The Most Common First Job of the World’s Top 100 Billionaires

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If you’re like me, your first job wasn’t anything special.  Interestingly, many of the world’s richest and most powerful people started out in fairly mundane jobs as well.  For instance, former President Barack Obama was an ice cream scooper at a Honolulu Baskin Robbins.  

 

The Richest 100 People in the World

Recently, a study, conducted by the UK recruiting firm Aaron Wallis, analyzed the first jobs of the wealthiest 100 people in the world.  They sought out to determine whether there were any connections between their education levels, their first jobs, and their wealth.

 

In the study, they found that 53 out of the top 100 billionaires started out working for another company.  30 of the billionaires became ultra-rich the old-fashioned way– they inherited their wealth.  Finally, 17 of the billionaires started their own businesses.

 

billionaire first job

https://www.aaronwallis.co.uk/what-makes-a-billionaire.aspx

 

Breakdown of the Forbes Top 10 List

 

Billionaire (Company): First job

  1. Bill Gates (Microsoft, founder): Computer software (entrepreneur)
  2. Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway, CEO): Investment salesman
  3. Jeff Bezos (Amazon, CEO): Software developer
  4. Amancio Ortega (Inditex, Founder): Shop hand for a shirtmaker (retail assistant)
  5. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO): Social media creator (entrepreneur)
  6. Carlos Slim Helu (América Móvil, Director): Stock trader  
  7. Larry Ellison (Oracle, Executive Chairman): Software developer
  8. David Koch (Koch Industries, Executive Vice President): Technical services manager (inherited)
  9. Charles Koch (Koch Industries, CEO): Oil refining (inherited)
  10. Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg, CEO): Investment banking

 

Moving down the list, what do you think were the other jobs that the Forbes top 100 first held?

 

  1. Salesman

At the top of the list is Salesman.  George Soros, the 29th wealthiest person in the world, started out as a traveling salesman for a toy wholesaler.  Michael Dell, the founder of the computer company Dell, started out as a cold-call salesman for a newspaper.  Clearly, many billionaires are gifted in sales! 

 

  1. Stock Trader

The next most common first job for the Forbes top 100 list was Stock Trader.  In many ways, Stock Trader is just a specific type of a sales job, since it requires excellent interpersonal skills to receive the best possible deal.  

 

 

3, 4, and 5

Not surprisingly, Software Developer and Engineer came in next on the list.  Finally, Account/Financial Role and Analyst tied for 5th on the list.   

 

Below, you can see some of the other first jobs that the world’s richest people had starting out.  

 

billionaire first job

 

The researchers of this study, while acknowledging its small sample size, say, “Our results suggest that those starting in a sales role are more likely to become a billionaire… it could be that people who are familiar with business deals at an early point in their career will take this forward to be successful in the million and billion-pound deals that come later on in their life.”

 

College Degrees

This begs the question- do most of these billionaires have college degrees?  It’s not like you need a college degree to be a competent salesman.

 

According to this study, 25% of the Forbes Top 100 list did not graduate from college.  Those that did not graduate include luminaries such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Dell.  They each attended college but dropped out to pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors.  

 

billionaire first job

 

For the 75% remaining that did graduate from college, what did they study?

 

Engineering

At the top of the list was Engineering.  22 of the billionaires studied this major.

 

“There’s a clear trend between the people who studied an engineering subject and the richest 100 in the world,” the researchers shared. “Many of the entrepreneurs who made their money in technology studied engineering, for example Jeff Bezos of Amazon, or Larry Page of Google.”

 

Business

The second most common degree was a Business degree.  15 of the billionaires studied Business, followed closely by Finance & Economics at 11 billionaires.  Interestingly enough, only 4 of these billionaires studied Computer Science.  Surprisingly, this does not include Bill Gates, who was a Pre-Law major while he attended school.  Mark Zuckerberg also wasn’t a Computer Science major as one might assume, although he took many computer science classes.  Instead, he was a Psychology major.

 

billionaire first job

 

While I’ll probably never be a billionaire, it is interesting to find out what many billionaires started off doing and also the trends that exist between college degrees, first jobs, and billionaire status.

 

So readers, are your surprised by these lists at all?  Do any of you Salesmen or Engineering majors feel inspired? 🙂  Share your thoughts below.

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40 Comments

  1. I was surprised to see only 53% starting at another organization. I assumed that meant almost half of these billionaires got super rich off their first job! I hadn’t considered that the inheritance would be as high as 30%.

    One of the most interesting things to me is that “law” is one of the top degrees, but “lawyer” is not one of the top first jobs. I wonder if that is because these billionaires had a first job before going to law school or whether they went to law school and then started a company or took some alternative path rather than becoming a practicing lawyer.
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…When Clickbait KillsMy Profile

  2. Most of the billionaires became billionaires because they were able to grow their business exponentially. To do that, it’s no surprise that you need to be great in sales.

    The other skills, such as engineering came as no surprise because of technology. It’s one of the fields with the most potential if you can build a product that can reach the global population.

