One for the Books
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19 Billionaires Who Didn't Go to College

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One for the Books
Rawpixel/istockphoto

One for the Books

A university education is far from the only path to success — just ask the nearly 30% of living billionaires who never got even a bachelor's degree. There's also a smaller pool of billionaires, living and deceased, who never had any secondary education whatsoever. Find out which notable billionaires found an alternate path to success after skipping the time and money needed for higher learning, and subsequent attitudes to the formal educations they eschewed.


Related: 12 Historic Failures by Successful Billionaires

John D. Rockefeller
Wikimedia Commons

John D. Rockefeller

Net worth (if alive today): $340 billion
Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller is one of the most famous tycoons and richest men in American history, but the closest he ever came to college was a 10-week business and bookkeeping course taken at Folsom's Commercial College before starting work at age 16. Rockefeller must have still valued education, though; he later donated millions to the University of Chicago, and helped establish schools and colleges to educate black freedmen after the Civil War.


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Henry Ford
Wikimedia Commons

Henry Ford

Net worth (if alive today): $200 billion
Henry Ford left his family farm at 16 for Detroit, where he became a machine shop apprentice and an engineer before revolutionizing transportation and industrial production methods with his assembly-line-enabled Model T Ford. Ford summed up his views on education: "A man's college and university degrees mean nothing to me until I see what he is able to do with them."


Related: 15 Ford Cars That Defined a Generation

Richard Branson
Jean_Nelson/depositphotos

Richard Branson

Net worth today: $4.4 billion
One of the world's most recognizable billionaires, Sir Richard Branson dropped out of school due to struggles with dyslexia and poor academic performance at 15, at which point his headmaster speculated he'd either end up a millionaire or in jail. Branson developed his first business, a mail-order record retailer, into the Virgin Group he oversees today, which controls more than 400 companies. "University isn't the be-all and end-all, and it's certainly not a prerequisite for business success," Branson has written. "I'm not saying that people shouldn't go to university if they want to, but simply calling attention to the benefits of learning from the school of life."


Related: 15 Iconic Business Leaders Inseparable From Their Brand

Liliane Bettencourt
Pascal Le Segretain / Staff / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images CC

Liliane Bettencourt

Net worth (if alive today): $43.7 billion
Liliane Bettencourt was born the heiress to one of the world's largest cosmetics companies, L'Oreal, and so had no real need for higher education to achieve her fortune. She joined the family company as an apprentice at 15 and became its principal shareholder from 1957 when she was 35. She was the world's wealthiest woman when she died in 2017 at age 94 with a $44.7 billion net worth.


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Amancio Ortega
Dusko Despotovic/Contributor/Sygma/Getty Images

Amancio Ortega

Net worth today: $80.5 billion
Amancio Ortega is among the richest men in Europe, best known for co-founding Inditex and its chain of Zara fashion stores in 1975. Ortega left school at the age of 14 and never returned, instead finding work as a shop hand for a shirtmaker where he learned to make clothes by hand. His philanthropic foundation nonetheless devotes considerable funds to education and scholarships.


Related: The Richest Person in 40 Countries

Ingvar Kamprad
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Ingvar Kamprad

Net worth (if alive today): $46.6 billion
At age 5, Ingvar Kamprad was already displaying a business sense by selling matches around his neighborhood, but he struggled in school due to dyslexia. This may have driven him to choose work over continuing education at age 17, when he founded a mostly mail-order furniture business called Ikea. Today, the store has 445 locations worldwide.

Kirk Kerkorian
William Thomas Cain / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images CC

Kirk Kerkorian

Net worth (if alive today): $4.8 billion
Kirk Kerkorian had a singularly unusual path to success, dropping out of the eighth grade to become an amateur boxer and later a World War II fighter pilot before developing the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He died in 2015.


Related: 36 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Las Vegas

François Pinault
François Pinault by S. Plaine (CC BY-SA)

François Pinault

Net worth today: $51.5 billion
François Pinault founded the French luxury brands group Kering in 1963, and today he has holdings that include Gucci, Samsonite, and Saint Laurent. He left school at 15 when classmates made fun of his rural accent and scruffy clothes.

David H. Murdock
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David H. Murdock

Net worth today: $2.3 billion
David H. Murdock also took an unconventional path from rags to riches after leaving school in ninth grade. He worked at a gas station before being drafted in World War II, then bought and sold a Detroit diner before acquiring the Hawaiian real estate outfit Castle & Cooke, which happened to own a fruit company called Dole. It's become the world's largest fruit and vegetable producer under Murdock.


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Carl Lindner Jr.
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Carl Lindner Jr.

