6 People Who Used Nepotism to Become Business Magnates

gwyneth paltrow and kate hudson

You don’t need to look far in any industry to find examples of nepotism. When you have a parent with power, wealth, and/or influence, it’s far too tempting not to use that to your advantage. They can get you in the door, yes, but if you can’t back it up with something other than your famous last name or lineage, then you’re not going to last long.

An example that immediately comes to mind is the children of Will and Jada Smith. Jaden Smith has made a career of acting badly in even worse films (and hanging out with other celebrity brats) while Willow Smith has devoted most of her time to her “music” career (highlights include the masterpiece “Whip My Hair”). Let’s call a spade a spade: if their father wasn’t at one time one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, neither one of them would be where they are today. Because they have no talent. There...I said it.

They’re not alone, though. The world is rife with kids of famous performers - actors and singers - that believe their heritage means they have talent. Sometimes it’s true (see Natalie Cole), and sometimes it’s not (see Lisa Marie Presley). Other children use a successful or famous parent to launch themselves into reality stardom. They’re famous for being famous. Kim Kardashian. Paris Hilton. They don’t really have any skills other than being known. Yeah, both Kim and Paris has ventured into fashion, music, and entrepreneurship, but with limited success. Their biggest asset (I refuse to make a Kim Kardashian ass joke here) is simply who they are.

Yet another group is the business folk. These people used nepotism to start themselves on the path to becoming business magnates in their own right. They were lucky to find themselves with a wealthy parent or family, and they used that as a launching pad. It’s not the same as a feel-good rags-to-riches story, but they at least did something with the privilege and benefits they were gifted.

We may not like them (jealousy being the green-eyed monster, after all), but we have to at least acknowledge that they did something. Paris Hilton? She’s done nothing (unless you count her sex tape). Kim Kardashian? She’s done nothing (unless you count her sex tape...and I’m starting to see a trend).

See also: 9 Clear Signs of Favoritism in the Office

1. Donald Trump

donald trumpnewsweek

Long before Donald Trump became the racist politician and presidential hopeful we love to hate, he was a very successful businessman in his own right. He’s a real estate developer, author, and television personality, with a net worth somewhere around $4.5 billion (although Trump claims to be worth twice that). Not bad.

Of course, it would be more impressive had he done it all on his own, and with nothing but his wits, hard work, and determination. But no. Trump is the son of Fred Trump, himself a successful real estate developer starting in 1927 in New York City. He built family homes, high rise apartments, and even popularized the supermarket. When he passed away in 1999, his personal wealth was estimated to be around $300 million.

Donald began working for his father’s company - Elizabeth Trump & Son Co. - in the mid 60s. He worked closely with his father, learning the ropes and assisting on deals and projects while he attended college. Upon his graduation in 1968, he got a “small loan of one million dollars” (his words, not mine) from his father and started his own development company. He parlayed that into the billions he’s worth today, developing everything from luxury apartments and hotels, to casinos, and restaurants. The Trump name is a powerful and trusted brand (even if he himself is a bit of a jackass).

And it all started with the “small loan” from dad.

2. Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow

gwyneth paltrow and kate hudsonameblo

Hollywood has no shortage of actors and actresses that are there simply because of who their parents are. Most don’t push themselves beyond acting in movies and maybe television. But there are a few that got their foot in the door, acted a bit (or lot), got famous, and then branched out into other business ventures. It’s admirable...in a privileged upbringing kind of way.

Two such examples are Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow. Love them or hate them, you definitely know them.

Hudson is the daughter of Bill Hudson and actress Goldie Hawn (known for “Laugh-In” and her Academy Award winning performance in Cactus Flower and dozens of other films). She broke onto the scene in 2000’s Almost Famous and has gone on to star in a number of successful and not-so-successful movies since then. Most recently, though, she’s been promoting her new activewear and yoga clothes company, Fabletics. As co-founder, she’s heavily involved with everything from marketing (she is the famous face behind it) to design. By all accounts, the subscription-based company is doing excellent business (even though some people find the business model a bit misleading). It’s hard to say whether it would be so successful had Hudson not used her famous mom to launch her career.

