Study: Majority of Wealthy Business Owners Self-Made


For many U.S. entrepreneurs, the American Dream is alive and quite healthy.

A new survey from U.S. Trust finds the majority of high net-worth business owners are entrepreneurial individuals who started their own business and created most of their own wealth.

In a survey of 711 adults with at least $3 million in investable assets, researchers found that 78% of business owners founded or co-founded their companies, and 70% acquired the bulk of their wealth through that business. Less than a tenth of respondents inherited ownership of their business.

“Business ownership is alive and well in the U.S. economy, and new innovation is fueling entrepreneurship that knows no age limits,” says Keith Banks, president of U.S. Trust.

Assessing the benefits of business ownership, survey respondents regard entrepreneurship as both self-interested and community-oriented, with younger business owners putting a greater weight on the positive societal impact of entrepreneurship.

The most popular reason respondents gave for business ownership was the desire to control their own destiny, with 60% saying they wanted to be in the driver’s seat when it came to their future. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of business owners say running their own companies is more likely to lead to fulfillment at work, and 67% believe it’s a path to creating significant wealth.

Yet at the same time, 79% of Gen Y entrepreneurs and just over half of Gen X entrepreneurs say business ownership empowers them to make a positive contribution to society.

Business: A Family Affair?

Only 28% of business owners surveyed intend to pass on their companies to their children when they retire, while a much greater percentage (65%) say they plan to sell or close the business.

While the majority doesn’t want to pass on the business to their kids, business owners do hold themselves more responsible for the financial well-being of family members, the study finds. Nearly half of business owners support their adult children, while 35% help out their parents. Twenty-two percent are also providing funds to grandparents, and 22% are assisting siblings.

Meanwhile, non-business owners are less likely to help out extended family members, but are a little more likely to lend a hand to adult children, with 57% supporting their kids, according to the research.

The survey was conducted in March 2013 by independent research firm Phoenix Marketing International for U.S. Trust, which operates through Bank of America.