For These CEOs, College Degree Not a Prerequisite for Success

A recent list demonstrates how CEOs such as Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison and others became successful despite lack of formal education.

Although earning a college degree has been a priority for most of us to be successful in life, for some it is apparently not true.

Some of the world’s most successful business personalities in fact have demonstrated to this effect. Founders of companies such as Apple, Oracle, Virgin, Microsoft, Dell, and now Facebook, show, you don’t always need a college degree to be rich and successful in life.

A recent list of ten most successful college dropout CEOs compiled by, an online resource on banking, investment and trading demonstrates, how a college degree was never a necessity for these CEOs.

These school dropouts proved that one can be rich (all of them are in the 2010 Richest People in the World list) and successful without having to graduate from school, says

The ten CEOs who although couldn’t pursue formal education, have established what is known as some of the world’s biggest business empires. While six of these ten CEOs happen to be from U.S, the other four are – one each- from India, Brazil, England and Spain.

Topping the list is Bill Gates, a drop out of Harvard College, started his own venture Microsoft with colleague Paul Allen to become the richest person in the world now with an estimated net worth of $ 50 billion.

Next on the list is Indian business tycoon Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries. Ambani who joined the MBA program of Stanford University in 1979 decided to drop out and focus on the polyester business of his flagship company Reliance Industries. Mukesh Ambani is now 4th richest person in the world according to Forbes, with an estimated net worth of $ 29 billion.

Third, fourth and fifth in the rankings are Oracle’s Larry Ellison, EBX Group Brazil’s Eike Batista and Amancio Ortega of the Spanish Inditex Group, Zara, all college drop outs with an estimated net worth of $28 billion, $27 billion and $25 billion respectively.

While Larry Ellison attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign but dropped out at the end of his second year owing to his adoptive mother’s death, Eike Batista who lived in Germany from 1969 to 1980 studied engineering at RWTH Aachen University but dropped out of college without completing his degree. Interestingly, Amancio Ortega, son of a railway worker, actually never got to go to college because he did not finish high school.

Out of the other five CEOs, prominent are Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corporation, Steve Jobs of Apple Inc, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, slated at sixth, seventh and tenth positions in the list, with an estimated net worth of $13.5 billion, $5.5 billion and $4 billion respectively.

Steve Jobs who joined Reed College in Portland, Oregon to study physics, literature and poetry, dropped out after only one term. He started his own business, the Apple Computer Company. Likewise Michael Dell, a pre-med student at the University of Texas Austin, he started an informal business upgrading computers. He dropped out of college to concentrate on his company, Dell Computer Corporation.

Mark Zuckerberg studied psychology and computer science at Harvard University but decided not to continue when his Facebook website grew in popularity. Zuckerberg was recognized by Time magazine as its “Person of the Year” in 2010.

Other two entries of the list are Ralph Lauren and Richard Branson, CEO of Polo Ralph Lauren and CEO of Virgin Group with estimated net worth of $4.6 billion and $4 billion at eighth and ninth positions respectively.

After his high school, Ralph Lauren went to the Baruch School of Business and Civic Administration of the City College of New York (now known as Baruch College) where he studied business, but dropped out after two years. Similarly, Sir Richard Branson, from England, CEO of Virgin Group of Companies, a consortium of more than 400 firms, suffered from dyslexia and due to poor academic performance as a student, he did not finish high school.

Top Ten College-Drop out CEOs
Rank CEO Company Country Est. Net Worth Education
1 Bill Gates Microsoft USA $50 billion Harvard College drop out
2 Mukesh Ambani Reliance Industries India $29 billion Stanford University drop out
3 Larry Ellison Oracle USA $28 billion University of Illinois drop out
4 Eike Batista EBX Group Brazil $27 billion RWTH Aachen University drop out
5 Amancio Ortega Inditex Group Spain $25 billion High School drop out
6 Michael Dell Dell Computers USA $13.5 billion University of Texas drop out
7 Steve Jobs Apple USA $5.5 billion California, Reed College drop out
8 Ralph Lauren Polo Ralph Lauren USA $4.6 billion NY City College drop out
9 Richard Branson Virgin Group England $4 billion High School drop out
10 Mark Zuckerberg Facebook USA $4 billion Harvard University drop out


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events