According to Statista, of the 2,792 billionaires in the world in 2020, an estimated 72% of them declare that they are self-made. 21% have earned at least some of their wealth, while 7% inherited their entire fortune.
But what about the billionaires who achieved success entirely on their own, after coming from low-income or downright poor families? As it turns out, those billionaires often live frugally, close to where they grew up, with strong family units and philanthropic natures.
Warren Buffett, who ranks near the top of all U.S. billionaire lists, is one such example. With a net worth of more than $87 billion, he still resides in a house worth less than $300,000 in Omaha, Nebraska. He is one of the founders of The Giving Pledge and has committed to giving away 99% of his fortune.
But there are plenty of lesser-known billionaires found in the far corners of the U.S. who came from nothing or very little and worked hard to improve the lives of those around them. Let’s take a look at a few of these inspiring titans of industry.
Gary Tharaldson is North Dakota’s richest resident with a net worth of $1 billion. Nothing was handed to Tharaldson, who grew up on a farm near Dazey, ND, with dairy cows and no personal transportation, running water, or heat. He and his family lived day-to-day doing what needed to be done to survive.
What helped to set Tharaldson apart was his work ethic, which was undoubtedly strengthened on that farm as a young boy.
He started his career by working as a teacher and an insurance salesman but bought his first Super 8 motel in 1982. He continued to buy up budget hotels and run them successfully, and in 2006 he sold 130 hotels to Goldman Sachs for $1.2 billion.
He has continued to diversify his investment portfolio, but has returned to what he knows best, which is hospitality; he currently owns 49 hotels.
A dedicated Christian who attends church every Sunday with his family, Tharaldson strives to “be good to everyone.” He has shared his wealth and opportunities with his family, extended family, and everyone who believed in him over the years. He also created a very lucrative Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) benefit plan for his employees.
Tharaldson and his wife decided to raise their family in North Dakota so that they could experience the same values and work ethic that they abide by every day.
Successful seed entrepreneur Harry Stine has a net worth of $5.5 billion, producing genetically modified seeds and selling them to multinational corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta. But Stine still identifies as a farmer, after being raised on a family farm in Dallas County, Iowa.
After completing high school and college, Stine returned to his father’s soybean cleaning business in Adel, Iowa. He identified an opportunity to breed, develop, and grow newer, higher-yielding soybean varieties, and got to work on creating a soybean-breeding program.
In 1979, Harry began selling soybean seeds under his own label, Stine Soybean Seeds. In 1992, Stine added corn and soft red winter wheat to the offerings under the Stine label.
Stine lives modestly in a small home and drives his pickup truck to work every day.
Frank VanderSloot, Idaho
In 1985, Frank VanderSloot founded the health and wellness company Melaleuca in his home state of Idaho. He has led the company to generate more than $2 billion in annual revenues by providing high-quality, exclusive wellness products to roughly 2 million customers each month.
While growing up on a small family farm, VanderSloot learned to work by chopping wood, building fences, milking cows, and taking care of the livestock. He put himself through college by living and working at a laundromat, and he proudly states that he graduated without any debt.
After working at two Fortune 500 companies for several years, he founded Melaleuca and gradually led its product development to a portfolio that now offers over 400 exclusive products in the categories of dietary supplements, nutrition, personal care, home cleaning, skincare, essential oils, and more.
Forbes estimates his net worth at $3.1 billion. VanderSloot lives on a ranch in Idaho Falls and uses his resources to enhance lives across the country and the world.
He is well-known for donating to many nonprofits in his community and state, like when he restored a historic schoolhouse for $2 million and then donated the building’s use to a public school system.
Additionally, the Melaleuca Foundation also sponsors an orphanage in Ecuador and springs into action when natural disasters or catastrophes strike.
Between himself and his wife, VanderSloot has 14 children and 54 grandchildren.
Some of them attend “Grandpa’s Academy” at their ranch during the summer where they experience the pains and joys of hard work and cowboy labor.
Many Roads to Becoming a Billionaire
There are many roads to becoming a billionaire, but certainly, the less-traveled one is starting from nothing.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has famously attributed much of his success to both luck and the existing infrastructure of the internet that made his ability to grow much easier.
The increased accessibility to customers through technology has certainly changed the billionaire landscape.
But every once in a while, it’s refreshing to hear about down-home country boys who have achieved incredible success.