Study Reveals Most Common First Job Among the World’s Richest People

Many of the world’s most successful people — controlling $2.3 trillion combined — worked normal first jobs. Former President Barack Obama, for example, scooped ice cream at a Honolulu Baskin Robbins. Recruitment company Aaron Wallis found 15 similar first work experiences of the 100 richest people in the world. The world’s wealthiest had one common job in particular (on page 10).

1. Construction worker

Left: A construction worker. | shih-wei/iStock/Getty Images, Right: John Menard Jr. | Joe Robbins/Getty Images for NASCAR
  • Two of the billionaires began as construction workers.

This blue-collar job is hard on your body and generally doesn’t pay well. The average hourly rate for an entry-level construction worker? $13.80. But many people get union gigs and make a decent living on construction sites. For at least two billionaires among the top 100, however, that wasn’t enough.
Now worth $7.3 billion, John Menard Jr. demonstrates a rags-to-riches construction tale. He built barns in order to pay his tuition at the University of Wisconsin. Translating his handyman prowess, Menard Jr. eventually founded a hardware store chain, Menard’s, which is now the third-largest home improvement firm in the U.S., according to Forbes.
Next: If you can crunch numbers, it’ll be an easier climb.

2. Accountant

Left: An accountant at work. | utah778/iStock/Getty Images, Right: Phil Knight | Steve Dykes/Getty Images
  • Four billionaires started as accountants.

Billionaires can come from anywhere, which should inspire you. You can escape the cubicle even if you’re like four of our billionaires who began as number-crunchers. Accountants may seem boring, but they have generally high-paying jobs ($48,000 annually on average).
Knowing your numbers proves successful. The co-founder of Nike, Phil Knight, began as an accountant, according to ACCA. Now he’s worth $25.1 billion. And you may recognize the company who gave former accountant, Arthur Blank, his net worth of $2.6 billion. Blank co-founded The Home Depot after he was fired from another business.
Next: This job seems simple but you need a strong technical skill set.

3. Mechanic

Left: A mechanic | Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images, Right: | Racsoagrafal/Wikimedia Commons
  • Two billionaires started out as mechanics.

A mechanic may be a blue-collar job, but it requires specialized skills. It’s a pursuit you can begin at a young age and suddenly find yourself doing professionally. That seems to be the case for two of the richest people in the world.
We know one billionaire, Kelcy Warren, who served as a welder for his dad’s company when he was just a teen. After developing a strong work ethic thanks to his father, Warren got a job at Lone Star Gas; stayed strong during a tough time in the oil industry; and acquired Energy Transfer Partners. Now the Texan is worth about $3 billion.
Next: This common first job gives most people nightmares.

4. Retail assistant

Left: A retail worker. | Kena Betancur/Getty Images, Right: Amancio Ortega | Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images
  • Among the top 100 billionaires, three began in retail.

Those who work retail get paid crap to work long hours and take abuse from customers. The average hourly pay is a little more than $10 per hour. And these three billionaires are proof that even if you’re stuck at Hollister or Old Navy, you can get to the top.
One example of a retail-worker-turned-billionaire: Amancio Ortega, whose first job was helping out a shirtmaker in his hometown. Now worth $66.4 billion, the Spaniard is best known  as the founder of Zara, the largest fashion retailer in the world.
Next: This job teaches you about structure and teamwork.

5. Military

Left: He enlisted in the military. | ChrisSupersea/iStock/Getty Images, Right: John Paul DeJoria | Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Keep Memory Alive
  • Two of the top 100 billionaires got their start in the military.

An entry-level military job doesn’t mean you’re a grunt; it can be a pretty awesome gig. Nearly everyone begins at the same starting line in the military. People from all backgrounds — racial, economic, and geographic — come together to work for a common goal. And they further their careers by specializing in a skill set.
One billionaire, John Paul DeJoria, used to live in his car as a young adult. He eventually enlisted in the military and served the U.S. Army until he got a $700 loan and created a hair-care business, John Paul Mitchell. DeJoria produced another household name when he began Patron Tequila. Now he’s worth $2.9 billion, according to Business Insider.
Next: A handy stepping stone for the world’s richest

6. Legal assistant

Left: A legal assistant. | djedzura/iStock/Getty Images, Right: Sumner Redstone. | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
  • Two of the 53 billionaires were legal assistants. 

You’ll need some kind of schooling or certification to enter the legal field, and it’s certainly true when it comes to being a legal assistant. These billionaires likely became full-fledged attorneys.
You may recognize the name of a legal clerk, Sumner Redstone, who worked at San Francisco’s U.S. Court of Appeals after earning his bachelor’s degree and J.D. from Harvard. Before becoming the executive chairman of CBS and Viacom, Redstone taught law at Boston University and worked for the U.S. attorney general. How’s that for a resume? Now he’s worth $4.7 billion.
Next: This sought-after profession will jump-start your career.

7. Engineer

Technician engineer checking wires
They likely made it through college before getting a job. | iStock/Getty Images
  • Five of the billionaires from this report hit the ground running as engineers.

