While the argument could be made that nobody gets to be a billionaire by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, there are instances where individuals have serendipitously stepped up to the rank of billionaire - transitions facilitated by being in the right place at the right time.

Some of this luck is purely a function of when one is born - how successful would Bill Gates have been if he had been born ten years earlier or ten years later? (There's no way to tell, but we do know that Gates was able to perfectly take advantage of the newly developing world of computer technology because he was born at the right time and he happened to be at the right place - one of only two schools that had mainframe computers). The planets aligned for these four billionaires who had the creativity, drive, foresight and the luck of good timing to turn their ideas into profitable realities.

TUTORIAL: World's Greatest Investors

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg's father taught him Atari BASIC Programming in the 1990s and went on to develop additional programming skills with the assistance of a private tutor. Zuckerberg had the reputation of being a programming prodigy by the time he started classes at Harvard.

The 2010 movie The Social Network depicts the story of how Zuckerberg developed Facebook, a company that earned him the distinction of becoming the world's youngest billionaire in 2008, four years after co-founding Facebook. Zuckerberg and co-founders developed Facebook at a time when millions of internet users were hungry for social media opportunities. Zuckerberg was able to develop his natural talent for computer programming and came up with an idea that would connect people all over the world - at precisely the right time. (For related reading, see 4 Lessons From Billionaire College Entrepreneurs.)

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Computer in 1976. As a high school student, Jobs was able to attend after-school lectures at the Hewlett-Packard Company, where he was soon hired and worked with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as a summer employee. In 1984, the Macintosh - or Mac - personal computer was introduced - the first of its kind featuring a mouse and a graphical user interface (GUI) instead of a command-line interface. The timing was perfect as small, personal computers were gaining in popularity and users were extremely enthusiastic about the more user-friendly interface.

Bill Gates
When Bill Gates was 13, the Mothers Club at his school used fundraising money to purchase for the students a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and computer time on a General Electric computer. Gates and classmate Paul Allen became interested in computer programming.

Gates and Allen founded Microsoft in 1975 and wrote an operating program for one of the first microcomputers - the Altair 8800. Five years later, Microsoft developed MS-DOS, an operating system for IBM's new personal computer. Having access to computers at a time when most people did not - and therefore being ahead of the curve - helped Gates build a successful company. (For related reading, see Wall Street History: Microsoft Buys Apple.)

Oprah Winfrey
During her last year of high school and first two years of college, Oprah Winfrey worked at a local radio station doing the news part-time. She became both the youngest news anchor and the first African American female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. She later moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. In 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show was born, displacing Donahue as the number one daytime talk show in the U.S. Winfrey was able to transform the show from one that was initially classified as a tabloid talk show, to one that focused on broader topics.

In addition to the hugely successful TV show which aired its final episode in 2011, Winfrey publishes magazines and maintains a website. She is the Chairwoman, CEO and Chief Creative Officer (CCO) of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Winfrey's humor and empathy came at a time when many women needed a powerful role model, particularly one who was willing and able to broach topics that were considered social or cultural barriers.

The Bottom Line
Timing is everything. In order to become a billionaire, one really does need to be in the right place at the right time. Most individuals who have managed to achieve this level of wealth have done so through luck, recognizing opportunities, networking and turning an idea into a reality. Being in the right place helped make these entrepreneurs, and many others like them, billionaires. (For related reading, see The 10 Greatest Entrepreneurs.)

Related Articles
  1. Professionals

    The Best Financial Modeling Courses for Investment Bankers

    Obtain information, both general and comparative, about the best available financial modeling courses for individuals pursuing a career in investment banking.
  2. Professionals

    Credit Risk Analyst: Job Description and Average Salary

    Learn what credit risk analysts do every day and how much money they make on average, and identify the skills and education needed for this career.
  3. Professionals

    A Day in the Life of a Hedge Fund Manager

    Learn what a typical early morning to late evening workday for a hedge fund manager consists of and looks like from beginning to end.
  4. Financial Advisors

    Putting Your CFA Level I on Your Resume

    Learn techniques for emphasizing your CFA Level I status in the Skills and Certifications or Professional Development section of your resume.
  5. Entrepreneurship

    4 Things to Know About Your Company To Make a Successful Pitch to Investors

    Learn how to make a successful pitch to investors. Regardless of your industry, size or market, there are some questions all investors need to have answered.
  6. Professionals

    4 Must Watch Films and Documentaries for Accountants

    Learn how these must-watch movies for accountants teach about the importance of ethics in a world driven by greed and financial power.
  7. Entrepreneurship

    Top 4 Billionaires Living in Los Angeles

    Learn how these multibillionaires built their fortunes to stand out from the crowd of the countless ultra-rich who call Los Angeles home.
  8. Investing Basics

    3 Business Tips from Restaurant Reality Shows

    The reality TV shows "Restaurant Impossible" and "Kitchen Disasters" offer lessons not just for restaurateurs, but for all business owners.
  9. Entrepreneurship

    4 Most Successful Indiegogo Campaigns

    Learn about some of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns on Indiegogo, which raised millions of dollars for everything from electric bikes to beehives.
  10. Personal Finance

    10 Reasons It Is Time to Look for a New Job

    Learn 10 good reasons for switching jobs, such as major life changes, ethical concerns, job description creep and upwards mobility.
  1. Can I buy insurance to reduce unlimited liability in a partnership?

    Partnership insurance is actually quite common. Most of the time, partners buy insurance to safeguard against the possibility ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are the benefits of prorating expenses?

    When a person prorates expenses between personal and business expenses, he is able to capture the maximum amount of tax benefits ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the relationship between research and development and innovation?

    Although it's possible to achieve innovation without research and development and it's possible to conduct research and development ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How does the notion of the American Dream influence the US economy?

    The notion of the American Dream influences the U.S. economy because it creates the driving force behind the free enterprise ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How do venture capitalist investors view sustainable growth in a startup?

    Venture capitalist investors view sustainable growth in a startup as necessary when considering investing in it. Typically, ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How can I protect my business from my spouse during a high net worth divorce?

    For high net worth individuals (HNWIs), deciding to end a marriage through divorce brings special circumstances to consider. ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center