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No Degree—And No Worries

Some of the most successful chief executives in the business world did not graduate from college. Though the reasons differ (some didn't have the option to attend school while others dropped out to build their businesses) they all have excelled in the marketplace. Here's a list of some of the top earners without a degree.

Although earning a college degree is widely considered a prerequisite for success, it’s not always so. As evidenced by founders of companies like Apple, Oracle, Virgin, Microsoft, Dell, and—more recently—Facebook, you don’t always need a college degree to succeed in business and life. In fact, all 10 of the most successful college-dropout CEOs on a list compiled by financial site also appear on its 2010 Richest People in the World list.

Many of those CEOs left institutes of formal education while on the brink of building some of the world’s biggest business empires. For example, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft; Michael Dell left the University of Texas to found Dell Computers and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to found Facebook. But others simply lacked the opportunity. Both Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson and Inditex Group’s Amancio Ortega, son of a railway worker, never went to college because they didn’t finish high school, while Oracle founder Larry Ellison dropped out after the death of his adoptive mother’s death.

Clearly, contrary to conventional wisdom, a degree may be useful, but it’s not necessary.

Top 10 College-Dropout CEOs
Rank/CEO Company Country Est. Net Worth Educational Background
1. Bill Gates Microsoft USA $50 billion Harvard University, second year dropout
2. Mukesh Ambani Reliance Industries India $29 billon Stanford University, first year dropout
3. Larry Ellison Oracle USA $28 billion University of Illinois, first year dropout
4. Eike Batista EBX Group Brazil $27 billion RWTH Aachen University, first year dropout
5. Amancio Ortega Inditex Group Spain $25 billion Did not attend college, high school dropout
6. Michael Dell Dell Computers USA $13.5 billion University of Texas, second year dropout
7. Steve Jobs Apple USA $5.5 billion California, Reed College, first year dropout
8. Ralph Lauren Polo Ralph Lauren USA $4.6 billion NY City College, second year dropout
9. Richard Branson Virgin Group England $4 billion Did not attend college, high school dropout


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