    The interesting takeaway is that most of them started out in ordinary jobs just like the average person. Hence, just because you’re in a lower level position right now doesn’t mean that you have no potential to become a billionaire. You just have to work hard and keep on trying your best to find something that is wanted by the mass population.
    Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com recently posted…My 2017 Personal Net Worth Review – Q3My Profile

    • Great points Leo!!! It’s amazing how important communication is especially if you need to communicate that vision. I’m always surprised when Mark Zuckerberg speaks, definitely can tell he’s worked hard at it.

  3. It would seem to me that this is good evidence that most people don’t know where they’ll end up when picking a college major or first job. This backs my first person experience as well, but to see that many of these folks started with degrees completely unrelated to their current roles is interesting.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…RMD and Choosing between a 401K and a RothMy Profile

    • It’s always interesting to see where people end up in their careers. My dad was a horticulture major and ended up a systems engineer. I’m sure he never expected that 🙂

  4. It doesn’t surprise me that so many billionaires excelled in sales. It seems like the ability to get others to see your vision or buy into what you’re selling would be critical if you need massive investments to get your company going. That so many studied engineering was a surprise, though. I guess engineering/programming/tech related fields went hand in hand years ago when these guys were getting started.

    • It’d be interesting to see how the majors evolve over the years. I wonder manufacturing engineers were more important at the turn of the century while computer engineers are more important today. It will be interesting to see what the next big major is.

  5. I could tooootally see how sales is a common first job for billionaires. Good salespeople are hard to find these days; you need to have a certain skillset. I do think that being a natural with sales does set you up well to be an entrepreneur, so that makes sense.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…What A Frugal Weekend! October 1My Profile

  6. I’m not surprised by these results at all. Engineering, Finance, Economics and Business are the majors that produce he highest ROI for your cost of education. Starting a business is one of the best ways to create wealth and no business will survive without a successful salesman. If you want to be a billionaire, learn how to create new products or how money works and then learn how to sell. Seems like a perfect plan.
    Jason@WinningPersonalFinance recently posted…Don’t Let Fear Prevent You From WinningMy Profile

    • Great points Jason!!! Building a company is definitely hard work and to convince people to come work with you is incredibly difficult when you are getting the ball rolling. Definitely takes a good salesman with a vision.

  7. The fact that a number of them were salesmen does not surprise me. In order to do well you need to have drive. Convincing others is important in accomplishing drive as well. And before you can convince others in products and services you need to be able to convince yourself. 🙂
    SMM recently posted…The Things You Own End Up Owning YouMy Profile

  8. The late Dr. Thomas J Stanley used to write about how many top executives started out in sales. Being able to communicate is so important to success. At my job, the CEO just fired the CFO because of poor communication practices. The biggest part of selling is not persuasion. It is listening and finding how to best meet the customers needs. Customer service = repeat sales.
    Dave recently posted…Wearing Success on Your SleeveMy Profile

  9. I knew they’d discover I’m secretly a millionaire! My major is on the list right at the bottom 😀 haha!!
    I can’t say I’m surprised by the list. I didn’t know about the former President’s first job, but millionaires are human too. So unless they’ve inherited enough money to buy an island, they had to start somewhere 🙂
    Adriana @MoneyJourney recently posted…The Zero-sum Budgeting QuizMy Profile

  10. I’m not surprise at how many salesmen are on this list. Selling is a great trait for business people. No matter how great your product is, it doesn’t just sell itself (though some people may disagree with that statement).

    I’m also not surprised by the number of Engineering majors. I believe engineers are good at looking at businesses as systems. This allows them to improve areas of the business that will have the biggest impact on the whole.

    • Thanks for sharing Andreaus!!! I definitely agree that an engineer with an eye for details would make for a great founder. It’s definitely amazing how important attention to details really are.

    • Hahhaa…there are very few people that can so they are Facebook or Snapchat founders 🙂 It’s amazing to think how many great ideas are out there and I seem to think, why didn’t I think of that first 🙂

  11. Did not know that Jeff Bezos was a software developer and just recently Mark Zuckerberg graduated at Harvard after dropping out 12 years ago. My first job was filling orders for a book/publishing company. But I was able to be a friend of one of the salesperson and he taught me a lot about sales. I became a salesperson after that with a point-of-sale company. I’m saying this because sales experience is probably one of the best experience I’ve had. Though most people hate sales, the learning experience, the struggles and the ability to overcome fear makes a person understand living life in general.
    Making the first million is always tough. In fact, most people do not see themselves as millionaires or even have the ability to even earn a million dollars.
    Becoming a billionaire? Get your company listed on the stock market or go public just like all the millionaires from your list above.

    • Thanks for sharing Bernz JP!!! I have heard how difficult sales is and I definitely shied away from it. That’s awesome that you learned so much and were able to overcome your fears. I definitely wish I had given sales a shot and learned.

  12. Not surprised that salesperson is the first job for the majority of the billionaires. You have to be able to be great in selling no matter how great or awful the product is. It’s a good trait to have to entrepreneurs.
    My first real job in college was a loading boxes at UPS, I hoping it would be in there. Darn, oh well!! Haha!

    • I worked at USPS for a period in college as well. It’s definitely interesting to see the logistical side of things and the different work atmospheres in various companies.

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