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Wealth, success, and fame are oftentimes the top three reasons why people spend every waking hour hard at work, setting themselves on an upward journey to reach their professional goals. There are numerous stories of success that show how far someone can go just to change his life for the better. And more often than not, being in a new social status, experiencing greater success, and having more wealth can change a person’s values real quick—they can turn you into an unfeeling person in an instant.
When you’re not in the habit of checking yourself, you can be entitled when you finally claim a victory. After all, you deserve all the applaud for the effort you’ve exerted in spite of your own limitations and the powering through you did when roadblocks that are only to be expected came in the way, don’t you? But what shouldn’t be lost in the journey are the lessons one can gain from meekness and humility.
When we find ourselves blinded by the privileges brought by money, looking up to people who, despite their wealth and success, decided to live selfless and more meaningful lives can bring us back to reality and let us be more grounded in our approach to success. This list of people will prove us that there is more to life than just being rich and famous. The following inspirations are, in our opinion, the best of their kind—successful individuals whose humility manifesting in different ways have proven that they are actually wealthier in many facets other than money.
If you have to thank someone for bringing Swedish design to the forefront, then you would have to thank Ingvar Kamprad. Considering the success of his company IKEA, it would be hard to imagine that the late founder was once a poor boy who had to make ends meet by selling matches and pencils, all the while having dyslexia. But he was, and yet was not one to moan about his problems—he started IKEA with the sum his father gave him for good grades at school. Kamprad proved that for change (and riches) to come, you have to be willing to take control of the circumstances and never back down. He is also famous for being down to earth, limiting his luxuries even when he can afford more.
Azim Premji believes in staying grounded and paying blessings forward. The man had the rare opportunity to study overseas, and at an Ivy League institution no less, having graduated from the prestigious Stanford University with a major in electrical engineering. He used what he learned to build Wipro Limited, the tech company that now offers BPO, IT and R&D services in 58 countries. But that’s not all there is to his brainchild.
Premji is a firm believer that companies have a social responsibility to engage in the most pressing social issues. So, Wipro is not a business success alone; the company has a bigger role in the society. Its initiated programs, Azim Premji Foundation and Azim Premji University, aims to improve (and has) the quality of education and general welfare of his fellow citizens.
Carlos Slim Helú
It must be overwhelming to be the richest person in the world. And yet, in the time Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú was put at the top of the list by Forbes, he was only more focused to give to his charities.
Carlos Slim Helú was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, having a father that has been a successful businessman years before he became one. But he did not grow up to be a selfish and apathetic man, just like some privileged people do. On the contrary, he was mindful of the people who was not born as fortunate as him, and has contributed to many advocacies to improve the lives of his fellow Mexicans. Through his donations, the historical downtown area of Mexico City was revitalized by building and renovating places for work, public services and entertainment, making them more livable. He has also spent his money to improve the country’s sports program as well as protect his country’s cultural heritage.
For a guy best known for Facebook, and still the CEO despite the company’s recent controversies, you’d expect someone leading a lavish life. Even when he’s rubbing shoulders with influential people and celebrities, he is not one to flaunt that he is among the youngest billionaires on the planet. He maintains a preference for things that more ordinary people can afford, such as a reasonably-priced Volkswagen and McDonald’s. He even married Priscilla Chan, his longtime girlfriend, at a backyard wedding and now lives with her at a Palo Alto estate that is said to be way below Zuckerberg could afford! The most known proof of his humble way of life, however, is how the Facebook exec maintains a simple wardrobe to this day—keeping it to the basics: a gray shirt and a hoodie, devoid of any big names.
We doubt anyone would contest that Warren Buffett is humble. The super rich business magnate who is the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway is currently pegged as the world’s third richest, but he is also known to be a man of simple tastes, keeping his possessions at only the essentials. He has often spoken about how material wealth can own you instead of the other way around if you’re not careful.
But Buffett is also humble in a completely different sense: he knows the limitations of his knowledge despite getting at the point where most of us would not have an advice to offer him. The billionaire knows the edges of his own competency, and does not think it is below him to ask for help if he needs it.
The co-founder of Inditex, parent company of fashion retailer Zara, has the perfect rags to riches story. And yet, despite consistently being among the richest of men in the world, even dethroning Bill Gates from the top notch last year, he has not turned his back to his humble beginnings. Amancio Ortega prefers to step away from the spotlight and instead maintain an immensely rich, private life through personal relationships. To this day, he is a familiar and beloved figure in both his hometown and at the Inditex headquarters, which he visits almost every day despite stepping down, to connect and check up on people working for the company instead of holing up in a man cave.
Sam Walton, Christy Walton, Jim C. Walton
The founder and the descendants of the world’s largest retailer Walmart are among the richest families to grace the Earth. Sam Walton, the family patriarch, passed onto his progeny his entrepreneurial streak and more importantly, his humility. You wouldn’t know he’s the Walmart founder from his looks alone, and he is not someone to shove that fact in your face, in case you happen to be unfamiliar. What’s more, he’s famed for his inclusive nature—treating his employees like family and going the extra mile in making sure his customers’ needs are met.
