Real Life Rags to Riches, from Howard Schultz to Louis Chenevert to Elvis Presley

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Everyone loves a good Rocky story. A tale where the downtrodden appears to have no hope, and then comes back for an unbelievable victory. There have been people that have come from less than desirable circumstances, and through hard work and a little bit of luck, they became massively successful. Hopefully, the people on this list will inspire you enough so you, too, can create your own rags to riches story!

Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz may not exactly be a household name in most places, but if you want to inspire your own kids, maybe it should be. Schultz grew up in a housing complex for the poor in New York City. He was fortunate enough to receive a football scholarship to the University of North Michigan once he graduated from high school.

Schultz went on to take a job at Xerox after graduation. A few years later, he was working for a Swedish drip coffee maker manufacturer and took an interest in the world of coffee. After visiting Italy, he was inspired by what he saw. He wanted to open cafes in America that offered espressos, coffee, and more. These cafes would be places where people could meet and just hang out as they drink these fancy coffees. The company he was working for at the time, Starbucks, did not share his vision. They told him that they would rather not get into the restaurant business.

Schultz left Starbucks and opened up a cafe of his own after borrowing $400,000 from a variety of people. Two years later, the owners of Starbucks wanted to focus on another project and sold Starbucks’ retail unit to Schultz for $3.8 million dollars. Schultz today is worth about three billion dollars. Not bad for a kid that started off in a housing project.

Schultz once said, “Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families. And for some reason, I don’t know why or how, I wanted to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond what people were saying was possible. I may have a suit and tie on now but I know where I’m from and I know what it’s like.”

Elvis Presley

There may not ever be quite the rags to riches story like Elvis Presley’s. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935, his twin brother died at birth. His delivery was paid for by public aid. He was born in a two room tiny house that his dad and uncle built a bit earlier. Elvis once said, “You can take this birthplace and put it in my living room at Graceland.” They lost the small house three years later when his father was sent to prison for altering a small check so he could get just a few dollars more to provide for his family.

His father was released from prison about a year later, but it did not really improve their family’s financial situation. All through Elvis’ life, up until he made his first record That’s All Right, his family was extremely poor. Later on in life, Elvis recorded the song In the Ghetto, and some people scoffed. They wondered how this wealthy, famous musician and actor knew anything about living in the ghetto. But the Presley family lived in the ghetto up until Elvis was about 20 years old.

During his formative years, Elvis learned a lot from going to church, spending time with his family, visiting the various musical establishments in Memphis, and watching movies at the local theater. School was not exactly easy for him as well. He was often picked on for being different. His grades were considered average. In addition, even though he loved music more than anything, his Music teacher failed him in high school and told him he couldn’t sing. He replied back that she just didn’t appreciate the style of music he liked. Elvis was considered a shy and obedient student in school, not feeling like he fit in with anyone there.

Of course, things turned around for him a couple years after he graduated high school. Elvis recorded a few songs at Sun Studios in Memphis, and eventually his fame skyrocketed once he was on The Ed Sullivan Show. After many hit songs and a few well-received movies, the government came knocking and drafted him into the army. His beloved mother would soon die, the person he cherished most in the world.

Elvis made millions of dollars during his lifetime, but gave a lot of it away as well. Many times, it was to complete strangers. He recorded more number one hits than any other single artist. His concerts continued to sell out everywhere he went. But on August 16, 1977, he passed away at the age of 42 years old.

Louis Chenevert

Born in 1958 in Quebec, Louis Chenevert by all accounts had a most normal childhood. He realized early on that he wanted more out of life, and education was going to be the way to achieve his goal. He attended university in Montreal and received his bachelor’s degree in production management.

Chenevert worked for 15 years for General Motors in production management, and impressed his bosses enough that he became the Production General Manager there. Chenevert soon joined the aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. This company’s main focus was building aircraft engines, but they were not doing that great at the time. Chenevert was soon able to turn this around. After only six years, Chenevert was hired as the new president of Pratt & Whitney.

Pratt & Whitney belonged to a much larger company known as United Technologies Corporation (UTC). UTC has its hands in many industries. They do aerospace engineering, HVAC, and numerous very profitable military contracts. Chenevert made his presence known through his work with Pratt & Whitney. UTC definitely took notice. By 2006, he was elected the president and CEO of UTC. Chenevert’s successful rise was due to hard work, but also sharing his knowledge and opinions with those around him.

In 2014, United Technologies CEO Louis Chenevert walked away from the company with a financial package valued at about $200 million. Not too shabby for eight years of work. He now spends his time on improving technology on yachts, and hanging around his own yacht, the Debbie Lou.

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