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The Self-Made Billionaire Effect

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The Self-Made Billionaire Effect

How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Studying self-made billionaires provides a bounty of inspiring business success stories.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


This methodical study of self-made billionaires (not those who inherited most of their wealth) sheds light on how they got rich. The study challenges stereotypes. Most billionaires do not succeed alone or bloom young. Most made their fortunes after age 30 and in well-established, competitive industries. John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen of PricewaterhouseCoopers suggest that anyone can profit by adopting these billionaires’ “habits of mind and action,” such as profound empathy with consumer problems and the ability to identify creative solutions. The narrative distinguishes “Producers,” who bring together a range of resources and people with ability, from “Performers,” who have special talents in certain functions. getAbstract recommends this insightful overview of self-made billionaires’ decision-making processes – and its suggestions for ways to emulate them – to leaders, managers, entrepreneurs and up-and-comers of all stripes.


Studying Self-Made Billionaires

The academic research on self-made billionaires is sparse. Few researchers have systematically assessed billionaires who made their fortunes instead of inheriting them. This need for original research led to an intensive study of 120 self-made billionaires, including interviews with some of them, to determine how they generated so much wealth. Many of the study’s observations challenge broadly held notions – that self-made tycoons are all young Internet-driven tyros – of what makes entrepreneurs exceptionally successful:

  • Not just tech – Fewer than 20% made their fortunes in technology.
  • Maturity matters – More than 70% of the self-made billionaires in the study group succeeded after age 30.
  • Older industries – More than 80% got rich in older, competitive industries, not in new industries with few rivals.
  • Practice makes perfect – Nearly 70% owned a business by age 30. These early ventures taught them new, important skills and improved their existing ones.
  • More than luck – More than 90% started more than one profitable business; they did not luck into their professional...

About the Authors

John Sviokla is head of global thought leadership at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC). Mitch Cohen is vice chairman of PwC.

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