Net worth (if alive today): $1.7 billion
During the height of the Great Depression, Carl Lindner Jr. dropped out of school at age 14 to join the family dairy business, which he helped expand into the widely successful convenience chain United Dairy Farmers. Before his death in 2011, Lindner became a prominent donor to the University of Cincinnati and the namesake for the school's business college, despite his own lack of secondary schooling.

Best Buy
J. Michael Jones/istockphoto

Richard M. Schulze

Net worth today: $4.7 billion
Best Buy founder and former CEO Richard Schulze dropped out of Central High School in St. Paul, Minnesota — not that it seems to have held him back, or even kept him off campus: Though his plans to attend college anyway never came to be, Schulze became a donor, trustee, and honorary degree recipient at the University of St. Thomas later in life.


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Superyacht at Butler's Wharf
Superyacht at Butler's Wharf by Marc Pether-Longman (CC BY-NC-ND)

Joe Lewis

Net worth today: $4.9 billion
British businessman Joe Lewis made his riches through investing in the international Tavistock Group and currency trading, which led to him being labeled a tax exile and moving to the Bahamas. Before all that, he left school at 15 to help run his father's London catering business Tavistock Banqueting, which Lewis expanded into selling luxury goods for American tourists, then sold to make his initial fortune.

Sir Alan Sugar at the AFTA awards 2009
Sir Alan Sugar at the AFTA awards 2009 by Damien Everett (CC BY)

Alan Sugar

Net worth today: $1.3 billion
Dropping out of school at age 14 didn't stop Alan Sugar from finding work as a statistician with the U.K.'s Ministry of Education, then moving on to sell electronics from the back of his van. These humble beginnings led to Sugar gaining his wealth as owner of electronics company Amstrad, as well as being a British media personality and political adviser. When asked if he regrets not getting a formal education, Sugar dismissed university as "a waste of time."

John Caudwell
Karwai Tang/Contributor/WireImage/Getty Images

John Caudwell

Net worth today: $3.1 billion
An English businessman and philanthropist, John Caudwell left school at age 15 and spent some years as a car dealer before getting a certificate in mechanical engineering and entering the mobile provider market with the companies SinglePoint and Phones 4u. He's vowed to give away half his wealth for charity, and opened the Caudwell International Children's Centre to study and treat autism.


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Laurence Graff
David M. Benett/Contributor/Getty Images Entertainment

Laurence Graff

Net worth today: $4.1 billion
Now the multibillionaire founder of jewel supplier Graff Diamonds, Laurence Graff started out cleaning toilets after his mother decided he should leave school due to poor performance when he was 15. In 2008, he founded the Facet Foundation to raise standards of health, education, and well-being in South Africa — where so many diamonds are mined — with leadership and pre-employment skills programs and teacher training.

Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich by Marina Lystseva (CC BY)

Roman Abramovich

Net worth today: $14.8 billion
Roman Abramovich is a billionaire by virtue of his investments in steel and ownership of the Chelsea Football Club. His humble beginnings include an orphaned childhood in northern Russia and a departure from school at age 17, when he launched his career selling imported rubber ducks. As far back as 2013 he won the distinction of having donated more money than any other living Russian, with a substantial portion going toward education causes.


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Haim Saban
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Haim Saban

Net worth today: $3.1 billion
Haim Saban is an Israeli-American media mogul and investor, earning his billions mostly earned by producing children's programming such as the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" for Saban Entertainment and now spends on pro-Israel and Democratic political causes. Growing up, he was expelled from an Israeli boarding school for troublemaking and told by the principal, "You're not cut out for academic studies; you're cut out for making money." Saban finished high school but pursued formal education no further.

John Paul DeJoria at Celebrity Fight Night XXIII in Phoenix, Arizona.
John Paul DeJoria at Celebrity Fight Night XXIII in Phoenix, Arizona. by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA)

John Paul DeJoria

Net worth today: $2.8 billion
Paul DeJoria is a self-made entrepreneur and philanthropist best known for co-founding the Paul Mitchell haircare line and Patrón Spirits. He had a rough childhood growing up in Los Angeles, being sent from his mother into foster care and joining a street gang before a high school math teacher inspired him to change. DeJoria finished high school, but joined the Navy and later worked as a salesman rather than attend university.


Related: Celebs Who Own Beer, Wine, and Spirits Brands

Hobby Lobby Retail Store
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David Green

Net worth today: $8.4 billion
As the founder of Hobby Lobby, David Green and his family employ more than 43,000 employees at around 900 stores across the nation. He completed high school in Oklahoma but never attended university, instead becoming a retail manager and using a $600 loan to start a home business assembling and selling picture frames. Today, he's an avid donor to evangelical Christian colleges, even giving an entire campus to the Zion Bible College in 2007.


Related: Giant Companies You Didn't Know Are Family-Owned