Thursday, February 11, 2010

100 Top Entrepreneurs Who Succeeded without a College Degree

In an earlier post, we posed the question, “Is College Necessary for Entrepreneurs?”  While there are certainly good arguments for both sides, it’s a fact that a college degree does not guarantee success.  And there are countless determined entrepreneurs who have proven that success can be achieved despite a lack of higher education.
We have compiled a list of 100 amazing “degreeless” entrepreneurs who have risen to the top.  Some high-profile entrepreneurs you will recognize immediately, while others you may be discovering for the first time.  Many of them didn’t complete elementary school, and still more are considered high school dropouts.  Their backgrounds and industries run the gamut; however, they all have at least two things in common. Incredible success and no college degree.
My brother, Matthew, and I aren’t on this list (didn’t want to toot our own horns… well, at least not too loudly); however we count ourselves among the golden many who achieved success without attending college.  Entrepreneurs at an early age, Matthew and I had already started six (toot toot) businesses by the time we graduated high school.  We were both offered college scholarships, but turned them down – it was clear to us that college was not in our future.  Within a week of graduating high school, we bought a bar/café/billiards location, which we overhauled, re-branded and turned into a hot spot; and on the 12-month we sold it for a great profit.  Of course, we have gone on to start several more businesses, both offline and online, and we have never once looked back.
While we’ve listed our Top 100, we know there are hundreds (if not thousands) more entrepreneurs who have achieved success without a college a degree.  Are you one of them?  Let us know who we forgot by posting your comments below.
The List
Abraham Lincoln, lawyer, U.S. president. Finished one year of formal schooling, self-taught himself trigonometry, and read Blackstone on his own to become a lawyer.
Amadeo Peter Giannini, multimillionaire founder of Bank of America. Dropped out of high school.
Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and philanthropist, and one of the first mega-billionaires in the US. Elementary school dropout.
Andrew Jackson, U.S. president, general, attorney, judge, congressman. Home-schooled. By the age of 35 without formal education, he became a practicing attorney.
Andrew Perlman, co-founder of GreatPoint. Dropped out of Washington University to start an Internet communications company, Cignal Global Communications, when he was 19.
Anne Beiler, multimillionaire co-founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels restaurants. Dropped out of high school.
Ansel Adams, photographer. Dropped out of high school.
Ashley Qualls, founder of, left high school at the age of 15 to devote full time to her website business where she made more than a million dollars by the age of 17.
Barbara Lynch, chef, owner of a $10 million group of restaurants in Boston. Dropped out of high school.
Barry Diller, billionaire, Hollywood mogul, Internet maven, founder of Fox Broadcasting Company, chairman of IAC/InterActive Corp (owner of,
Ben Kaufman, 21-year-old serial entrepreneur and founder of Kluster. Dropped out of college in his freshman year.
Benjamin Franklin, inventor, scientist, inventor, diplomat, author, printer, publisher, politician, patriot, signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Home-schooled with less than two years of formal education.
Billy Joe (Red) McCombs, billionaire founder of Clear Channel media empire, car dealerships, real estate investor. Dropped out of law school to sell cars in 1950.
Bob Proctor, success speaker, bestselling author of You Were Born Rich, and co-founder of Life Success Publishing. Went to high school for two months.
Bram Cohen, developer of BitTorrent. Attended State University of New York at Buffalo for one year before dropping out.
Carl Lindner, billionaire investor, founder of United Dairy Farmers. Dropped out of high school at the age of 14.
Charles Culpeper, multimillionaire owner and CEO of Coca Cola. Dropped out of high school.
Christopher Columbus, explorer, discoverer of America. Home-schooled, little formal education.
Coco Chanel, founder of fashion brand Chanel. A perfume bearing her name, Chanel No. 5 kept her name famous.
Colonel Harlan Sanders, multimillionaire founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Elementary school dropout but later earned a law degree via correspondence.
Craig McCaw, billionaire founder of McCaw Cellular. Dropped out of college.
Dave Thomas, billionaire founder of Wendy’s. Dropped out of high school at 15.
David Geffen, billionaire founder of Geffen Records and co-founder of DreamWorks. Dropped out of college after his freshman year.
David Green, billionaire founder of Hobby Lobby. Did not attend college. Started the Hobby Lobby chain with a $600 loan.
