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What makes a billionaire: Common degrees, first jobs of super rich

New research looks into the past lives of world's richest people to find out how they made their billions

Image Credit: AP
American billionaire Michael Dell started his career in sales before he made billions.

The majority of the world’s richest people, whose combined fortunes have reached more than $2.3 trillion, are degree holders and started their career in sales, according to a new study.

Recruitment agency Aaron Wallis has recently studied the Forbes rich list and looked into the past of billionaires’ lives, to find out how the world’s wealthiest made so much money. According to Forbes, the combined fortunes of the richest 100 people on earth are equivalent to 1.3 per cent of the $1.67 trillion total world personal wealth.

The agency found that more than half of the most affluent didn’t actually start their own business or inherit a huge fortune, with 53 of them starting their career in another organisation.

And for ten of these 53 billionaires, the first job that led to their fortunes was a salesperson role, while the others  started working as a stock trader, software developer, engineer and analyst.

“Our results suggest that those starting in a sales role are more likely to become a billionaire,” the agency said in its report. “It could be that people who are familiar with business deals at an early point in their career will take this forward to be successful in the million and billion-pound deals that come later on in their life.”

If you’re based in the UAE and have just started your career in sales, you might just be in luck. Based on Gulf’s latest job listings, hiring in sales is at the top of the list, followed by other roles, engineering and accounting.

How billionaires started their career


Top five first jobs of billionaires: Sales person, stock trader, software developer, engineer, analyst

Among those who started their career in sales is George Soros, ranked as the 29th richest person on earth. Before he got rich, Soros was travelling around, selling toys and gifts for a wholesaler.

George Soros

Michael Dell, another billionaire on the list who founded Dell Technologies, was a cold call salesman for a publishing company before he later moved on to start his own company.

Michael Dell

When looking at the educational background of the world’s richest, Aaron Wallis found that the majority (75 out of the 100) have a degree, with only 25 per cent not finishing college.

Among those with a degree, 22 are engineering graduates, while 16 finished a degree in business and 11 more studied finance and economics. Law and computer science degrees are also quite common among the world’s billionaires.

Most common degrees of billionaires who finished college/ university


Top 5 degrees of billionaires: Engineering, business, finance and economics, law, computer science

“Our results suggest that people with an engineering or business degree are more likely to hit it rich. There’s a clear trend between the people who studied an engineering subject and the richest 100 in the world,” said Aaron Wallis.

It noted that a lot of the billionaire businessmen in the technology industry, such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon or Larry Page of Google, had studied engineering.

On the job front, those who have yet to start their own business and have an engineering degree might just be in luck as well.

According to, a graduate/ postgraduate degree in engineering is the most sought-after academic qualification for employers in the region.

From its research published early this year, the job site found that a third (30 per cent) of companies in the UAE and the rest of the Middle East are looking for candidates with a degree in engineering. Also in demand are those who studied business management (28 per cent) and commerce (21 per cent).