Many top entrepreneurs have built their business empires from humble beginnings or had to overcome various hardships.
They’re a source of inspiration for budding tycoons – proof that you don’t have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to become a multimillionaire.
The so-called rags-to-riches brigade have achieved their fortunes without inherited wealth through determination to succeed.
In some cases, today’s business magnates can look back on the early days of struggling on the brink of poverty. Others lacked academic achievements or battled with depression.
But no matter what stood in their way, they forged ahead with belief in themselves and their abilities, passionate about their work, and focused on solutions rather than problems.
In this post, we’ll look at the lives of five inspiring UK entrepreneurs who by no means had it easy when they started out.
Richard Branson founded the multinational conglomerate Virgin Group, which now has 40 companies operating worldwide in diverse sectors such as music, leisure, travel, telecommunications, health, and banking.
Branson was born in London in 1950. He suffered with the lifelong condition of dyslexia and achieved no academic qualifications. He began to overcome these issues when he left school at 15 to start his first business, a magazine called Student, for which he interviewed stars such as Mick Jagger.
In 1970, Branson branched out into mail order vinyl records and then opened a record shop on London’s Oxford Street called Virgin Records – so named because he and his business partner, Nik Powell, were entirely new to the business.
Virgin Records evolved into a recording studio business, signing Jagger’s band, The Rolling Stones, and other household names including the controversial Sex Pistols. Virgin Records become the biggest independent record label in the world.
Today, the Virgin Group includes Virgin Airways, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Megastores, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Money, Virgin Media, and Virgin Trains.
Branson became Sir Richard when he was knighted in 2000 for services to entrepreneurship. In December 2022, Branson’s net worth was estimated at more than £4 billion.
Shrewd, tough-talking business magnate Lord Sugar is a self-made billionaire and familiar household name.
Born in 1947 into a family struggling to make ends meet in an East London council flat, Alan Sugar – the youngest of four children – showed his entrepreneurial spirit at an early age. At 12 years old, he was getting up at six in the morning to boil beetroots for a local greengrocer.
By the time he was 21, Sugar was selling electrical goods from the back of a van. Then he founded consumer electronics company Alan Michael Sugar Trading – Amstrad – with £100 of savings Now, more than 50 years later, he has an estimated worth of over £1 billion.
He became a public figure as chairman and part-owner of Tottenham Hotspur FC and star of the BBC business-styled reality show The Apprentice, with his withering catchphrase “You’re fired!”
Sugar became Lord Sugar in 2000 for services to the home computer and electronics industry and took his seat in the House of Lords in 2009 as Baron Sugar of Clapham.
Sir James Dyson
Knighted for contributions to British innovation, billionaire entrepreneur James Dyson was born in Cromer, Norfolk, in 1947.
He studied art and interior design before focusing on engineering and industrial design. In 1978, he set up Dyson Ltd. His idea was to produce a bagless vacuum cleaner that utilised cyclonic separation in order to retain optimal suction.
Five years and more than 5,000 prototypes followed before Dyson was able to launch the G-Force cleaner. However, UK manufacturers and distributors spurned his invention, fearful of disturbing the lucrative market for replacement dust bags. So Dyson marketed his G-force cleaner through catalogue retail in Japan.
Dyson set up his own UK manufacturing company in 1993, and his “say goodbye to the bag” cleaner proved a hit with the British public. The Dyson Dual Cyclone became one of the most popular brands in the UK, outselling the cleaners of some of the companies that rejected his idea.
Dyson Ltd became a global concern, and in the Sunday Times Rich List 2022 Dyson was ranked second richest person in the UK with an estimated net worth of £23 billion.
Joseph Cyril Bamford
Our final inspiring entrepreneur is no longer with us. You’ll have heard of the mighty JCB business empire but do you know how its name originated?
JCB stands for Joseph Cyril Bamford (1916-2001), founder of one of the UK’s most successful family-owned businesses.
Bamford was born into the family who ran farm machinery business Bamfords Ltd in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. He worked for the family firm and for other employers but found these jobs too stifling to fulfil his potential.
So, in October 1945 Bamford rented a 10ft x 15ft lock-up garage for £1.50 a week and began making farm trailers from scrap and war-surplus materials.
From these humble beginnings, the iconic JCB construction equipment manufacturing empire was born, based in the village of Rocester, near Uttoxeter. The brand was so successful that “JCB” became synonymous with diggers and excavators.
Anthony Bamford – born on the day his father set up JCB – became chairman of the company in 1975 and has presided over prolific global expansion. Anthony became Lord Bamford in 1990.
In 2022, JCB’s net worth was nearly £4.7 billion.