David Karp, founder of Tumblr. Dropped out of Bronx Science at the age of 15, then homeschooled. Did not attend college.
David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue airlines. Dropped out of the University of Utah after three years.
David Ogilvy, advertising copywriter and executive. Was thrown out of Oxford University at the age of 20 in 1931 during the Great Depression.
David Oreck, multimillionaire founder of The Oreck Corporation. Quit college to enlist in the Army Air Corps.
Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery. Later renamed, franchised, then sold Mrs. Field’s Cookies.
DeWitt Wallace, founder and publisher of Reader’s Digest, philanthropist. Dropped out of Macalester College after one year. Dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley after the second year.
Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel. Started the company when he was a high school senior. Never attended college.
Dustin Moskovitz, multi-millionaire co-founder of Facebook. Dropped out of Harvard.
Frank Lloyd Wright, the most influential architect of the twentieth century. Never attended high school.
Frederick “Freddy” Laker, billionaire airline entrepreneur. Dropped out of high school.
Frederick Henry Royce, multimillionaire co-founder of Rolls-Royce, automotive designer. Elementary school dropout.
George Eastman, multimillionaire inventor and founder of Kodak. Dropped out of high school.
George Naddaff, founder of Boston Chicken and UFood Grill. Never attended college.
Gurbaksh Chahal, multimillionaire founder of online ad networks Click Again and BlueLithium. Dropped out of school at the age of 16, when he founded Click Again.
H. Wayne Huizenga, billionaire founder of WMX garbage company, builder of Blockbuster video chain, owner of Miami Dolphins. Skipped college to join the Army, and later dropped out of Calvin College after three semesters.
Henry Ford, billionaire founder of Ford Motor Company. Only modest rural education.
Henry J. Kaiser, multimillionaire founder of Kaiser Aluminum. High school dropout.
Hyman Golden, multimillionaire co-founder of Snapple. Dropped out of high school.
Ingvar Kamprad, billionaire founder of IKEA, one of the richest people in the world. A dyslexic, he never attended college.
Isaac Merrit Singer, sewing machine inventor, multimillionaire founder of Singer Industries. Dropped out of elementary school.
Jack Crawford Taylor, billionaire founder of Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Dropped out of Washington University to serve as a fighter pilot in the Navy during World War II.
Jake Nickell, co-founder and CEO of Never graduated from college.
James Cameron, Oscar-winning director, producer, and screenwriter. Dropped out of California State University, Fullerton.
Jay Van Andel, billionaire co-founder of Amway (now Alticor). Never attended college.
Jeffrey Kalmikoff, co-founder and chief creative officer of Never graduated from college.
Jerry Yang, billionaire co-founder of Yahoo! Dropped out of Stanford University PhD program to create Yahoo!
Jimmy Dean, singer, songwriter, actor, multimillionaire founder of Jimmy Dean Foods. Dropped out of high school to join the Merchant Marines at the age of 16.
John D. Rockefeller Sr., billionaire founder of Standard Oil, philanthropist. Dropped out of high school two months before graduation, though took some courses at a local business school.
John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods. Dropped out of the University of Texas six times. Never took a business course.
John Paul DeJoria, billionaire co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems hair care products and founder of Patron Spirits tequilla. Joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school.
Joyce C. Hall, founder of Hallmark. Started selling greeting cards at the age of 18 while living at a YMCA. Did not attend college.
Kemmons Wilson, multimillionaire founder of Holiday Inn. Dropped out of high school.
Kenneth Hendricks, billionaire founder of ABC Supply, the largest supplier of roofing and siding materials to contractors. Dropped out of high school.
Kenny Johnson, founder of Dial-A-Waiter restaurant delivery service. Dropped out of Wichita State University.
Kevin Rose, founder of Dropped out of the University of Las Vegas during his sophomore year.
Kirk Kerkorian, billionaire investor and casino operator, owner of MGM movie studio, Mirage Resorts, and Mandalay Bay Resorts. An eighth-grade dropout who trained fighter pilots during World War II.
Larry Ellison, billionaire co-founder of Oracle software company. Dropped out of the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois.
Leandro Rizzuto, billionaire founder of Conair. Dropped out of college to found Conair with a $100 investment and the invention of a hot-air hair roller.
< Leslie Wexner, billionaire founder of a href=””>Limited Brands. Dropped out of Ohio State law school. Started the Limited with a $5,000 loan from an aunt.
