The Guardian newspaper has famously said that the idea that somebody can start with nothing and grow it into a business empire is a myth. They’re wrong. Many of today’s biggest names in business have gone from rags to riches in the most extraordinary fashion. And they’re proving to be an inspiration.


Last year was yet another record-breaking year for startups throughout the UK. Sites like have been inundated by entrepreneurs, keen to emulate this success. There were more than 580,000 startups in 2014 alone.

So who went from rags to riches? Let’s take a look.

Philip Green

Before the whole BHS fiasco, Sir Philip Green was one of the UK’s most popular business people. After being eviscerated by the press, his popularity has since fallen off a cliff. But despite all this, Sir Philip’s financial achievements are rather impressive. He set up his first business with a £20,000 loan. The company imported jeans from the Far East and sold them on in London. After some success, he founded what became the Arcadia Group. The group owns well-known chains like Wallis, Dorothy Perkins, and Burton. Sir Philip is now estimated to be worth more than £3.88 billion.

Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley is another personality who has been disgraced by the media. He left school at 16 to become a squash coach. After a few years of doing that he set up a sports shop in Maidenhead with £10,000 of capital. He then moved on to Sports Direct which was his big break. After running the discount sports store for a couple of decades, it’s now a feature on practically every high street. Ashley is now reportedly worth more than £3.75 billion.

Richard Branson

Surprisingly, Branson isn’t the UK’s richest self-made billionaire. But he is certainly one of the most loved. Branson has made his fortune in tourism, finance, and media. His first venture, back in the 1970s, was to create a student magazine. The next step was a mail order company. This company started making a lot of money, and within a year Branson was able to open a store on Oxford Street in London. Virgin Records, as it was known, came to be the brand that defined the rest of Branson’s career. Branson started off with a pitiful £300. He finished with more than £3.6 billion. We’ve not seen the end of this man’s ambition. Branson wants to take humanity into space — first for tourism, then for colonization.

Peter Hargreaves

Hargreaves of Hargreaves Lansdown wanted to shake up the finance industry in the UK. He started a brokerage firm with his friend Stephen Lansdown from a spare bedroom. The only assets of the company were the two men’s cars. They had just £500 in the bank.

Their empire soon grew, however. In 2007, the pair floated the company on the London stock market. It was then valued at more than £800 million. Since then it’s grown six-fold to £4.5 billion. Hargreaves has a personal fortune of over £2.39 billion, according to

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