Having a college degree means so much to so many, it is a status symbol in some circles. Those who went to an ivy league school are even more entrenched in the notion that only the smartest and brightest have upper echelon college degrees. After all, Harvard graduates are sought after by Fortune 500 companies, so that is proof positive, right?
It’s always nice to see the mavericks who don’t follow the traditional path yet wind up excelling far beyond the pack. But not everyone is lucky or savvy enough to capitalize on the time between high school and success. This stellar group of 12 billionaires were self-directed and intense about their business focus and they all followed their personal visions, which spelled success.
Michael Kors – Net Worth $1 Billion
Michael graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, New York and later enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. The thing is, Michael had been demonstrating a talent for fashion since he was five. So after nine-months he dropped out to work at a boutique on 57th Street, which is where he displayed and sold his own designs. Michael’s career, like many, had many highs and lows and after his lowest point, his life took a huge turn. He hasn’t looked back. Being a host on Project Runway for years boosted his career and fan base even further. Earlier this year, Forbes named him Fashion’s Newest Billionaire.
Ted Turner – Net Worth $2.2 Billion
Ted Turner (Robert Edward Turner III) was born in Cincinnati, OH and lived with his parents, Florence and Robert Edward Turner II. The family moved to Savannah, GA when he was nine-years-old and attended a private boys’ prep school in Chattanooga, TN.
Turner attended Brown University and was involved in debate, sailing and was a member of Kappa Sigma. When he announced his major would be in Classics, it caused grief between he and his father. Unfortunately, this bright student was expelled for having a female in his dorm room, so Ted never received a college diploma. Years later, Brown U. awarded him an honorary B.A.
John Paul DeJoria – Net Worth $4.2 Billion
John Paul Jones DeJoria was born in a Los Angeles neighborhood. His parents split up when he was only two, so by the time he was nine he was selling Christmas cards to help support his family. A few years later he was forced to live at a foster home since his mother was financially struggling. After being a part of a gang and being told he would amount to nothing, DeJoria turned his life around. He graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Navy for two years. He then joined Redken Laboratories, which was his entry into the hair care industry and was later fired for disagreeing with management.
With a $700 loan and partner, Paul Mitchell, John Paul Mitchell Systems was launched.
Richard Branson – Net Worth $5 Billion
Sir Richard Branson was born in Blackheath, London to a barrister, Edward James and mother, Eve. Scaitcliffe School was where Branson went to school until he was 13 and then Stowe until he was 16. Richard is dyslexic and was not a high-grade student, but his parents were very supportive. Richard started his record business from the crypt of a church where he was running The Student, a magazine he published. His business model was to sell records cheaper than all of the retail chains around. The business was an immediate success. He later started the Virgin Records recording label which signed the Sex Pistols and other more controversial bands. Now he owns a myriad of businesses and, by the way, his own island.
David Geffen – Net Worth $6 Billion
David Geffen was born in Brooklyn, New York to immigrants from British-mandated Palestine. David did not love school due to his dyslexia condition, but graduated from New Utrecht High School. He followed it up by trying three different colleges, but dropped out of all of them. He was more interested in joining the entertainment industry, so moved to Los Angeles, which is where he attended Santa Monica College (his third university).
Back then, starting anywhere in the industry was a good start so he worked in the mail room of the William Morris Agency and was rapidly promoted to talent agent. Ultimately, Geffen started his own record label after gaining experience as a personal talent manager.
Ralph Lauren – Net Worth $7.5 Billion
Ralph Lauren was born in the Bronx, New York to immigrants from Pinsk, Belarus. He went to the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (then known as MTA) and ultimately graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School. His early aspiration was to become a millionaire and he started his empire by selling ties to his fellow classmates.
He studied business at Baruch College and dropped out two years later to serve in the U.S. Army. After working for Brooks Brothers he decided to design his own ties and took space in the Empire State Building where he worked out of a drawer filled with fabric scraps. He sold his ties to local boutiques and eventually Neiman Marcus bought 100 dozen.
Roman Abramovich – Net Worth $13.5 Billion
Russian businessman, Roman Abramovich, has one of the most interesting stories. He was born in Saratov, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union. He was orphaned when he was two and raised by an uncle in Ukhta, N Russia. When he was still in school at the Moscow Auto Transport Institute he started a small plastic toy company – rubber ducks were one of the products. He and his wife at the time, operated the business in their small apartment, and they eventually made enough to parlay its success into the oil business. He now owns several companies, including the Chelsea Football Club.
Michael Dell – Net Worth $15.9 Billion
Michael Saul Dell was born in Houston, TX to a stockbroker mother and orthodontist mother. He was such a bright student that he applied to take his high school equivalency exam when he was only eight-years-old. When he was a teen, he started investing in stocks and precious metals with the money he made from part-time jobs.
He was always technically oriented and started with an Apple II when he was 15. After graduating from Memorial High School in Houston he attended the University of Texas. He later dropped out and capitalized on his hunch that purchasing a computer direct, versus through a retail store, would be a huge cost savings to the public.
Mark Zuckerberg – Net Worth $32 Billion
Mark is one of the youngest on this list, so his story has been more publicized. He was born in White Plains, New York as the son of dentist, Edward, and psychiatrist, Karen. He graduated from Ardsley High School in Dobbs Ferry, a town about 10 miles north of NYC. Although he excelled in the classics, he learned to write software from his father and later hired a tutor so he could keep learning. He eventually outpaced the tutor.
He attended Harvard for two years where he was known as a programming prodigy. Facemash was built for fun and then he later formed Facebook with the other co-creators.
Sheldon Adelson – Net Worth: $36.5 Billion
Sheldon Adelson, of Las Vegas Sands fame, was born in a low-income family in Boston, MA. He was a young entrepreneur and by the time he was 16, he was collecting on his candy vending machine business. Eventually he started studying at a trade school, dropped out and went into the U.S. Army. After his military stint he tried the City College of New York but dropped out shortly after.
He was a risk-taker and started several businesses – some were successful and some were not. He was one of the founders of COMDEX, the huge computer trade show and later went on to purchase the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Larry Ellison – Net Worth $46.1 Billion
Larry Ellison was born in New York City to an U.S. Air Force pilot and his unwed mother. He was sent to live with his aunt and uncle, who formally adopted him, which was in Park Ridge, IL. He attended high school in both Park Ridge and South Shore, which is where he graduated. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was high college of choice but he left when his aunt died. He later attended the University of Chicago and was introduced to computer design, which he loved. But he dropped out after one semester and moved to northern California to get in on the tech action. His brainchild, Oracle, went through typical tech ups and downs but resulted in Ellison becoming one of wealthiest people in the world.
Bill Gates – Net Worth $80 Billion
Bill Gates is one of the most well-known business figures in the world. Born in Seattle, WA, to an upper-middle-class family. His father was an attorney and mother was on the board for First Interstate BancSystem and United Way. He was meant to be a lawyer, according to his parents’ plans, but when he attended Lakeside School, an exclusive preparatory school, he became highly interested in computer programming.
Funny story on that. He, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland and Kent Evans were banned from the computer after they were caught for using their skills to gain more personal time on the community computer. He attended Harvard after high school but not long after decided to start a computer company with Paul Allen.