Chan Laiwa

broke to billionaire chan laiwa

Though she is a descendant of the Manchu dynasty, Chan Laiwa's family was so poor in the 1940s she was forced to leave high school and work instead, eventually starting her own furniture repair business.

Over the decades her business grew, and it wasn't until she was in her 40s that she moved to Hong Kong to invest in real estate. She started small, with just 12 properties, and then went bigger and bigger. Now the real estate magnate is the head of Fu Wah International, a firm that has ventures in real estate, tourism, electronics and other industries.

Chan once told a Chinese website that poverty was the best college education she could have hoped for.

First published June 5, 2014: 9:19 AM ET