Home Wealth  Money Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Billionaire?

Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Billionaire?

Posted: Nov. 9th, 2010  |  By Forbes

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Want to make a billion dollars, but sadly not part of a rich dynasty? If you're a middle-aged man born in September who got a degree from Harvard and took his company public, you might be in luck. If you're a woman, you might as well forget it unless you're starting a business in China.

Those are some of our conclusions having pored over Forbes' data on self-made billionaires to find commonalities among the world's richest entrepreneurs.

Some shared traits have nothing to do with ability and everything to do with luck or genetics. More self-made billionaires were born in September than any other month, for instance. This isn't far off from the rest of the country; Oct. 5 is the most popular birth date in the U.S., according to Anybirthday.com (nine months exactly after New Year's Eve). Of the 678 self-made billionaires worldwide, 64 have September birth dates.

In Pictures: Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Billionaire?

Then there is the Y-chromosome factor. Of the 272 self-made American billionaires on this year's Forbes 400 list, a measly 4 are women--just over 1%. It's the same among billionaires outside the U.S. Just 15 of the 678 self-made rich on Forbes' 2010 World Billionaires list are women. One place where women are catching up is China, where 7 of these 15 women built their fortunes from scratch.

Why aren't there more Oprah Winfreys or Meg Whitmans? It could simply boil down to a lack of opportunity: Women still earn less than men working the same jobs and are underrepresented in the boardroom. They're also scarce in the venture capital world, which could be a reason 41% of U.S. private companies are female-owned, but only 3% to 5% of them get venture funding.

There are some things you can do for yourself, or your children, to increase your chances of making a bundle. The first piece of advice: Start saving up for Ivy League tuition. The No. 1 alma mater for these started-from-scratch billionaires is Harvard, which counts 38 self-made billionaires from around the world as alumni: 14 with undergraduate degrees, 22 M.B.A.s and two law degrees. Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg, energy investor George Kaiser and hedge fund tycoon Ken Griffin all have Harvard degrees and made billions. Second is Stanford University, a breeding ground for tech entrepreneurs; 18 of the self-made richest attended the West Coast school for either an undergrad or graduate degree.

Even dropouts from these colleges can do exceptionally well. Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Yahoo (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ) cofounders David Filo and Jerry Yang all left Stanford without graduating. Harvard has had its share of high-profile dropouts making the Forbes 400: Bill Gates ditched Harvard to found Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ), and more recently, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg followed in Gates' footsteps, leaving Cambridge for Palo Alto. Never made it to college? Your chances of making a billion drop considerably, but it's not totally out of the question: 25 of this year's self-made American billionaires, 9%, never finished high school or only have a high school diploma.

So what do would-be billionaires do once they graduate? Many of the most successful entrepreneurs on the Forbes 400 spent time in the military before starting their careers. Ross Perot Sr. served in the Navy for four years before founding his IT empire. S. Daniel Abraham fought in World War II before striking it rich with Slim-Fast diet shakes. Investor Kirk Kerkorian transported planes across the Atlantic for Britain's Royal Air Force. It could be that the rigors of military life made rising up the corporate ranks seem a cinch by comparison.

In Pictures: Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Billionaire?

The bulk of America's richest self-made billionaires made their dough the old-fashioned way: finance. Of the self-made Forbes 400 members this year, 80 got rich in finance-related fields like hedge funds and private equity. Interestingly, several made the bulk of their fortunes after being pushed out of their firms. Michael Bloomberg founded Bloomberg LP after he was fired from Salomon Brothers; David Tepper started his own firm after he failed to make partner at Goldman Sachs (nyse: GS - news - people ); and Leon Black and two young coworkers from his office started Apollo Management after Drexel Burnham collapsed. Now all of them are billionaires.

Wall Street isn't the only place to make your first billion. California boasts more self-made billionaires than any other state: 71. Among the Sunshine State's best known entrepreneurs: the Facebook billionaires, the Google guys, philanthropist Eli Broad and venture capitalist John Doerr. Outside the U.S., China tops the list of places to make a fortune from scratch: 49 new billionaires appeared on our latest China Rich List published in October.

The vast majority of the self-made rich in both China and the U.S. have benefited from IPOs. More than 80% of these entrepreneurs worldwide oversee public companies. Pierre Omidyar, the creator of auction site eBay (nasdaq: EBAY - news - people ), made $7.8 billion practically overnight after the website's IPO. Almost all of dot-com pioneer Jeff Bezos' $12.6 billion fortune comes from his shares in Amazon.com (nasdaq: AMZN - news - people ). While it's possible to make it big with a private firm, there's the opportunity to multiply your fortune with a public offering. You hear that, Mark Zuckerberg?

In Pictures: Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Billionaire?

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