Jeff Bezos was a fry cook at McDonald’s, Buffet delivered newspapers, Michael Bloomberg was a parking assistant – The humble odd jobs of self-made entrepreneurs before they made their billions

Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma and Warren Buffett, self-made billionaires. Photos: TNS, Bloomberg, MCT

We might know them today for the billions of dollars in their bank accounts, but the richest people on the planet weren’t all born into wealth. In fact, many of these powerful businessmen were once people you might have once easily crossed paths with on the street – newspaper boys, cashiers and salesmen.

So what odd jobs did the entrepreneurial likes of Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma do before they made their fortunes?

Via Instagram / @jeffbezos

Jeff Bezos
Self-made billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had a summer job at McDonald’s when he was 16. Even though he was just a fry cook, he still saw it as an opportunity to learn. He has since confessed to being fascinated by the various automatic services at the fast food chain, such as fries being raised out of oil automatically, and gained apparently inspirational insight into customer service.

Richard Branson
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson dropped out of boarding school in England due to struggles with dyslexia. He proved his business chops at the age of 16 by founding a culture magazine called Student Magazine, printing 50,000 copies and selling US$8,000 worth of advertisements during its first run in 1966. He has even said that it was his dyslexia that helped him shape the Virgin empire and told Forbes that he “wouldn’t have it any other way”.

Warren Buffett
Business tycoon Warren Buffett went from delivering newspapers as a teenager to selling entire newspaper titles under his company Berkshire Hathaway. He announced in January 2020 that he was selling the BH Media subsidiary, along with its 30 daily newspapers, for US$140 million.

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He also took a shift with fellow billionaire Bill Gates at the Berkshire Hathaway-owned ice cream shop, Dairy Queen, in 2019, sharing a video of it on the internet.

Via Instagram / @mikebloomberg

Michael Bloomberg
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg might have earned his undergrad degree from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, but he hailed from a middle-class family. The media and finance magnate worked hard for his education. To pay for the university’s costly fees, he took out loans and got a job as a car park attendant.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gives a keynote address at the CES 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Photo: AFP

Reed Hastings
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had a colourful career before founding the popular streaming platform. After graduating from high school, he worked as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman during a gap year before university.

While enrolled in Bowdoin College, he trained as a marine, but eventually joined the Peace Corps instead. He spent another two years teaching maths in Eswatini after he graduated.

Jack Ma
Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma had an inspiring journey that started out in his native Hangzhou. He didn’t have it easy, failing the entrance exam at the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute, now Hangzhou Normal University, twice before being accepted and getting his first job as a lecturer. Then he attempted to apply to Harvard’s business school, but got rejected 10 times. He also got rejected from 30 different jobs that he applied to. He eventually founded China Pages, the precursor to e-commerce giant Alibaba – the owner of South China Morning Post – in the 90s.

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Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.

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First published in 1903, the South China Morning Post is Hong Kong’s premier English language newspaper, providing news 24/7, in-depth and quick scan reads, informative infographics, critical analysis, community discussions plus access to the most comprehensive news archive in Hong Kong. Over the decades it has built an enviable reputation for authoritative, influential and independent reporting on Hong Kong, China and the rest of Asia.