6. Sam Walton
Sam Walton was the mastermind behind Wal-Mart. After opening his first store in 1962, Walton vowed to remake the retail industry in the vision of his radical cost-cutting philosophy. By 1966, his fledgling chain was up to 20 stores and growing fast. The real secret to Wal-Mart’s phenomenal growth, as TIME Magazine notes, is that Walton “may have been the first true information-aged CEO.” TIME goes on to observe that Walton was the first to hire a computer whiz to overhaul the company’s logistics and inventory systems, leading to unprecedented efficiency that enabled Wal-Mart to out compete virtually every department store in existence.
What chances of success would you give a poor woman born in backwoods Mississippi to a single teenage mother, raised in inner-city Milwaukee, raped at nine years of age, then, at the age of 14, giving birth to a son who died shortly thereafter?
Grim chances, we think. Unless that woman happens to be Oprah Winfrey. Oprah landed her first radio job in high school. She soon transferred to daytime talk TV, where, after success powering up ratings for a Chicago TV show, she started her own production company. That production company, Harpo, launched an empire. The Oprah Winfrey show is the highest-rated talk show in TV history, and has won her several Emmy Awards. She’s also an amazing philanthropist who donates a cut of her $1.3 billion net worth to a variety of causes benefitting women, children and families.
8. Lewis Ranieri
Lewie Ranieri rose up from a lowly mail room job at ex-Wall Street titan Salomon Brothers all the way to the boardroom. Upon being asked to run the newly created mortgage bond department (a move he saw as a slap in the face., Ranieri proceeded to make said department not only the most profitable one at Salomon, but for a time, the most profitable on all of Wall Street. His unique insight was that consumer mortgages could be bundled together in pools of homogeneous risk (say, 30 year mortgages with $110,000 outstanding at 12% interest. that investors of all kinds would feel comfortable buying into.
As the book “Liar’s Poker” tells it, Ranieri generated billions of dollars for Salomon and is often credited with jump-starting the entire mortgage securities market.
9. Michael Milken
Michael Milken was perhaps the first “corporate raider” in history. He made his name during the financial boom of the 1980’s by creating a market for junk bonds (the bonds of large yet under-performing corporations. Milken’s insight led him to buy junk bonds when they were cheap, knowing full well that the government would bail out these large corporations and allow him to reap huge profits when they did. According to Michael Lewis’ landmark text “Liar’s Poker”, Milken paid himself an annual salary of $550 million during his peak earning years. When all was said and done, Milken was estimated to have a net worth of over $1 billion – and a permanent legacy on Wall Street.
10. Bill Gates
No profile of the world’s prodigious wealth creators would be complete without Bill Gates. After dropping out of the nation’s top-ranked university (Harvard. because he “just couldn’t bring himself to go to class”, Gates ambitiously founded Microsoft with partner Paul Allen. The company originally set out to sell computer programming languages, but soon veered very far (and very profitably. off of that path. Instead, Microsoft created the now-ubiquitous Windows operating system that powers 90% of the world’s personal computers. Gates officially retired from Microsoft in 2008, exiting with a net worth of $58 billion and 3rd place on Forbes’ 100 Wealthiest People list.