Paltrow’s story is quite similar. She’s the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and film producer/director Bruce Paltrow. Having them as parents undoubtedly helped at the beginning of her acting career. She reached superstar status in the mid-to-late 90s with a string of hits that included Emma, Seven, Hush, and Shakespeare in Love (for which she won the Academy Award). But she has devoted most of her time in the past few years to her lifestyle company, Goop. Launched in 2008, the website and newsletter strive to be the Martha Stewart for a new generation. It includes recipes, travel recommendations, shopping discoveries, health and beauty tips, and a plethora of products to buy. Her advice is often ridiculed for being completely out-of-touch with the general public, but the company has seen annual sales in excess of $1.5 million in past years (despite rumours it’s experiencing financial difficulties lately).

Famous mom. Famous dad. Famous company. I wonder if Gwyneth sends them a check each month?

3. George W Bush

George W. BushFlickr

Remember Georgie Boy? Two-term President of the United States of America, George Bush has done alright for himself, eh? He’s the product of a long line of Bush sons using their successful fathers to get ahead in life. Samuel P. Bush was a prominent and important industrialist, acting as president of the Buckeye Steel Castings Company until 1927. His son was Prescott Bush, who used his father’s name and money to help him become a successful Wall Street executive banker and US Senator. His son was George H.W. Bush, and he used his father’s connections in Texas to launch himself in the oil industry there. George used that to get elected to Congress, become ambassador to the United Nations, spend eight years as Vice-President under Ronald Reagan, and ultimately serve one-term as US President from 1989-1993.

Which brings us to the other George. After unsuccessful political bids, Bush got involved in oil and business in Texas, including a stint on the board of directors for HKN Inc...using his famous father’s connections and influence, of course. He used his family fortune and personal assets to purchase part ownership of the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1989 for $800,000 (he was actively involved in its operation), and then sold his share nine years later for $15 million. He served as Governor of Texas from 1995-2000, and President of the United States from 2001-2009. Not bad for a man whose verbal trip-ups and confusing expressions are to this day called Bushisms.

Each successive Bush son has used his father’s wealth, prestige, and influence to their own end. And each father has shown preferential treatment to their sons. But it all started with Samuel.

4. Charles and David Koch

The Koch BrothersFlickr

The Koch clan is the second richest in America, with a combined worth of around $40-45 billion (give or take a hundred million here or there).

Koch Industries is the second-largest privately held company in the US today. It was founded by Fred Koch in 1940 as Wood River Oil and Refining Company. Fred built it up and acquired Rock Island Refinery in 1947. His company was prosperous and successful.

His son Charles joined the company in 1961, and another son, David, followed in 1970. Charles became president (thanks, Dad!) in 1966, the year before Fred passed away. The two of them bought out their other brothers, Bill and Frederick, for $1.1 billion in 1983. Charles and David worked tirelessly to expand and grow the company into other industries and branches. Koch Industries is today involved with refining and oil, manufacturing, trading, and investments, with an annual revenue in the neighbourhood of $115 billion.  

Charles is Chairman of the Board and CEO while younger brother David serves as Executive Vice President, and both own a 42% stake in the company they turned into a behemoth. But it was all thanks to their father.

You’ll notice there are no Waltons on this list, of Walmart fame. While the children of founder Sam Walton have increased the family fortune from about $23 billion in 1992 to a rumoured $90 billion today, they did so basically continuing Sam’s work and policies. They didn’t branch out, diversify, or change direction. So they don’t count (if you can ever really discount billions and billions of dollars).

Look, there’s nothing wrong with using your parents as a springboard...provided you’ve got the chops to do something with it other than just be the “rich kid”. I don’t like Trump, for example, and his definition of a “small” loan is ridiculous, but he did go further than his father ever did. Ditto George W. Bush.

We should all be so lucky to have rich and powerful parents to launch our careers.

Who would you add to the list? What business magnate deserves to be here, but was tragically omitted? Leave your additions in the thoughts below.