Top 10 Successful Entrepreneurs without a College Degree


Many of us were brought up to believe that going to school, obtaining good grades and  working really hard to secure a lucrative job are the steps needed to become successful in life. Today however, good qualifications and a gainful employment are no longer the criteria for measuring the success of any individual. Education no doubt serves a purpose in the life of an individual and isn’t entirely without its advantages. But is having a diploma or a college degree among the factors that determine your success as an entrepreneur? There are a lot of successful entrepreneurs in the world today that never had much of a formal education, but were still able to achieve a great deal in life and in business. These individuals were able to make their mark in the world of business despite their lack of formal educatio.

Take a look at the top 10 successful entrepreneurs without a college degree. Review these case studies by yourself to decide whether going to school is what you really need to build a successful business enterprise as an entrepreneur.

1. Richard Branson – Founder of Virgin Group
One of the world’s best known billionaires Richard Branson was never a star in school. With a net worth estimated at $4.9 billion, the founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Records, Virgin Mobile and other Virgin brands comprising over 400 companies never completed high school. While growing up, he suffered from dyslexia and couldn’t make good grades, which caused him to perform poorly in school. He was however passionate about life and had a lot of interests. Branson quit school at age 16 to set up a magazine called Student, designed to discuss youth issues. This later served as the platform he used to launch Virgin Records. Lacking a formal college education didn’t stop him from making a name for himself. Today, Richard Branson is much more outspoken than ever before and strongly believes that schools should be doing a better job of helping to build an enabling environment where young entrepreneurs can thrive.

2. Dave Thomas – CEO of fast-food empire Wendy’s
Founder and CEO of the fast-food empire Wendy’s, Dave Thomas dropped out of high school to work full time at the Hobby House Restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana; before launching his first Wendy’s outlet in 1969. Though the chain experienced many ups and downs along the way, it started endearing itself to TV audiences everywhere through commercials and eventually become a household name in the 1990s. Dave Thomas passed away in 2002 at the age of 69 and his net worth as at that time was pegged at $99 million.

Related: 10 Entrepreneurs to Follow on Twitter

3. Michael Dell – Founder of Dell Computers
Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers had a brief stint in college before eventually dropping out from the University of Texas. For the short time he spent in college, Michael—while in his dorm room, started building the foundations of what would ultimately become Dell Computers. Having recorded a few successes selling upgrades for personal computers, he went on to create a personal brand and built a much bigger business for himself. In 1992, Dell became the youngest CEO on the Fortune 500 list at the age 27. His net worth is currently estimated at $20 billion.

4. David Karp – Founder of Tumblr
Founder of Tumblr, David Karp is also another high school dropout who turned out to become a successful entrepreneur. Karp is among the many young and vibrant personalities in the tech world who declined traditional education in pursuit of an independent life as an entrepreneur. After learning how to code at the age of 11 and obtaining an internship at 14, Karp decided to quit high school in order to work full-time on chasing his dream. In February 2007, he and former co-worker Marco Arment founded Tumblr, a blogging network which garnered 75,000 active followers within two weeks. In May of 2013, internet giants, Yahoo! purchased Tumblr for $1.1 billion, propelling Karp’s net worth to an estimated $200 million at the young age of 26.

Related: Top 10 Ted Talks Every Entrepreneur Should Watch

5. John Mackey – Founder of Whole Foods
Though the founder of Whole Foods may have opted out of college, John Mackey wasn’t a typical college student neither was he a slacker. Mackey enrolled as a student of philosophy and religion at University of Texas, before moving to the Trinity University in San Antonio, and then finally dropping out of school. While living in a vegan housing cooperative in Austin during his early 20s, he quickly learned the benefits of cooking and eating healthily. Mackey decided to setup his own store, called Safer Way Natural Foods with his girlfriend Renee Lawson Hardy in 1978. Two years later, he paired up with some grocery store owners to launch the first Whole Foods Market in Austin. Even after donating his stock portfolio to charity and dropping his salary to a record $1 in 2006, Mackey’s net worth stands at an impressive $100 million.

6. Larry Ellison – founder of Oracle Systems
Former CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison dropped out of two colleges before setting up his Software Development Laboratories (SDL) along with two partners in 1977, after successfully building databases for the CIA. Ellison’s first company later became Oracle Systems Corporation in 1982. With an estimated net worth of about $54 billion, this successful  entrepreneur and self-made billionaire chose to step down from his position as CEO of the company, but still remains chairman and chief technology officer at Oracle.

7. Anne Beiler, co-founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
While growing up inside an Amish community in Lancaster County, going to college and securing a degree was never of any importance to Anne Beiler. Like many other youths in her community, Anne’s thoughts centered on completing eighth grade, securing a small job and settling down to a wife and loving mother. That was her idea of a successful life, until the entrepreneurial bug hit. In 1987, she decided to set up a pretzel stand at a farmers market in her locality with the aid of a $6000 loan she took from her in-laws. Anne’s pretzels became so famous that 5 years later, she had recorded amazing success with more than 100 franchise locations. That year alone, Auntie Anne’s annual sales were estimated at roughly $250 million. In 2005, she sold Auntie Anne’s and has since become a motivational speaker and author.

8. Debbi Fields – founder of Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery
During her second year, Fields dropped out of a community college to launch her company in 1977 from a loan she managed to secure from moneylenders. With no business experience, she launched her first chocolate cookie store named Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery, in Palo Alto. Thirteen years later, her company had grown to become a successful franchisor; helping to enlarge the business globally.

Her cookbook titled, Mrs. Fields Cookie Book: 100 Recipes from the Kitchen of Mrs. Fields, became one of New York Times bestseller in 1992, with over two million recorded sales. She also hosted a cooking show every week on PBS called “Debbi Fields’ Great American Desserts.” When she eventually opted to sell her company in the 1990s, it had reached an amazing $400 million in revenue annually.

Related: Top 10 Traits All Successful Entrepreneurs Share

9. Dov Charney – Founder and CEO of American Apparel
Dov Charney began life as an entrepreneur at a young age, selling clothes while still enrolled as a high school student in Montreal. Importing Fruit of the Loom and Hanes T-shirts from the United States and reselling them to fellow students and other Canadians. He once registered in Tufts University, but later quit in 1990 to launch American Apparel, after borrowing the sum of $10,000 from his father and relocating to South Carolina to set up a clothing manufacturing company. Initially selling his wears wholesale, Charney launched his first retail outlets in 2003 in New York, Los Angeles, and Montreal. He eventually sold his company in 2006 for $360 million, but stayed on as CEO.

10.  Susan Lyne – CEO of AOL Brand Group
Although Susan Lyne had a brief spell both at George Washington University, UC Berkeley and then an art school before opting out of college, her career in media has shown that having a college degree isn’t a yardstick for measuring success in the life of an individual. Susan’s rise in the corporate world started with her first major job as an editor at Village Voice, before later becoming the President and CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, President of ABC Entertainment, and CEO of Gilt Group. Lyne also heads multiple boards and is loving mother to four daughters. Her net worth currently stands at $ 4.7 million.

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