What is Self-Made?

Over the past few months, the definition of self-made has been fairly misconstrued by the general populous, on the back of notable media, celebrity and financial claims; perhaps the most prominent of these being Forbes’ listing of Kylie Jenner as America’s youngest self-made billionaire.

Though not the only criteria for said listing, the term ‘self-made’ stirred quite a clamour amongst the media and its audiences, with many rejecting the claim that Kylie Jenner, at 21 years of age, is a ‘self-made’ billionaire. The grounds for this rejection are founded in the fact that Kylie did not build her wealth from nothing, but indeed from the wealth of her parents, Kris Jenner and Caitlyn Jenner, and her connection with the Kardashian side of her family. Others agree and believe Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics company, 100% owned by Kylie Jenner, is the exclusive cause of her wealth.

Do you think Kylie Jenner should be defined as ‘self-made’? And what should ‘self-made’ really imply? Let’s look at some other examples, and whether we would consider them ‘self-made’.

Donald Trump

In 2015, before the election of Donald Trump into the US Presidency, a video went viral showing Donald Trump stating his life had “not been easy,” and that his father gave him “a small loan of a million dollars.” Besides that ‘small loan’, every other business win and consequential accruement of Trump’s overall assets can be boiled down to his economic savviness and financial wisdom. For the most part, Donald Trump could be defined as ‘self-made’, however a ‘small loan of a million dollars’ is quite something to lean on, especially when the New York Times says it was more like $60.7 million in small loans.

When Kylie Jenner became the youngest ‘self-made’ billionaire in America, Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook, was the one that got knocked off the top spot, which he claimed in 2007. Forbes describes the source of his wealth as Facebook, and uses the term ‘self-made’, as many would agree, he created Facebook and in turn accumulated his wealth through the popularity and development of the site. However, let’s not forget the Winklevoss brothers’ lawsuit, which claimed the idea and source code behind Facebook was stolen from the brothers’ original idea and design for ConnectU, the ‘original’ Facebook. The suit was settled at $65 million, so some could say that Mark Zuckerberg was not in fact ‘self-made’, as his success, though implemented and obtained by himself alone, was allegedly built on the back of someone else’s idea.

Another notable ‘self-made’ billionaire is Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World 2015’. Richard Branson could fall into the ‘self-made’ category, having built his own business, a magazine called Student, at the age of 16 and following which Virgin was born and grew to make him the business magnate he is today. Richard Branson did not come from very rich parents, a barrister and an air hostess, though through his family name he did receive a valuable education at Stowe School, an independent school in Buckinghamshire, UK. Having put all the effort in and having received no grants or loans to conceive his empire, would you say Richard Branson is ‘self-made’?

Whether you’d consider him to be ‘self-made’ or not, Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla and SpaceX, shouldn’t be missed out. According to CNBC, Musk comes from a family of entrepreneurs; his mother, Maye Musk, is a model and nutritionist, while his brother, Kimbal Musk, owns a large restaurant chain, The Kitchen Café, and BigGreen, a successful ed-tech non-profit. His father on the other hand, was an electromechanical engineer, pilot, and sailor. As a child, Elon was an avid reader and at the age of 10, alongside his studies in a private school, he taught himself computer programming. Despite entrepreneurship coursing through his veins, at the age of 17, having moved from South Africa to North America for college, Elon lived on just $1 a day; something he says was more of a personal challenge than a situation he had to face. Though he’s a PhD dropout, Elon has since achieved a lot and made a lot of money in the process. It’s safe to say he’s one of the world’s most famous billionaires right now, but would you say he’s a ‘self-made’ billionaire?

Alice Walton

Heiress to the Walmart fortune, Alice Walton is the richest woman in the world, with a net worth of around $42.5 billion (May 2018). But was she self-made? The mention of being an heir would imply that she is in fact not a ‘self-made’ billionaire, however looking back at her early career, one could argue that most of her current value can be attributed to her own business acumen. Walton was an equity analyst and money manager for First Commerce Corporation, after which and following several other relevant positions, she founded Llama Company, an investment bank to which she owes most of her wealth. When this closed down in 1998, she pursued her dream of owning a ranch and more recently, in 2015, she sold it to focus on overseeing the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, US, which she had founded in 2011 and also represents a greater part of her wealth. Of course, there’s still the matter of her huge inheritance, the Walmart Inc. fortune, however it should be noted that of her current value, just $11 billion is in Walmart shares. Alice Walton, ‘self-made’? You decide.

Another prominent female billionaire, and likely an inspiration to the likes of Kylie Jenner, is Oprah Winfrey, known as an actress, a TV presenter, producer and philanthropist. Oprah Winfrey is sometimes mentioned as the most influential woman in the world, and this is not always a stretch. Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in inner-city Milwaukee. She began her career in radio whilst in high school, and by the age of 19, was co-anchor for the local news station. After this, she launched her own production company and her fame grew exponentially. She has honorary doctorates from Duke and Harvard and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2013. Appearing on the same Forbes list as Kylie Jenner, Oprah Winfrey could be considered a hard benchmark for the definition of ‘self-made’.

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou

Our final analysis, and an arguable one, is ‘self-made’ billionaire Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, a British Cypriot entrepreneur and owner of easyJet. With a net worth of $1.57 billion (April 2018), Stelios’ career began with his father’s already successful shipping business, Troodos Shipping Co Ltd. where he worked in 1988, but quickly Stelios founded his own firm, Stelmar Shipping. Stelios’ father gave him £30 million to kickstart this company, which was later sold for $1.3 billion. Based on this alone, you can decide for yourself whether Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s fortune was ‘self-made’ or not, but that ROI is obviously backed up by a lot of hard work. In 1995, Stelios founded the easyGroup, from which he gathered the better part of his current value by ‘sub-letting’ the ‘easy’ brand to other ventures; a very original business model all in all. As cited on stelios.org, Stelios actually self-proclaims himself a ‘serial entrepreneur’ and an entrepreneur per se is one that builds something from nothing by taking risks and selling themselves. Is this kind of like being ‘self-made’?

According to Dame Magazine, Lee Ross, a professor of social psychology at Stanford University, had this to say: “The advantages of social class and social advantage that are traditionally discussed in sociology are things like being able to be articulate, to have a background of real-world knowledge that seems impressive, to be sensitive to the demands of hierarchy, those kinds of things, which we also like to think just go along with the advantages of good parenting, going to good schools, and more generally the advantages that multiply the advantages of birth.

We’re often unaware of the role that being in the right place at the right time confers,” he continues. This is particularly relevant to Silicon Valley. It’s an enormous advantage to have grown up—as my kids did—around people who are talking that talk and walking that walk.”

From this, feel free to make your own mind up on what is ‘self-made’ and who earned their billionaire status on their own or aided by their family, though we hope this has given you some insight into the lives of billionaires and what it takes to be successful. Perhaps you could be the next ‘self-made’ billionaire, or is ‘self-made’ not really a thing?

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