Bezos, Gates, Zuckerberg. Behind every "self-made" millionaire is a father with money

If you dig deep enough, behind most "self-made millionaires" you will find a parent with good contacts, a few savings, or simply a lot of money for their children.

Bezos, Gates, Zuckerberg. Behind every "self-made" millionaire is a father with money
Bezos, Gates, Zuckerberg

It is commonplace in business mythology. The anonymous entrepreneur who only with a huge effort achieves that his idea, so original and disruptive, becomes a success story. The story is usually starched with all kinds of barriers, obstacles, often financial, that our hero has had to overcome to reach the top. The last lesson is always the same: if you want, you can. If he could, overcoming so many difficulties, perhaps you too. At least give it a try.

There are plenty of examples. A very recurring one is that of Jeff Bezos, today the richest man on the planet. Touring Amazon's headquarters twenty years ago means entering a world of gloomy and depressing offices, folios hanging on the walls, a hand-painted logo, and the feeling that nothing too productive could come out of there. Bezos, by then, was a little-known figure in technology circles. Only with a tremendous effort did he reach his position today.

It is a recurring issue on social networks. A recent tweet: "On this day in 1994, Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in his garage." The accompanying image is highly indicative of Americans' view of themselves. A gigantic garage attached to the middle suburban house on the outskirts of a big city, basket included. In business mythology, being born in a garage is indelible proof of humble origins. How it is possible to conquer the world (figuratively) coming from the most mediocre place imaginable.

Admirable, right? Bezos is undoubtedly a brilliant man, very intelligent, with a unique sense of opportunity. Amazon is one of the most efficient companies in the last two decades, and today one of the most profitable ever imagined by humans. Bezos glimpsed a business opportunity, chased it relentlessly, and designed an optimal corporate environment for his company to become a success, a money-making machine in demand around the world, capable of revolutionizing entire sectors of the economy.

But it is also true that the parable of the entrepreneur that begins in his garage and ends at the top of the planet is full of narrative traps. This other tweet, emerged in the thread of the aforementioned, illustrates it perfectly: if Bezos was able to get to where he is today, it is due, in part, to the fact that his parents gave him more than $ 240,000 dollars to prevent his idea, Amazon, will fail. It is a fact known for years, but little disclosed when the personal epic of Bezos is covered.

"We were fortunate enough to have lived in other countries and saved some money, so we were able to become an angel investor. The rest is history," explained his adoptive father, Mike Bezos, a Cuban immigrant who worked as an engineer. at Exxon, one of the world's leading oil companies, in 2015. The couple bought a total of 1,430,244 shares in 1995. Bezos himself would warn them that there was a "70%" chance that they would never return the money. Which did not happen.

Jeff Bezos in 2013. (AP)

Today the fortune of his parents, still Amazon shareholders, could exceed $ 30,000 million. It was a risk worth taking. But one that a common family could not have allowed. The average American household savings do not exceed $ 9,000 in the current account, to add properties.

Bezos had a great idea. One that in 1995 would not have gotten very far if their parents had not been richer than the average.

Gates and Zuckerberg

There are plenty of examples. The President of the United States of America himself, a man who has cultivated for years a cult of his entrepreneurial talent, built his emporium on the fortune bequeathed by his father. Inherited. Otherwise, we could not explain the existence of so many and so many family dynasties that, both in the United States and in Europe, have remained at the forefront of global wealth for generations.

They all have an origin. The peculiarity of the emporiums that arose from the new technologies, as is the case of Amazon, is that they were born during our time. We have seen them grow in real-time. This does not mean that their origins are not equally conditioned to the family origins of their respective entrepreneurs. Bezos is a case. Bill Gates is another. In his case, the family benefit did not come through direct investment, but through networks of influence.

Gates' mother, Mary Maxwell Gates, has served for decades, sometimes pioneeringly, in some of the most influential corporate and university governing bodies in Washington state. In 1980, in a later critical development of events, Mary Gates became the first woman to join the board of directors of United Way, one of the most relevant non-profit organizations in the American business sphere.

There he would coincide with John Open, CEO of IBM at the height of 1980, to whom he would speak in very good terms of the company recently founded by his son, Microsoft. That talk would bear fruit. Open would place the Microsoft name on the IBM table at the launch of its first desktop computer, the 5150. The multinational would choose the then anonymous Gates Jr. project to develop its operating system. The rest, as Mike Bezos would say, is history.

Bill Gates in 1997. (AP)

Bezos required his parents' money. Gates from her mother's contacts. In both cases, they were privileged. Most families do not have the sort of channels of influence that the family of the Microsoft founder had within their reach in the early 1980s, and that played a crucial role in the company's later, also pioneering, success. They are two sides of the same coin. Often, business successes are explained if we consider the social position of parents, a very accurate predictor of children's wealth.

One last example: Mark Zuckerberg. The privileged social and economic position of his parents allowed him to attend the Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the oldest educational centers in the United States and frequented by political and financial elites. There, before entering university, Zuckerberg achieved a critical and technical academic and technical training, years later developing Facebook in his early youth. Course cost as of today: $ 57,000 a year. Annual income for the standard American family: $ 56,516.

It was not the only privilege Zuckerberg enjoyed before entering university. When he was eleven years old, his parents hired a reputable developer, David Newman, to tutor him once a week. Newman would confess years later that Zuckerberg was " a prodigy " and that it was sometimes difficult to keep up with him, even at such a young age. There is no doubt that the founder of Facebook has enormous intelligence. But also that such a prodigy was cultivated, trained, and encouraged by his parent's thanks to his financial resources. Something not available for everyone.

Nothing described above denies the talent or merit of Bezos, Gates or Zuckerberg. They all had revolutionary ideas and created timeless generational products. It simply contextualizes it. His parents were critical of his training, financial viability, or ability to be in the right place at the right time. They did not make themselves. They relied on family and social networks at their disposal to cement their success.

It is something we have known for years. "Entrepreneurs" do not have a gift or a born talent for business risk and success. In most cases what they have are parents with money. The persistence and prevalence of wealthy families, of dynasties, is one of the most defining characteristics of elites. In the United States, where generations of Koch, Hearst, Pritzker have dominated the scene for more than a century, and in Europe, where the wealthy families of Italy are practically the same since the Renaissance.

fact or fiction
John Anderson
John Anderson
Read next: Why Denny's Is the Perfect Starter Job for a Cook
John Anderson

Writer, Editor, Teacher, tinkerer, always looking to make something from nothing

See all posts by John Anderson