When we were kids, the adults towering above us always said, “Stay in school.” They said school is essential for little kids to grow into successful adults. They reminded us over and over again that all those savagely boring hours we spent in the classroom or doing homework would eventually pay off. And whenever we would question this system, they would question us back, asking “How do you expect to become somebody if you don’t go to school?”
It may be true that a lot of kids who drop out of school early end up steering their adult lives right into the gutter. A lack of discipline and motivation can leave someone wading in the middle of an ocean with no land in sight, doing their best not to drown. But when someone has a passion for a singular thing, and their passion is combined with an unshakable will, formal education becomes an obstacle best skipped entirely.
The following are 10 cultural titans who broke free of their educational shackles and learned their craft through tangible experience in the real world. Their great drive and instinct allowed them to climb up the economic ladder and become some of the richest people on the planet. And they did it all without a fancy degree.
10 Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was the co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc. His tragic passing in 2011 has shaken the world, but his legacy stands: Apple’s worth was estimated to be $1.4 trillion in May 2015. At one point, the company’s cash reserves exceeded that of the U.S. government. Such a feat surely requires a degree at a damn good college, right?
Wrong. Steve Jobs had no college degree. He dropped out of Reed College because he did not want to spend his adoptive parents’ (who could barely afford the payments) money on college. He did, however, audit a calligraphy course, and he attributes the Mac’s multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts to what he learned there.
9 Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren is a philanthropist, fashion designer, and founder of the Ralph Lauren Corporation clothing company. Lauren is world-renowned for his rare automobile collection, and was declared Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. Oh, and he’s worth about $6.3 billion.
Lauren had a two year stint in New York City’s Baruch College, but dropped out to join the army before earning his degree. Upon completing his military service, Lauren began designing neckties in 1976. The rest is history.
8 Richard Branson
Richard Branson is an England-born investor and business tycoon known for founding the Virgin Group, an umbrella conglomerate with over 400 companies under it. His current net worth is estimated to be around $5 billion, which includes a lovely island in Australia called Makepeace Island.
While most of the billionaires on this list called their formal education quits in college, Branson didn’t even make it out of high school, dropping out when he was just 16. On his last day of school, his headmaster told him he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. He was off by one letter.
7 Ingvar Kamprad
Ingvar Kamprad is the founder of IKEA, the largest furniture retailer in the world. It’s likely that his company made the chair or desk you’re reading this on. Forbes currently lists Kamprad’s net worth as being $3.4 billion.
Kamprad never made it to college, dropping out of high school at the age of 17 to start IKEA. His business savvy began developing way before then; as a young boy, he bought matches in bulk and sold them on his bicycle. That little boy selling those matches started a chain of events that (likely) lead to your chair, or desk.
6 Giorgio Armani
Giorgio Armani is an Italian fashion designer known for forming the high quality menswear brand Armani. Aside from making a killer suit, Armani is credited with spearheading red carpet fashion. He is currently worth $8.2 billion.
Armani famously said, “Remain true to yourself and your philosophy.” Apparently his personal philosophy doesn’t revolve around formal education — Armani dropped out of med school at the Univeristy of Bologna, reportedly because he could not stand the sight of blood.
5 Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes is the founder and CEO of Theranos, a privately-owned medical-laboratory-services company that specializes in blood testing. Today, she is worth $4.5 billion dollars, making her the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire.
Holmes’ current standing is an astronomical leap from her humble roots; she started her company when she was only 19, working out of a group college house basement. She used the money her parents had set aside for her education to kick-start what would later become Theranos. She dropped out of Stanford a semester later to tend to her work full-time.
4 Hiroshi Yamauchi
Hiroshi Yamauchi was the third president of Nintendo. When Yamauchi took the company’s reigns from its predecessors, he transformed it from a humble card-making company to a multi-billion dollar empire. In 2013, Forbes put his worth at $2.1 billion. He tragically passed away that same year of pneumonia.
Yamauchi’s edge in business was not the source of any formal degree — he dropped out of Waseda Univeristy in Japan so that he could run Nintendo and turn it into the company it is today.
3 Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg is best known as a co-founder of Facebook, the hub that hosts all of our virtual identities. The website was launched in 2004, and has since acquired 1.44 billion monthly active users. Facebook was valued at $245 billion in June 2015 (beating out Walmart), and Zuckerberg’s net worth is estimated to be $45.1 billion.
And to think that all that came from a Harvard dropout. By the time Zuckerberg was a sophomore, the Facebook engine was already rolling, and he made sure not to miss the train.
2 Li Ka-Shing
Li Ka-Shing is an investor, philanthropist, and business tycoon. It’s appropriate that Li’s last name is the sound of money being cashed in — In April 2014 he was considered the richest person in Asia, with a net worth of $31.9 billion. Fortune magazine once wrote that Li “combines the instincts of a gambler with the calculations of an actuary.” Hong Kong locals sometimes refer to him as “Superman” because of what he can accomplish in business.
Turns out “Superman” didn’t need a college degree to become filthy rich. Ka-Shing dropped out of school when he was 15 so that he can focus on selling watch bands to support his family. It was evidently a good call.
1 Bill Gates
Bill Gates is famous for being the co-founder of Microsoft, the world’s largest PC software company. He has been a staple on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people since 1987, and he topped the list from 1995 - 2014 — aside from a few years after the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Bill Gates is currently (obviously) the richest man in the world.
Gates’ job titles are vast; they include philanthropist, business magnate, computer programmer, inventor, and investor, but college graduate is nowhere to be found on his resume. As soon as he saw his opportunity to start a promising (re: earth-shattering) company, Gates dropped out of Harvard and got right to work.