29. Montana : Dennis Washington
It’s been over 50 years since Dennis Washington quit his job working for his uncle to start his own construction business with a $30,000 loan. Today his Washington Co. controls Montana Rail Link, which transports freight over 900 miles of track; a copper mine in Butte; and a barge business in Vancouver. He is also the majority shareholder of Canadian container shipping firm Seaspan (son Kyle is co-chairman), which has an $8 billion contract with the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard to build 12 vessels over the next 20 years. It’s been quite a journey for Washington, who got polio at age 8 and spent 8 months in a hospital. He lived in government housing and shined shoes for pocket money.
At 17, he went to Alaska, where he became a heavy crane operator for a time. Washington and his wife, Phyllis, who helped support the couple with her teacher’s salary early on, now split their time between 4 homes and 2 yachts.