Suze Orman – Whether You Love Her or Not, Is a Self-Made Millionaire

Suze Orman, media proclaimed personal finance expert, is a success – whether you agree with her advice and approach or not. She went from a job as a $400 a month waitress to having an estimated net worth of over 25 million dollars. In a New York Times article (Shes So Money  by Deborah Solomon 1997).

With Orman, it seems people either have love her or hate her. She resonates with middle class women – the target audience of shows where she gained renown (QVC and Oprah), but other financial ‘gurus’ sometimes take issue with her advice and it’s presentation.

She has some financial training and experience and espouses fairly basic financial strategies – so how did she become rich and famous?


She was born June 5, 1951 in Chicago Ill. Her Mother and Father were Russian and Romanian immigrants. Her Father had a business (a poultry shop according to some sources, a deli according to others) and a boarding house with renters. Her mother worked as a legal secretary. She had 2 older brothers.

Orman feels that she grew up poor. However according to Robert Frick in an article If you knew Suze in the Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, November 1998, Ann Orman (Suze’s Mom),

“professes surprise that her daughter’s upbringing had such an effect on her. “You didn’t think you were poor because most people were poor,” says Ann, who still lives in Chicago. “But Suze felt that she was.”

Suze started working in her Father’s business at age 13. At one point, her Father’s shop burned down, but he got out. He went back in though to get the cash register – which was so hot that when he put it down, the skin (burned) pulled off his chest and arms. From this she says she learned that money is more important than life.

Another business venture, a boarding house caused the family to lose a lot of what they had. They were sued and lost most of their money when a tenant of the boarding house was paralyzed in an accident there.


She put herself through college – choosing what she describes as an easy major (she started out saying she wanted to be a brain surgeon) – social work. She worked as a dishwasher on campus to pay her way through at the University of Illinois.

She was supposed to graduate in 1973, but lacked a foreign language course. Instead of taking it, she bought a used van from a brother. She and a couple of friends outfitted it so she could sleep in it. Then she talked a couple of other friends into touring the country with her. They ended up in Berkeley, CA where she got work as a waitress in a restaurant called the Buttercup Bakery. She did go back to school while there to get that last language course and graduated from University of Illinois in 1976.


In 1980, she mentioned her dream of starting her own restaurant to one of the patrons of Buttercup Bakery – Fred Hasbrook . He marshaled other customers – and they ended up giving Suze $50,000 as an interest free loan to be paid back in 10 years. She was 30 years old, working as a waitress making $400 a month. The patron suggested she invest the money until she got ready to use it – so she took it to Merrill Lynch and signed it over to someone to manage for her. He lost it all in options trading. During the time he was managing it, she tried to learn about finances on her own.

After he lost her money, she marched down to his office and applied for a broker training position. Surprisingly – she was hired (she thinks to fill a quota for female trainees). She worked there for 3 years (until 1983) after getting a broker’s license. She was mentored by Clif Citrano who said she had an uncanny ability to put things in layman terms. “I’ve met much better investors in my time, but no one who could market to investors better.”

During that time, she learned that by putting her money in options, the broker that lost her $50,000 had broken the law. Figuring she had nothing to lose (since the firm had already said they didn’t thinks women should be brokers and she wouldn’t last 6 months), she sued the firm while working there. Later she found out that they couldn’t fire her because she had sued them. At the same time she resonated with the clients and became a top seller.

She later moved to Prudential and sold life insurance for 4 years until 1987, then started her own firm.

How did she get her start in media?

According to Success magazine, she was listening to a local radio station and noticed that a guest on the show provided incorrect information on an investment product. She wrote to the show about it. She was invited to explain the product the very next weekend, she went and did a show on the station. After that she started doing shows for other local radio and TV shows.

How did she get started writing books?

Her business took off (perhaps because of the radio and TV show appearances) and she attended a cocktail party where she was introduced to a book agent, Linda Mead. Mead was impressed by Orman’s personality and worked with her to figure out a book to write based on what Orman did. The book “You’ve Earned It, Don’t Lose It” (published in 1998) which focuses on older boomers is the result of that conversation.

How did she get started on TV?

Mead put Orman on a long book tour to promote the book. Two things happened.

First at a book signing, a friend introduced Orman to Erika Herrmann, a producer at KTCA, the PBS affiliate in Minneapolis/St. Paul – Orman impressed him and he asked her to go on air soliciting funds and ended up raising more than anyone had to that point.

Second, Orman and Mead struck pay dirt by landing a gig on now-defunct Q2, the sister channel of QVC.

What was her big break?

One day, at a friend’s suggestion, Orman went to see Binky Urban, ICM’s legendary book agent. For them she wrote “The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical and Spiritual Steps So You Can Stop Worrying.” (published 1997) which sold over three million copies.

Because of that book,she got a call from Katy Davis (who was a senior supervising producer on Oprah) “And she wanted me to come on to talk about the spiritual side of divorce.” According to Orman, in an interview on NPR.  She refused because she didn’t know anything about divorce. Suze claims that Davis pursued her until she agreed to come to the show. Once she did (in 1998), her comments resonated with Oprah who did an hour long show on the book a few weeks later and then included her on an ongoing basis.

Her CNBC show Suze Orman has now been running for 10 years.

Travis (her female spouse) now runs Orman’s company, a media empire that includes books, tapes, the Saturday night CNBC show, a column for O, the Oprah Magazine, and a partnership with credit reporting agency Fair Isaacs Corp.


CNBC – “Suze Orman Profile”

Womens Wear Daily “Suze Orman, the Money Lady”

Forbes “Sizzling Suze” by William P. Barrett, 12.28.98

“If you knew Suze…” by Robert Frick Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, November 1998

Wikipedia “Suze Orman – Early Life and Education

New York Times “Shes So Money” Interview By Deborah Solomon Published: February 25, 2007

National Public Radio “Suze Orman Says Oprah Taught Her an Encyclopedia Version of Life”

New Your Times “Suze Orman is Having a Moment” by Susan Dominis published May 14, 2009

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