SO you’ve started at the bottom with designs on the top job?
Don’t worry, it can happen, all you need is a little time. These five people have real-life stories of a meteoric rise to the top. You might even learn something from their journey.
Chris Gardner’s real-life rags to riches story is depicted in smash hit The pursuit of happyness starring Will Smith, which portrays his rise from living on the streets to stockbroking guru.
Gardner spent his childhood in and out of foster homes, before finding himself homeless with his only son in San Francisco in 1981 where he spent a year sleeping rough in stations, shelters and public rest rooms while working as a trainee at stockbroking firm Dean Witter Reynolds.
He was the only one to be offered a job from the trainee group and worked at the company for two years, before being offered a similar role at Bear Stearns. From there he founded his own broking firm, Gardner Rich, in Chicago. He now works as an author and motivational speaker and has even collaborated on venture capital projects with Nelson Mandela.
Now he’s at home among the elite of fashion and politics, but Ralph Lauren, 73, got his start as a clerk in a men’s wear store where he learned the retail trade.
Born Ralph Lifshitz to a Jewish family in New York, the young Ralph was always fashion obsessed, according to his biography, spending his pocket money on suits making him the best-dressed 12-year-old in the Bronx.
He dropped out of college to serve in the army before leaving to work at Brooks Brothers as a sales assistant. He changed his name to Lauren and became convinced men were ready for a new style of tie that was brighter and bolder than previous models. His bosses weren’t convinced so he sold his own brand on the side, before founding Polo with $50,000 in the late 1960s. The fashion giant is now worth around $7 billion.
Ursula Burns grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side “when the gangs were there and the drug addicts were there,” according to the New York Times, before accepting an internship in the summer of 1980 which led to a stunning career as a Xerox “lifer.”
The internship led to a role as an executive assistant and Burns studied a masters in Engineering at Colombia while climbing the ranks to become the first African American woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, according to Daily Muse.
She has been credited with transforming Xerox into a company that also provides IT services, with around half of its $22 billion revenue generated from systems that allow people to pay for parking, book flights and file health insurance claims online.
The Obama administration has also used her skills to lead a program that educates children in science and technology, and appointed her vice chair of the President’s Export Council.
The television megastar’s tough upbringing inMississippi and Milwauke is well-documented, where she was abused by male relatives and gave birth to a son who died in infancy. However the young Oprah got her big break at 17 when she won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, which came with a job at a local radio station and a university scholarship.
She left university to focus on broadcasting where her emotional style struck a chord with viewers. She was offered a job at a struggling Chicago television show which was later renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and syndicated nationally. After scooping a series of Emmys she founded Harpo Productions to focus on producing television, movies and magazines.
Her meteoric rise and cult-like following is credited to her emotional appeal and honesty with viewers. In 2011 she announced she would retire from daytime television after 25 years although she still conducts must-watch interviews like Lance Armstrong’s doping confession. Even off-air the 59 year old managed to top Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful celebrities with earnings of more than $77 million in the last year.