Weird History
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The Most Surprising Jobs Held By People Who Later Became World Leaders

Updated September 23, 2021 1.2k votes 185 voters 9.8k views15 items

List RulesVote up the jobs you wouldn't expect to see on a world leader's resume.

While many world leaders have followed "traditional" career paths of law or the military to rise through the ranks of their country's government, others have taken more unusual routes to political power.

For instance, it is well-known that Ronald Reagan was an actor in Hollywood prior to pursuing his political career, and Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer - but how many people are aware that the current president of Ukraine and the current leader of Guatemala both portrayed fictional heads of state on television? Or that Harry Truman sold ties and belts as the co-owner of a haberdashery? Or that the current president of Turkmenistan previously worked on his predecessor's teeth?

Whether taken to support their family or help pay for schooling - or even in pursuit of a true passion - here are world leaders' most surprising jobs before they rose to power.

  • Since his 2013 ascension to the Venezuelan presidency, Nicolás Maduro has faced numerous problems: His country's economy collapsed, crime rates rose, and the White House labeled him a dictator. The last occurred when Maduro made a power grab in the summer of 2017 by convening a super assembly to try and rewrite the country's constitution. During the ensuing protests, hundreds of citizens were slain. In January 2019, shortly after Maduro was reelected, National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president, alleging widespread vote rigging and that the presidency was vacant as a result.

    That's a lot of turmoil for someone who claims to have never aspired to become a world leader. The son of a prominent trade union leader, Maduro was born into a working-class family. He was the president of the student union of his high school, but never graduated. He began his working life as a bus driver, and worked several years for the Caracas Metro.

    During his employment there, Maduro joined the Socialist Union and helped to establish one of the company’s first informal trade unions - as official unionization was banned in the company at the time. Maduro met Hugo Chávez in 1993 and became a key figure in the latter's Bolivarian Movement. He helped to launch the Movement for the Fifth Republic in 1997, which backed Chávez’s presidential run. In 1998, when Chávez won an astonishing electoral victory, Maduro was elected as an MP.

    • Age: 58
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  • 6

    Oncologist - Tabaré Vázquez, President Of Uruguay

    Tabaré Vázquez was elected to a second, non-consecutive term as president of Uruguay in 2015. With his previous win in 2004, he became the first person from a left-wing party to be elected president of the country. 

    Inspired to become a doctor from a young age, Vázquez chose to focus on oncology after both his parents and his sister passed from cancer in the 1960s. He studied medicine at the Universidad de la República and graduated in 1972. Vázquez later received a grant from the French government that allowed him to receive additional training at the Institut Gustave Roussy, a well-regarded cancer research institute located just outside of Paris.

    Since being elected to his first term as president in 2005, Vázquez has pushed for several health-related policies. In 2006, Uruguay became the first country in Latin America to ban smoking in indoor public places. In an effort to provide comprehensive health care to all its citizens, regardless of their ability to pay, the country introduced the National Integrated Health System in 2007. 

    In August 2019, the 79-year-old Vázquez was diagnosed with lung cancer. The president stated he has no plans to step down before his term ends in March 2020.

    • Age: 79
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  • 7

    Comedian And Actor - Volodymyr Zelensky, President Of Ukraine

    Zelensky is the world leader whose July 2019 phone call with Donald Trump is at the center of the current impeachment inquiry against the US president. Like Trump, Zelensky also went from television star to leader of a country.

    The comic-turned-politician had worked in the entertainment industry since the ripe age of 17. Although he has a real law degree, Zelensky was best known to Ukrainians for his role as the fictional president of Ukraine on Servant of the People, a satirical sitcom. The sitcom ran from 2015 until shortly prior to Zelensky's May 2019 inauguration, when he turned his fictional role into his real one. 

    • Age: 41
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  • 8

    Composer - Ivo Josipović, Former President Of Croatia

    Ivo Josipović served as president of Croatia from 2010 to 2015, and became the first president of that country to not be elected to a second term. He is currently the leader of the non-parliamentary Forward Croatia Party, and has discussed the possibility of merging that party with the country's Social Democratic Party. He has denied any intention of running for president again.

    Josipović originally studied to become a musician, not a politician, and graduated from the Zagreb Music Academy in 1983. He has served as the music director of the international classical music festival Music Biennale Zagreb since 1991, and occasionally lectures at the Zagreb Music Academy.

    The composer of at least 45 chamber music pieces, Josipović's work has been performed by musicians both in Croatia and in other countries. He has won awards for his music, including one from the European Broadcasting Union (1985) and the Porin Award (1999) for his composition "Samba da Camera." He won another Porin Award in 2000 for his composition "Tisuću lotosa" ("A Thousand Lotuses").

    When he was elected president in 2010, Josipović vowed not to give up his musical career. He announced that he would spend his spare time composing an opera on John Lennon’s passing, but later admitted his duties were too time-consuming to allow him to work on it.

    • Age: 62
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