt trying to launch Beyoncé’s stardom.

“Every penny went into Beyoncé’s career,” Lyndall Locke, Beyoncé’s childhood boyfriend, told The Daily Mail.

But in 1997, when Beyoncé was 16, the Houston girl finally made moves. Destiny’s Child, which she formed with childhood friends, had a track featured in the 1997 film Men in Black.

Now, Beyoncé doesn’t consider Destiny’s Child’s first release to be anything remarkable. “The first record was successful but not hugely successful,” Beyoncé told The Guardian in 2006.

Jeff Bezos

Getty/Chip SomodevillaJeff Bezos in 2018.

Jeff Bezos, who is now worth $US141.9 billion, was working the grill at McDonald’s at age 16.

“My first week on the job, a five-gallon, wall-mounted ketchup dispenser got stuck open in the kitchen and dumped a prodigious quantity of ketchup into every hard-to-reach kitchen crevice. Since I was the new guy, they handed me the cleaning solution and said, ‘Get going!'” Bezos told Cody Teets, author of “Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began at McDonald’s.”

Bezos told CNBC Make It that it’s possible to learn responsibility and other crucial lessons in any job – and he did so as a teen at the Golden Arches.

The lessons gained from working at a grill with others is a lot different than what’s available in the classroom, he said.

“The most challenging thing was keeping everything going at the right pace during a rush. The manager at my McDonald’s was excellent. He had a lot of teenagers working for him, and he kept us focused even while we had fun,” he told Teets.

Maya Angelou

The poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou had a tumultuous youth. She was abandoned by her parents at a young age, and was sexually assaulted as a child.

By age 16, Angelou was living in San Francisco. She decided she wanted to become a streetcar conductor.

“I saw women on the street cars with their little changer belts,” Angelou said in a 2013 interview with television host Oprah Winfrey. “They had caps with bibs on them and form-fitting jackets. I loved their uniforms. I said that is the job I want.”

There was initially resistance, as she was refused an application.

“I sat there (at the office) for two weeks, every day,” Angelou said in the interview. “And then after two weeks, a man came out of his office and said ‘come here.’ And he asked me ‘why do you want the job?’ I said ‘I like the uniforms.’ And I said ‘and I like people.’ And so I got the job.”

LeBron James

At age 16, in the year 2000, LeBron James was a student at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

He was already building a reputation as the star of any team.According to a 2003 NBA draft profile of the basketball player, James led St. Vincent-St. Mary to win two state championships his freshman and sophomore year.

His sophomore year – around his 16th birthday – James was named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team. That was the first time a sophomore had been selected for either honour.

And James wasn’t just playing basketball in his teen years. He was also a remarkable football player for St. Vincent-St. Mary. Ohio State wanted to recruit James his freshman year of high school.

Donald Trump

Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library/Wikimedia CommonsDonald Trump at age 17 in the 1964 New York Military Academy yearbook.

Donald Trump was 16 in 1962. Born in Queens, Trump was then a student at the New York Military Academy, where Trump’s father enrolled him after learning that his son was travelling to Manhattan with his friends.

The sparse academy living was an aboutface from his 23-room childhood home, which was paid by his father’s successful real estate career.

“At the beginning, he didn’t like the idea of being told what to do, like make your bed, shine your shoes, brush your teeth, clean the sink, do your homework,” tactical-training instructor Theordore Dobias said in an interview in “Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President.”

“He wanted to be number one. He wanted to be noticed. He wanted to be recognised. And he liked compliments.”

Former classmates told The Washington Post that Trump as a high school student was “insanely neat,” “self-confident,” and had a penchant for bringing stylish, beautiful women to campus.

Kim Kardashian

Entertainment Tonight/YouTubeKim Kardashian at 14 in 1994.

Kim Kardashian, the TV personality and businesswoman, is now worth $US45.5 million. She didn’t exactly come from humble beginnings; her father, the attorney Rob Kardashian, was worth $US30 million when he passed in 2003.