His son Jim inherited his preference for modest belongings. Meanwhile, Sam’s daughter-in-law, Christy, who may not be a direct descendant, but is also known for her humility and her effort to raise her son to be among the likeable Waltons and co-chairing the Children’s Scholarship Fund.
Of Harry Potter fame, British author J.K. Rowling has not only kept children and young adults awake devouring her books, but also inspired aspiring writers not to give up even when success has not arrived as early as anticipated. The novelist has suffered through losses in her life and was left as a single mother who struggled to provide for her child in her 30s. Today, she has brought to life a beloved series that has spawned seven books translated to 70 languages and eight movies, which catapulted her to fame and letting her reach aa net worth of $1 billion dollars back in 2011.
But Rowling did not enjoy the billionaire status for long—she wasn’t one to keep her blessings to herself. Despite her not so ideal experience in the past, as well as her mental illness, she celebrates her life by sharing. She is known to contribute a hefty sum to charities, even becoming the only person knocked from Forbes’ billionaire list for her donations to advocacies she cares about.
David Green had a similar background to most people in this list, raised from a poor family but eventually rose to riches. But he is also unlike most, in that he has devoted a huge amount of his earnings from his arts and crafts store Hobby Lobby to evangelical causes. Green was brought up knowing that the blessings given to him are gifts from God, and that he can love Him by sharing his success to the less fortunate. The largest individual donor to evangelical missions, Green has joined Warren Buffet in The Giving Pledge in 2010.
Ratan Naval Tata
Ratan Naval Tata is not only a pride for his family for his Ivy league education—a Cornell and Harvard alumnus—but he also is to his fellow Indians who he has won over by keeping his feet firmly on the ground. The business tycoon is a cool figure in his home country, where his unconventional methods for uplifting his employees’ spirits haven’t gone unsung. The Tata Group chairman is unafraid to do the hard work for his company, which includes blasting furnaces and shoveling limestone, and hold contests for the best failed idea to make his employees brave in the face of failure. He even went as far as personally connecting with his staff through a video call, just to congratulate them for their endeavors and talk about their bright futures.
Not a lot of billionaires can say that they have been charged with hooliganism after punching a rival on a TV show, and yet we have Alexander Lebedev. But Lebedev is known beyond his boobtube incident as well as his unrestricted criticism of the Russian government; the Russian businessman who founded the Russian Investment Finance Company is also notorious for his frugality. His wealth is reserved for his fellow Russians, as social activism is close to his heart. He has improved the quality of life for many of them through his charitable activities like the establishment of a children’s oncology clinic in Saint Petersburg and the restoration of the theater and House-museum of Chekhov in Yalta.
In 2017, the New York Times named Chuck Feeney as the “James Bond of Philanthropy.” While other billionaires like to pile up their wealth, Chuck Feeney is on his journey of ‘giving while living’, or as Forbes put it, ‘a billionaire trying to go broke’. Feeney has been secretly giving away his fortune for years until a dispute revealed his identity. According to Business Insider, he has given a total of $8 billion on philanthropic causes that include human rights, health, education, and scientific research. He even has his own foundation called Atlantic Philanthropies, reaching out all over the world to help finance education, civil rights, aging, health care, and science.
David Cheriton may have profited from Google as one of its early investors, but this did not change his views on money that he held before he became a billionaire. The Stanford professor even goes to say that he finds the excess of other rich people to be offensive. Cheriton is known for keeping waste at a minimum, saving meals he has not fully consumed for the next day and even reusing his teabags. But it does not mean that Cheriton doesn’t know how to spoil himself, although when he does, he still keeps his expenses within reason. The academician gave generous contributions to education, that even the University of Waterloo bears his name to acknowledge all that he has done to help uplift their School of Computer Science.
N. R. Narayana Murthy
Infosys—an IT company that offers business consulting, information technology and outsourcing services as well as being the first Indian company listed in Nasdaq—may be a successful multinational brand founded by N. R. Narayana Murthy, but Murthy himself is notable for pushing a personal brand, although he might have done it unintentionally. That brand is of humility, with a highly ethical leader who puts his people first before profit. Murthy also lives modestly, proving that one can be successful without being consumed by fame and wealth.
From Taiwan to Illinois, Tony Hsieh grew to become one of the most successful people of his generation. He earned his degree in computer science in 1995 from Harvard University and afterwards worked for Oracle and advertising network LinkExchange, before joining Zappos. Under his leadership, humility became among Zappos’ top requirements, especially in recruitment and hiring. He believes that there is plenty of talent out there from potential employees, but not enough humility to admit that there is more to be learned and sacrifices to be made to eventually become a well-rounded worker.