People work hard to become engineers. It takes years of schooling and often an advanced degree to get your foot in the door. Even though there are many types of engineers, they all require a big skill set and knowledge base.
Next: Finance makes money.

8. Stock trader

stock brokers
It’s a stressful first job, but it paid off for these billionaires. | Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Out of the top 100 richest people in the world, nine started out as stock brokers.

If you want to make money, finance is the place to be. That’s pretty intuitive. And perhaps that’s why many stockbrokers become insanely rich. According to the report, nine of the 100 richest people in the world had their first professional job as stock brokers.
Next: This job directly correlates to start-up success.

9. Software developer

Left: A software technician. | Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Getty Images, Right: Bill Gates | Sean Gallup/Getty Images
  • Five of the richest 100 people in the world started as software engineers. 

Can you imagine waltzing into a job interview, with zero experience, and suggesting to an employer that you need to be paid the average $65,000 for an entry-level job as a software developer? A lot of people do, and some go on to become billionaires.
A classic example of a computer-programmer-turned-billionaire: Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. Now worth $79.3 billion, according to Thrillist, “Gates got a gig debugging energy-grid control software for aerospace firm TRW Inc.” — when he was 15 years old!
Next: The most common first job among the world’s elite billionaires

10. Sales

Left: A door-to-door salesman. | Camrocker/iStock/Getty Images, Right: Mark Cuban | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
  • 10 of the billionaires started out as salespeople.

If you’re serious about becoming a billionaire, you may want to go into sales. As the most common first job among the world’s richest people, 10 got their start in sales. There may be overlap here, as you could say people working in retail also work in sales, for example. But learning to sell clearly impacts one’s future earnings.
Some examples: A 12-year-old Mark Cuban got his start selling garbage bags door-to-door. And the founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, bred and sold birds to classmates as an 11-year-old, then went on to sell Christmas trees.

11. Translator

Left: A translator at work. | Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images, Right: Fahim Hashimy | Andreaswil/Wikimedia Commons
  • Only one billionaire from the study started out as a translator. 

Most people don’t begin their careers as translators, which requires a strong skill set and can pay as low as $24,000 per year in the U.S. But one of our 53 billionaires got their start this way. We don’t know the details (the study doesn’t name individuals), but we do know a businessman, Fahim Hashimy, who began as a young English-teacher-turned-translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Now the 35-year-old millionaire owns a media empire and an airline, as well as logistics and construction companies. Hashimy told BBC, “Not everyone spoke English and I was lucky I did. I also had the ambition and the vision, followed by hard work and commitment.”
Next: Let’s analyze these analysts.

12. Analyst

young woman using laptop
This is a contrast to some of the blue-collar jobs. | SolisImages/iStock/Getty Images
  • Four of the billionaires began as some type of analyst.

If you look at job postings these days, you’ll likely see “analyst” pop up quite often. It’s an increasingly popular job, and more companies need them to dig into data to help them function more efficiently. According to our report, this is a fairly popular role for budding billionaires.
Next: A controversial first job, especially for a future billionaire.

13. Politician

Likely this person had some connections. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
  • One billionaire started out as a politician.

Who becomes an elected official before earning their first paycheck? It’s hard to imagine someone’s first job being a politician, but it happens. We don’t know who this person is, but we assume it’s someone from a privileged background with plenty of connections.
It’s easy to think of wealthy entrepreneurs-turned-politicians, like Michael Bloomberg, Ross Perot, and perhaps the most famous now, U.S. President Donald Trump. However, the research shows at least one billionaire who started in politics. It’d certainly be an intense way to kick off a career.
Next: You’ll see success if you apply this skill to your professional goals.

14. Marketing

Left: A marketing professional. | iStock/Getty Images, Right: Ted Turner | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • Two of the world’s richest people got their first professional experience in a marketing role.

They say to get a good job (or one that pays well) you have to sell yourself. In other words, being a good marketer can take you far. The real coup here is some people can market themselves well enough to get a gig in marketing with no experience.
For example, when Ted Turner got kicked out of college, he was so successful working for his dad’s advertising agency that he eventually took over the business. Turner sold it to Time Warner for $7.5 billion, and now the founder of CNN is worth $2.3 billion.
Next: You aren’t doomed to do manual labor forever.

15. Manufacturer

Left: A factory worker. | Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images, Right: Zhou Qunfei | STR/AFP/Getty Images
  • “Manufacturer” is ambiguous, but you can assume this billionaire worked in a factory.

Now, here’s a blue-collar job — and don’t worry, it’s not the last. The report says “manufacturer,” which can mean many things, but we’re going with “factory worker,” fighting their way up from the floor to the top of the income distribution curve. And at least one billionaire among the top 100 pulled it off.
We know of one manufacturer-turned-billionaire: Zhou Qunfei (called the “world’s richest self-made woman“). But at 16 years old, she dropped out of school to work 12-hour shifts polishing glass at a factory, all to support her family. Now with a $10.6 billion net worth, Qunfei owns 32 factories that supply glass screens to Apple and Samsung.
See the complete report and analysis from Aaron Wallis.