Though conspicuous consumption in tough economic times has given the superrich bad press, self-made moguls like John Paul DeJoria, Tony Hsieh, Guy Laliberte and Lynn Tilton are giving back through various philanthropy and business projects. They're also sharing their surprising stories with "20/20." Read on for more and watch the full story on "20/20" tonight at 10 p.m. ET.
|John Paul DeJoria: From Homeless to Haircare Mogul|
Early Challenges: DeJoria's childhood and early adult life were tough, to say the least. His father left his family when he was two and he spent weekdays living with a foster family while his mother worked. With no money for college, he became a door-to-door salesman, selling everything from encyclopedias to photocopy equipment. He married at age 20 and had a son but his wife, he said, later left him because she didn't want to be a mother. DeJoria said his ex took what little cash they had, leaving DeJoria and his toddler son homeless, living in a friend's old car.
How He Made It Big: In the 1970s, DeJoria landed a series of jobs in the hair care industry and quickly rose to management. He never quite fit into their corporate culture and was fired from three different jobs. But his experiences, DeJoria said, helped him learn what he needed to start a company. He teamed up with a hairdresser named Paul Mitchell, whom he met at a trade show, and together they came up with a new high -quality shampoo and conditioner. John Paul Mitchell Systems became the largest privately held beauty company in the world. In 1989, Paul Mitchell died of pancreatic cancer and DeJoria went on to run the company himself. Soon after, he would hit the jackpot again, this time with another new product: his ultra-premium tequila, Patron. Patron Spirits has gone on to become even more successful than Paul Mitchell Products.
How He Gives Back: DeJoria is involved in dozens of charities and measures achievement not by the success of his companies but by the good he is accomplishing. He's paying for the full renovation of the Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club he went to as child and his "Grow Appalachia" charity fights poverty by teaching people how to cultivate, cook and can their own fruits and vegetables.
"I like to live well and I feel good about it because I know how much we give back," he said. "There's plenty for my family, now let's take care of the rest."
Superrich Splurge: He owns a private, luxury train car, dubbed the Patron Tequila Express, complete with ornate wooden carvings and a marble bathroom.
|Tony Hsieh: Delivering Happiness|
Early Adventures: Hsieh has been a maverick from an early age. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, he began to show an instinct for business at just 9 years old: He tried to start his own worm-selling business after buying worms from a farm. The plan unraveled within two weeks, after the worms escaped. In college -- Hsieh attended Harvard University -- he made money buying frozen hamburgers, cooking them and selling them to fellow students.
How He Made It Big: After graduating, Hsieh's first big move was launching an advertising website, LinkExchange, from his basement. It grew quickly, but so did Hsieh's unhappiness. The company's employees, he said, were skilled but not all of them "were great for the company culture."
"It just wasn't a fun place to work at anymore," he said.
Hsieh sold the company for $265 million. When someone approached Hsieh about selling shoes online, he decided this new company would be different. This time, he would make sure the employees he hired were good for company culture and that the company, Zappos.com, was good for them. Hsieh is evangelical about making sure his employees are happy. Zappos offers free food in the cafeteria, covers all medical benefits and has a life coach on staff to help employees reach their goals. Hsieh also keeps the Zappos office atmosphere wacky, with colorful decorations, costumes and more.
After a decade, Zappos reached $1 billion in annual sales, dominated the online shoe industry and expanded into other products. Last year, Amazon bought the company for $1.2 billion but asked Hsieh to stay on to run it. He agreed, for a salary of just $36,000.
"That's my way of making sure that I'm actually only there for my own happiness, I'm not staying for the money," he said.
How He Gives Back: Hsieh put Zappos' recipe for success in a book called "Delivering Happiness" and went on tour to spread the word. His next big project is to deliver happiness to downtown Las Vegas. His vision: revitalize and transform the distressed downtown area into a high-tech hub bringing in more jobs. He already lives there in a penthouse apartment and plans to move Zappos headquarters down the street.
|Guy Laliberte: A Clown With a Dream|
Early Adventures: Laliberte left his home in Quebec, Canada, at just 16. He played his father's accordion on the street, making money to travel the world and learning new talents along the way, like stilt-walking and breathing fire.
How He Made It Big: After his world travels, Laliberte returned to his hometown to pursue an old dream among those in his community: a new type of circus consisting entirely of street performers. Out went the ringmaster and the performing animals and in came jaw-dropping displays of agility that was Cirque du Soleil. Eventually, Laliberte packed up his creation and moved it to California -- even though he had no money to bring his equipment back home if the show failed. Laliberte's huge risk paid off: the show was a hit. Nearly three decades later, Cirque du Soleil is a worldwide sensation.
How He Gives Back: Laliberte founded One Drop in 2007, a charity focused on providing sustainable access to safe drinking water around the world.
Superrich Splurge: In 2009, Laliberte spent $35 million to become a private astronaut, traveling via a Russian Soyuz capsule to the International Space Station. Laliberte used the trip to raise awareness of water supply issues.
|Lynn Tilton: Fixing Failing Companies|
Early Challenges: While Tilton was a sophomore at Yale University, her father passed away and Tilton took on the burden of providing for her mother and younger brother. She also married young but the marriage didn't last and at 23, with an infant daughter in tow, she started a career on Wall Street working 15 hour days and facing, she said, frequent sexual harassment.
How She Made It Big: Tilton saved up $10 million from her work on Wall Street, sent her clients a Christmas card with a picture of herself in lingerie -- a not-so-subtle dig at the sexual harassment she said she faced -- and then walked away. But a dream about her father, she said, brought her back.
"(He) told me that wasn't what he had had in mind for me," she said. "We were raised to give back to the world."
In December of 2000, Tilton returned to New York to launch Patriarch Partners, a private equity firm named in honor of her father. Today, through Patriarch, Tilton owns more companies than any woman in the country.
How She Gives Back: Over 11 years, Patriarch Partners has saved dozens of failing companies like Spiegel Catalogues, Rand McNally and Stila Cosmetics.
"For every job I could save, that was a family that would be kept together," she said. "And so I have tried to, at least in later life, make my father proud."
Superrich Splurge: Tilton's expansive wardrobe includes 500 pairs of shoes housed in four closets.