Despite her domination of the headlines in the last decade, Kardashian was said to be a quiet, average student at Marymount High School.

“She never wanted to be famous, it just kind of happened. She was always the quiet girl sitting in the corner while we were all being loud,” her childhood friend Nikki Lund told the Mirror.

“Kim was studious, she wanted to be a good student,” Lund said. “She worked hard at school, she didn’t get straight A’s but the teachers liked her. She’d never bunk off school.”

According to someone who graduated the same year as Kardashian, the celebrity was “decent and helpful. That is why everybody in the school liked her.”

Larry Page

Chris Hondros/Getty ImagesLarry Page in 2016.

In 1989, 16-year-old Larry Page, who went on to co-found Google, was a student at East Lansing High School in East Lansing, Michigan.

Both of his parents were computer engineers and his house “was usually a mess, with computer, science, and technology magazines and Popular Science magazines all over the place,” Page said in an interview.

“From a very early age, I also realised I wanted to invent things,” Page said in an interview. “So I became really interested in technology and business. Probably from when I was 12, I knew I was going to start a company eventually.”

Along with his interest in technology, Page played the saxophone and said that his study of music composition also helped shape his views of technology and programming.

Christiane Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour is now the global affairs anchor for ABC News, as well as the chief international correspondent for CNN International.

Amanpour, whose father is Iranian and mother is British, grew up in Iran. But she completed her secondary schooling in England. At age 16, in 1974, she was a student at the New Hall School in England.

Being separated from her parents and home country was difficult for the future journalist.

“It was weird being in a very strict boarding school after being with your parents and your sisters and your family,” Amanpour said in an interview. “I did go back to Iran where my home was and remained until the revolution for every vacation – Christmas, Easter and summer. But it was hard. But I suppose it’s part of what made me independent and, hey, you know, no regrets.”

Bill Gates

AP File PhotoBill Gates in 1984.

Bill Gates grew up in a weathly, comfortable home in Seattle that encouraged competition and hard work.

“It was a very, very, very competitive environment, and if you spent the weekend there, you were part of the competition, and it didn’t matter whether it was hearts or pickleball or swimming to the dock,” a visitor to the Gates’ home shared in a PBS interview. “And there was always a reward for winning and there was always a penalty for losing.”

When Gates was in the eighth grade, the Mothers’ Club at his school raised funds to buy a computer and terminal. The next year, he was assigned to do a computerised class schedule for the entire high school.

By age 16, Gates and his friends, using the school computer, launched a company called Traf-O-Data. It would process traffic tapes for the local roads – people were doing this by hand before.

Ultimately, it wasn’t successful.

“We made a little bit of money and had some fun with it,” he said in a 1993 interview with the Smithsonian Institution.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling was a model student at Wyedean School in England during her teen years. She was head girl and earned A-levels in English, French, and German.

One teacher told The New Yorker that Rowling was “one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English.” Rowling said she based the character of Hermonie off her adolescent years.

But her teen years were also marked by unhappiness. Rowling’s mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Rowling was just 15

“I wasn’t particularly happy. I think it’s a dreadful time of life,” Rowling told The New Yorker. “I came from a difficult family. My mother was very ill, and it wasn’t the easiest.”

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs revolutionised much of technology, but he was actually a fairly mediocre student at Homestead High School in Cupertino, California. His GPA was a 2.65 – or mostly Bs and Cs.

“Jobs was probably never even considered as a commencement speaker,” wrote Terry Anzur, a talent coach who went to high school with Jobs, in 2011. “He did, however, make a statement in the senior talent contest by putting on a laser light show at a time when most of us had never even heard of lasers.”

“He followed his own path, and that made him kind of an outsider with those who followed the crowd,” she wrote.

Perhaps his middling reputation and grades made sense. Jobs spent a lot of time in high school experimenting with his future Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak.

Jobs also attended lectures at the Hewlett-Packard plant – where he once boldly asked the company president for some parts he needed for a school project.

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