Here’s What Your Favourite CEOs Were Doing Before Creating Billions

Ever wondered how big people ended up making it so big? What were their experiences that they ended up leading the biggest projects and companies to change the way the world worked? Most of those who made it big started from humble backgrounds, they studied like the rest of us, some scored higher, and some scored less. 

Some of them gained expertise by serving under the best and smartest before them. Some worked hard and tirelessly at a job they were qualified for and excellent at. But there was something different about them, a greater passion, a stronger will or maybe just a deeper reason. These individuals, despite their circumstances, made it so big that the world stopped to stare in awe of their success.

Elon Musk

The first person on this list never actually had a first job where he worked for anyone else, more accurately he never really had the time to. The SpaceX, Tesla and The Boring Company founder was busy doing his own thing before he even graduated from college. Musk moved to the US from Canada (where he attended school to avoid mandatorily serving in the South African Military) at the age of 20 in 1989 to study business and physics at the University of Pennsylvania. 

After leaving UoP, Musk went to Stanford University, California for a PhD in energy physics. Interestingly, his move was perfectly aligned with the Internet revolution which made him drop out of Stanford after just 2 days to become a part of the boom. He launched his first company, Zip2 Corporation, an online city guide in 1995 with his brother, Kimbal Musk with clients like the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Compaq Computer Corp. acquired Zip2 in 1999 for $307 million cash and $34 million in stock options. Musk used this money to open that would later become PayPal. was acquired by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion making Elon Musk his first billion.

Jack Ma

I try to make myself happy because I know that if I’m not happy, my colleagues are not happy and my shareholders are not happy and my customers are not happy.

Jack Ma, Chinese Business Magnate

Jack Ma is a retired Chinese business tycoon known for co-founding and leading Alibaba, a multinational technology conglomerate. His first job was as a tour guide in his hometown of Hangzhou, China which helped him learn and improve his English. He befriended a tourist with whom he became pen-pals. The tourist nicknamed him Jack because he found it hard to pronounce Ma’s real name (Ma Yun). The rest, as they say, is history.

Ma is known for his inspiring leadership style, his diversified investments & ventures besides being celebrated for going with his gut to make critical entrepreneurial decisions. As a technological businessman & investor, you’d expect him to be a techie himself, but he was famously quoted saying “I know nothing about technology, I know nothing about marketing, I know nothing about [the legal] stuff”. 

Bill Gates

Another Ivy League dropout who was too engaged in paving the way for new technologies and innovation. Bill Gates was a businessman right from the age of 15 when he started a business with Paul Allen. Together they developed a computer program that monitored traffic patterns in Seattle called “Traf-o-Data.” Gates and Allen would form ‘“Micro-Soft” in 1975 from “micro-systems” and software, they dropped the hyphen within a year.

Gates went on to make history by getting software contracts from IBM besides revolutionizing the personal computing market with Microsoft, which crossed a $ 1 trillion market capitalization in April 2019.

Sundar Pichai

The geeky Googler began his career with McKinsey & Co. where he worked with the engineering and product management teams at Applied Materials. He joined Google in 2004 after which he led the Product Team which would develop Google Chrome, Chrome OS and Google Drive. In addition to leading the creation of these products, he was also overseeing the launch of different apps such as Gmail and Google Maps. Next time you’re using Maps to get to office, remember to thank Mr. CEO!

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs never actually worked for any other company or person. He worked with his friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at Atari Inc. as a technician. After saving enough money from this job, he came to India in mid-1974, returning from which he would start working on his own company.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs poses with the new iPhone 4 during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

He parted ways from Nolan Bushnell, Atari co-founder after the latter refused payment of $50,000 as an investment in Steve’s company. Nolan did not invest since Atari was also manufacturing computers, so Jobs along with Wozniak and Mike Markkula opened up shop in 1977 with the Apple II. This refusal would result in Nolan Bushnell losing out on owning a third of the company which would go on to become Apple.

Satya Nadella

Paris, France, December 10, 2013. LeWeb Day 1. Image by Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media

Nadella served as CEO of software giant Microsoft from February 2014 till date. Satya Nadella’s first job was as a member of Sun Microsystem Technology staff prior to joining Microsoft, so the man has always had an experience with executives and tech geniuses, aside from being one himself. He joined Microsoft in 1992, only 2 years after getting his M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He’s the company’s third CEO after founder Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, CEO of the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon. Amazingly, his first job was flipping burgers at McDonald’s at the age of 16. That was before graduating from Princeton when Bezos found work at several firms on Wall Street, including Fitel, Bankers Trust and the investment firm D.E. Shaw.

In 1990, Bezos became D.E. Shaw’s youngest vice president only to quit in 1994 and work on Amazon, that sold only books at the time. Bezos currently serves as the Chairman, President and CEO of Amazon. He also established Blue Origin, his space exploration venture in 2000. As of September 2019, Jeff Bezos’ net worth is $113.4 Billion, the richest individual trailed by the Microsoft co-founder by a margin of $16.9 Billion.

Tim Cook

The brand new Apple boss has an interesting origin story himself, maybe not as adventurous as his predecessor, but thrilling nonetheless. Much like the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett, Tim Cook also worked as a newspaper delivery boy as a teenager in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. The Apple executive had also reportedly worked at a paper mill and an aluminum plant before getting into the tech space.

Cook had garnered an experience of nearly 16 years before he joined Apple. He worked with IBM for 12 years and left as the Director of North America, before serving as VP of Compaq. He would join Apple in 1998 after only his first meeting with Steve Jobs who asked him to the company while speaking at Cook’s alma mater.

Indra Nooyi

Indra Krishnamurthy is a celebrated Indian-American tycoon who served as CEO of PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest food and beverage business in the world from 2006 to 2018. Interestingly, for her first job she had to work as an overnight receptionist to make ends meet after moving to Connecticut while attending Yale University’s Graduate School of Management.

“My whole summer job was done in a sari because I had no money to buy clothes,” she told the Financial Times’, Sarah Murray. Even when she went for an interview at the prestigious business-consulting firms that hired business-school students, she wore her sari, since she could not afford a business suit.

Warren Buffett

You’ve probably heard the story of Warren Buffett starting his career as a paperboy at the age of 13 to accumulate money so that he could invest in companies. By 26, he opened his own company Buffett Partnership Ltd. in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. Buffett was an expert in identifying undervalued companies. 

One such enterprise Buffett valued was a textile company named Berkshire Hathaway. He began accumulating stock in the early 1960s, and by 1965 he had assumed control of the company. Almost 55 years later, Berkshire’s class A shares sold for $313,350.00 as of February 1, 2019, making them the highest-priced shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

Warren Buffett invested $53,000 from his paper selling savings when he started, as of 2019 Buffett has a net worth of $84.4 Billion.