Marc Rich, billionaire commodities investor, built Philbro into the world’s largest commodities firm, founded Marc Rich & Co. Dropped out of NYU.
Marcus Loew, multimillionaire founder of Loews movie theaters, co-founder of MGM movie studio. Dropped out of elementary school.
Mark Ecko, founder urbanwear company Mark Ecko Enterprises. Dropped out of Rutgers University.
Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Inc. Did not attend college.
Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers, billionaire, among top ten wealthiest Americans. Founded his company out of his college dorm room. Dropped out of the University of Texas to run the company.
Michael Rubin, founder of Global Sports. Dropped out of Villanova University after six months.
Micky Jagtiani, billionaire retailer, Landmark International. Dropped out of accounting school in London.
Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, the first nationally marketed chocolate. 4th grade education.
Pete Cashmore, founder of Founded the blog website when he was 19. Retired from active blogging three years later.
Philip Green, billionaire retail mogul, Topshop. Dropped out of high school to apprentice with a shoe importer.
Rachael Ray has made a name for herself in the food industry despite having no formal training in culinary arts. She has numerous shows on the Food Network, a talk show and cookbooks, and a magazine. Never attended college.
Ray Kroc, multimillionaire founder of McDonald’s. High school dropout.
Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Mobile, and other Virgin enterprises, balloonist. Dropped out of high school when he was 16.
Richard DeVos, billionaire co-founder of Amway (now Alticor), owner of Orlando Magic basketball team. Served in the Army after high school. Founded Amway along with his best friend Jay Van Andel.
Richard Schulze, billionaire founder of Best Buy. Never attended college.
Rob Kalin, founder of Etsy. Flunked out of high school, enrolled briefly in art school, faked an MIT student ID so he could take classes. His professors were so impressed that they helped him get into NYU where he learned how to build a website.
Ron Popeil, multimillionaire founder of Ronco, inventor, infomercial pitchman, and producer. Dropped out of college.
Rush Limbaugh, multi-millionaire media mogul, the most popular radio talk show host ever. Dropped out of college after being required to take ballroom dancing.
Russell Simmons, multi-millionaire co-founder of Def Jam records, founder Russell Simmons Music Group, creator of Phat Farm fashions, bestselling author. Left City College of New York.
S. Daniel Abraham, billionaire founder of Slim-Fast. Did not attend college.
Sean John Combs, entertainer, producer, fashion designer, actor, and entrepreneur. Never finished college.
Shawn Fanning, developer of Napster. Dropped out of Northeastern University when 19 to further develop Napster.
Simon Cowell, TV producer, music judge, American IdolBritain’s Got Talent, and The X Factor. He dropped out of school at the age of 16.
Steve Madden, shoe designer. Dropped out of college to sell shoes on Long Island.
Steve Wozniak, billionaire co-founder of Apple. Dropped out of college.
Ted Murphy, founder of Izea Entertainment, a social media marketing company. Dropped out of Florida State University.
Theodore Waitt, billionaire founder of Gateway Computers. Dropped out of the University of Iowa one semester short of a degree to start Gateway with his older brother in 1985.
Thomas Edison, multimillionaire inventor of the phonograph, light bulb, and many other inventions. He quit formal schooling after his teacher called him addled, and was home-schooled by his mother. Joined the railroad at the age of 12.
Tom Anderson, co-founder of MySpace. Dropped out of high school.
Ty Warner, billionaire developer of Beanie Babies, hotel owner, real estate investor. Dropped out of college to go on the road selling plush toys.
Vidal Sassoon, multimillionaire founder of Vidal Sassoon hairstyling salons and hair-care products. High school dropout.
W. Clement Stone, multimillionaire insurance businessman, founder of Success magazine, and author of a number of books on positive mental attitudes. He dropped out of elementary school but later attended high school night courses and some college.
W.T. Grant, multimillionaire founder of W.T. Grant department store chain. Dropped out of high school.
Wally “Famous” Amos, multimillionaire cookie entrepreneur, author, talent agent. Dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to join the U.S. Air Force.
Walt Disney, founder of the Walt Disney Company. Dropped out of high school at 16.
Wolfgang Puck, chef, owner of 16 restaurants and 80 express bistros. Quit school at the age of 14.
Y.C. Wang, billionaire founder of Formosa Plastics. Never attended high school.

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