Even billionaires start with small first jobs

NEW YORK — The vast majority of the world’s nearly two thousand billionaires are entirely self-made, according to Forbes’ annual list of the world’s billionaires.

So how did they get their start on the road to that vast wealth? For the latest in Reuters’ “First Jobs” series, we went out and asked a few of them exactly that:

James Dyson: Inventor and founder of the Dyson company

Estimated net worth on Forbes’ 2016 list: $4 billion

First job: Engineer

“In my last year at the Royal College of Art, I met Jeremy Fry, chairman of the engineering company Rotork. He invited me to his home for dinner, and that’s where it all began. I wanted him to invest in a building I had designed for a theater in London. He said, ‘I’m not going to give you any money, but I’ll give you a few jobs.’

“Under his wing I worked on my first engineering project, the Sea Truck, a high-speed amphibious landing craft. We built the first prototype together. He pointed me to the welding gear and said, ‘Go do it.’ I’d never used any welding gear, but I did it.

“He let me make mistakes and learn things myself. After we finished the prototype, I said, ‘Now what?’ He said, ‘We make it.’ And then? ‘We sell it.’ It was simple as that.”

Jim Goodnight: Co-founder & CEO, SAS

Estimated net worth: $8 billion

First job: Hardware store

“When I was 12, my family moved down to Wilmington, N.C., so my dad could open up a store called Hanover Hardware. Of course, he put me to work and I did everything from stocking shelves to waiting on customers.

“Eventually, I got paid around a dollar an hour, which I spent on things like gas for my car. Remember at the time, gas was only 25 cents a gallon.

“Later on, my dad expanded into appliances, so I had to learn how to install refrigerators and stoves and washer-dryers and air conditioners. To this day, I’m still pretty handy. At that job, I learned a lot about responsibility, how to deal with people and interact with customers. It was a good start in life – and I’ve been working ever since.”

Thomas Peterffy: Founder, Chairman & CEO, Interactive Brokers Group

Estimated net worth: $11.1 billion

First job: Land surveyor

“I got my first job during summer vacation at age 12 as a land surveyors’ helper in the Hungarian countryside. The job consisted mostly of carrying measuring instruments, food and water for the team of surveyors.

“I recall struggling with my heavy load across an endless wheat field in the August heat, trying to hide my tears. They were not supposed to hire me under 14. Living in Budapest, this was my first opportunity to see how people lived in the country. I slept in a barn on a hay loft.

“At the time, all the lands were cultivated as socialist communal farms, but each family was allowed to have about two acres of their own around their house and a few animals. This was where the bulk of the food for the nation came from.

“This experience led me to study civil engineering, and when I came to America at age 21, I eventually became a computer programmer.”

Mikhail Prokhorov: Businessman, owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center

Estimated net worth: $7.6 billion

First job: Unloading cargo from train cars

“When I finished my obligatory service in the Soviet army, I took a job unloading train cars while I completed my education. We made good money – 40 to 120 rubles per car, depending on the cargo. For comparison, the average monthly salary in the Soviet Union was around 200 rubles.

“Sometimes, if we did good work, we would be tipped in the product we had unloaded, as a kind of bonus. So I’d bring home a sack of tomatoes or apples to my parents and that made everyone happy. After a little while, I started to organize various brigades and sort of run the operation.

“It was hard physical labor, but looking back, I can say it was the first time I realized my leadership abilities as a businessman. It all happened kind of naturally, not consciously. I just became the organizer and ran the thing. Basically been the same way ever since!”

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