Eight of the world’s richest people either dropped out of school or have no formal education at all. The list includes Bill Gates, the richest person in the world, who’s worth almost $80 billion.
How Important is an Education?
There’s no denying that an education is valuable. Mississippi is the poorest state in the U.S. and has the second lowest number of college graduates. The other states with the worst economies also make a poor showing in the education category. But while lack of education by and large correlates to poverty, avoiding school paradoxically does not keep some people from becoming extremely wealthy.
Americans Value Education Highly
About 35,000 people apply to Harvard each year. Cornell gets over 40,000 applicants annually. It’s estimated that by 2020 there will be about 23 million students in college. But is college absolutely necessary to succeed in life? Not according to the list of the richest people in the world. Of the 20 richest people in the world, eight either dropped out of school or had no formal education to begin with. But were they born with it? Six of the eight are considered “self made” and did not inherit their fortunes. Five of these six dropped out of school and never finished college. The only one who didn’t drop out had no formal education at all.
Bill Gates – Harvard Dropout – $79.2 Billion
Bill Gates is best known for founding Microsoft and for his generous philanthropy. He launched Microsoft in 1975 and grew it to a $620 billion company by 1999. Yet Bill Gates never completed college.
Gates is not a typical college dropout. Rather than dropping out of school because he found the work too difficult, Gates left Harvard because he saw an opportunity to start his own computer company. Gates knew school would get in the way and take up valuable time. However, he has famously said that he was never an outstanding student. He once said, “I studied every thing but never topped…. But today the toppers of the best universities are my employees.”
Armanico Ortega – No Formal Education – $65.5 Billion
Armanico Ortega founded the Inditex Fashion Group, famous for its Zara clothing line. Born in Spain, he took a job as a clerk in a clothing store in his early teens. He started his first business by organizing local women who could sew into a company that made quilted bathrobes. Today his companies have over 6,000 clothing stores and employ 92,000 people. There is no record of him ever attending any school.
Larry Ellison – Dropout from University of Chicago and University of Illinois – $53.5 Billion
Larry Ellison is the CEO and founder of Oracle, the multi-billion dollar database software firm. Born to a middle-class single mother, Ellison developed the original Oracle database for the CIA in the 1970’s and later retooled it for the commercial market, keeping the Oracle name. Though Ellison showed strong aptitudes for both math and science, he dropped out of not one but two colleges. He left the University of Illinois at Urbana after his adoptive mother died, and then dropped out of the University of Chicago after the first term.
Ellison seems more enamored of originality than formal education.
“The most important aspect of my personality as far as determining my success goes; has been my questioning conventional wisdom, doubting experts and questioning authority. While that can be painful in your relationships with your parents and teachers, it’s enormously useful in life,” said Ellison.
Christy Walton – No Formal Education – $40.6 Billion
Christy Walton, the richest woman in the world, got her billions by marrying into the Walton family. She inherited her fortune when her husband John Walton died in a plane crash in 2005. Not much is known about her and there’s no record of her attending any school. She is one of only two people on our list who inherited her billions.
Christy is the wealthiest member of the Walton family because of an investment in solar panel maker First Solar by her husband John. She produced the film, “Bless Me, Ultima,” which received the award for best feature film by the Imagen Foundation in 2013.
Liliane Bettencourt – No Formal Education – $41.1 Billion
Lilian Bettencourt inherited her money as the heiress to the L’Oreal fortune. She’s the only child of Eugène Schueller, who founded the cosmetics giant in 1907. She never received any higher education, instead taking a job working for her father at the age of 15 labeling shampoo bottles and mixing cosmetics. She married André Bettencourt, a French politician who went on to become a cabinet minister and eventually took a position as L’Oreal’s deputy chairman.
Bettencourt avoids media attention and doesn’t grant interviews. In 2001 she was placed under guardianship by a French judge for her declining mental health.
Mark Zuckerberg – Harvard Dropout – $35.7 Billion
Like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard because he had begun a business venture that he knew was more important than finishing his schooling. He built Facebook from a concept in his dorm room into a $200 billion company in just eleven years. It’s rumored that Zuckerberg took only five minutes to make up his mind to drop out of college, though he was only half way through. He also is quoted as saying, “Why would you be studying it if you could be doing it?”
Li Ka-Shing – High School Dropout – $33.5 Billion
Asia’s richest person says he has a great respect for education, though he never finished high school. Though war in China deprived him of formal schooling, he says being denied an education created a powerful desire for learning that led him to educate himself. His lack of higher learning doesn’t seem to have hurt him much. He recently created two new publicly traded companies, CKH Holdings and CK Property, and his holdings span 52 countries, employing over 270,000 people.
Sheldon Adelson – City College of New York Dropout – $29.8 Billion
The billionaire City College dropout runs Las Vegas Sands, the biggest gambling business in the world. Born to a taxi driver in Dorchester, Mass, he got his start selling newspapers and started his own candy vending business while still a teenager. Since then he has created over 50 businesses. He once told ABC News, “So I lost $25 billion. I started out with zero. There is no such thing as fear.”
- The World’s Billionaires – Forbes.com
- Entrepreneurs Who Dropped Out – FundersAndFounders.com
- Li Ka-Shing Talks of Stanford’s ‘special place’ in His Heart – med.Stanford.edu