Business magnate Elon Musk may be viewed as an eccentric by many, but what he is lesser known for is being humble. After all, the man holding multiple nationalities founded SpaceX, Tesla, and Neuralink and Paypal, and that is plenty to be proud of. But he has struggled to get on his feet for a long time before becoming the newsworthy figure he is today. He had a broken home and had to take different odd jobs to live. His was a lesson not to break ambition, as he maintained visions that would take humanity to the next step in spite of his experience. The Musk Foundation, which targets the use of solar power energy system in disaster-struck areas, is only one of his many grand endeavors.
Lei Jun, an ultra-rich businessman who founded and led Xiaomi Inc., is not a famous figure worldwide compared to most people on our list but he definitely is in his home country, China. The highly accomplished entrepreneur provided a more accessible option for Chinese smartphone users in his founding of Xiaomi, after all. The success did not go to his head as he still enjoyed simple things, such as taking a flight with an economy seat when he afford to switch to business class. His meekness is best expressed in his good sense of humor: after being mocked for his broken English at a public event, he took the incident lightly and was just happy to have brought smiles to people even though it was embarrassing on his part.
Becoming mayor of what is arguably the most famous city in the world is nothing short of admirable, and yet for Michael Bloomberg becoming the city leader was only another reason to be more grounded. As the mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013, he used his industrial experience and training to transform the city. He banned smoking in specific places and launched anti-poverty efforts. After his stint in politics, he went back to his eponymous company Bloomberg but did not halt his philanthropic activities in public health, arts and culture, the environment, education, and government innovation. As of 2018, he has donated more than $5B to fight climate change.
Steve Jobs is a name that is familiar to everyone, even to people who do not claim to be fans of the company he has helped to put on the map: Apple. His career has sufficient stories of failure, such as leaving Apple to launch Macintosh but becoming fired from his own company, after nine years for his unbearable demand on employees. He eventually redeemed himself when he returned in 1996 and put the company at the forefront of the competition, especially after launching iMac and then the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. He is not the first to come to mind as humble, but in his return to the company, he has been meek enough to learn and leave some of his old ways. In the process, he has made Apple become an industry game changer.
Named as Apple’s CEO in 2011, Tim Cook was seen as a breath of fresh air for the company. For one, he is known for being soft-spoken leader who put importance on his employees’ happiness, an obvious difference from Steve Jobs’ leadership approach. Cook’s humble beginnings had a strong influence on him, as well as on his willingness to admit failure and defeat as seen during the flawed release of the iPhone 5. And even though he leads one of the biggest tech companies in the world, his feet are firmly planted on the ground, forgoing luxuries and enjoying simpler things in life.
Bill Gates and Melinda Gates
Bill Gates and Melinda Gates are famous for their decision to live meekly and explore many opportunities to share what they have. They have clearly changed the lives of many with their philanthropic efforts as they spend much of their time in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the biggest private charitable institution in the world. It works with several other entities to improve the quality of life worldwide. Among the foundation’s most important initiatives is in global health, such as Melinda Gates’ endeavors in decreasing maternal deaths in Ethiopia to as low as 59 percent. The couple’s foundation has likewise contributed in the sectors of education, energy, and environment.
The entertainment mogul undeniably has one of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories around. The early life of Oprah is no secret to the world, despite it not being easy. Raised by a struggling grandmother and a single parent, she went through the trauma of rape by people she trusted, a cousin included, and bore a child who did not live long enough to become a toddler when she was 14. Things started turning around for her when she was discovered, became a news reporter and later on, a talk show host. Her traumatic childhood was a motivation for her to succeed, which was cemented when she was recognized as the first black billionaire, and to help, donating to many humanitarian and educational causes to this day.
Karl Albrecht, together with his fellow recluse of a brother Theo, turned their mother’s store into Aldi, a hit supermarket chain that rose up and in recent times has challenged British retailer Tesco in its own turf. The scale of its success now was hard to visualize when the two were just beginning during the earlier half of the 20th century. Expansion took a lot of the brothers’ energy especially when they had to do so in the midst of a World War.
Their struggles were humbling enough though that the chance to profit also became an opportunity to provide. They decided to run the business offering goods that were affordable and had a long shelf life. Karl was, for many years, named the richest man in Germany, but the modest lifestyle that the brothers grew accustomed to has never changed all throughout their lives and until Karl’s passing in 2014.
With an estimated net worth of $2.7B as of 2018, John Caudwell is among the UK’s most admired and prized businessmen. He is an investor to many companies that range from fashion and real estate, in addition to his owning of the company Phone4u, which was the largest independent mobile phone retail company in UK. But Caudwell is a success story in that his victories did not get in the way of philanthropy, something he was very passionate about. The magnate is a signatory to The Giving Pledge, which means that he has promised to donate over half of his wealth to charitable causes. His charities, Caudwell Children and Caudwell Lyme Co, are also helping individuals with disabilities and Lyme disease.
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Be strong when you are weak, brave when you are scared and humble when you are victorious. Thanks for reading!