How many times were you told to make sure you worked hard in high school so you could go to college and get a good career job? Okay, maybe not all of you got nagged about it, but probably a good portion of today’s generation of adults did.
It’s natural to wonder whether college is really necessary. A college degree, as many have found, is no guarantee of a good career. On the flipside, there are many successful entrepreneurs who didn’t need their college education and become millionaires anyway. Here are fifteen of them, both contemporary and from the past, in alphabetical order.
- Mary Kay Ash. The founder of Mary Kay Inc. started a cosmetics business. While she didn’t have a college education or any training, she successfully created a brand known throughout the world. To date, nearly half a million women have started Mary Kay businesses, selling cosmetics. Their appreciation for Mary Kay Ash is unwavering.
- Richard Branson. Richard Branson is best known for his thrill seeking spirit and outrageous business tactics. He dropped out at the age of 16 and started his first successful business venture, Student Magazine. He is the owner of the Virgin brand and its 360 companies. His companies include Virgin Megastore and Virgin Atlantic Airway.
- Coco Chanel. An orphan for many years, Gabrielle Coco Chanel trained as a seamstress. Determined to invent herself, she threw out the ideas that the fashion world deemed feminine, boldly using fabric and styles normally reserved for men. A perfume bearing her name, Chanel No. 5 kept her name famous.
- Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell started in a mailroom for a music publishing company. He has since become an Artist and Repertoire (A&R) executive for Sony BMG in the UK, and a television producer and judge for major television talent contests including American Idol.
- Michael Dell. With $1,000, dedication and desire, Michael Dell dropped out of college at age 19 to start PC’s Limited, later named Dell, Inc. Dell became the most profitable PC manufacturer in the world. In 1996, The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation offered a $50 million grant to The University of Texas at Austin to be used for children’s health and education in the city.
- Barry Diller. Fox Broadcasting Company was started by a college dropout, Barry Diller. Diller is now chairman of Expedia, and CEO of of IAC/InterActiveCorp which includes Home Shopping Network and Ticketmaster.
- Walt Disney. Having dropped out of high school at 16, Walt Disney’s career and accomplishments are astounding. The most influential animator, Disney holds the record for the most awards and nominations. Disney’s imagination included cartoons and theme parks. The Walt Disney Company now has annual revenue of $30 billion.
- Debbi Fields. As a young, 20 year old housewife with no business experience, Debbi Fields started Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery. With a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, this young woman became the most successful cookie company owner. She later renamed, franchised, then sold Mrs. Field’s Cookies.
- Henry Ford. At 16, Henry Ford left home to apprentice as a machinist. He later started Ford Motor Company to manufacture automobiles. Ford’s first major success, the Model T, allowed Ford to open a large factory and later start the assembly line production, revolutionalizing the auto-making industry.
- Bill Gates. Ranked as the world’s richest person from 1995-2006, Bill Gates was a college drop out. He started the largest computer software company, Microsoft Corporation. Gates and his wife are philanthropists, starting The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with a focus on global health and learning.
- Milton Hershey. With only a fourth grade education, Milton Hershey started his own chocolate company. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate became the first nationally marketed chocolate. Hershey also focused on building a wonderful community for his workers, known as Hershey, Pennsylvania.
- Steve Jobs. After attending one semester of college, Steve Jobs worked for Atari before co-founding Apple Computers. Now without the “Computers” in their name, Apple includes innovative products such as the iPod, iTunes, and most recently the iPhone. Steve Jobs was also the CEO and co-founder of Pixar before it merged with Walt Disney.
- Rachael Ray. Despite having no formal training in culinary arts, Rachel Ray has made a name for herself in the food industry. With numerous shows on the Food Network, a talk show and cookbooks, high-energy Rachael doesn’t slow down. She has also appeared in magazines as well has having her own magazine debut in 2006. She knew she was a success when a website dedicated to bashing her was created.
- Ty Warner. Sole owner, CEO, and Chairman of Ty, Inc., Ty Warner is a savvy, yet private business man. Ty, Inc., made $700 million in a single year with the Beanie Babies craze without spending money on advertising! He has since expanded to include Ty Girlz dolls, directly competing with Bratz dolls.
- Frank Lloyd Wright. Having never attended high school, Frank Lloyd Wright surpassed all odds when he became the most influential architect of the twentieth century. Wright designed more than 1,100 projects with about half actually being built. His designs have inspired numerous architects to look at the beauty around them and add to it.
Of course, just because these people made it does not of course mean that most people can do without a college degree. If you’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, the degree is just a backup.