Successful entrepreneurs who didn’t go to university

I write this at a time when university fees in the UK are another sore subject. There’s a lively debate regarding the value of a university education, versus taking a more vocational path directly into the workplace.

I did not go to university via the traditional route, rather, I joined the British Army and let the army pay for my degree’s during the course of my service, the result? I left the services after 20 years, having made some of the best friends you could ever ask for, and 2 bachelor degrees and a masters… oh and no debt!

I think there’s a lot of pressure on young adults to excel at every stage of their 3 phases of education, and in my view totally unnecessary.  That system is weighted in favor of those with a particular learning style, and evidence has show that children with parents where at least 1 attended tertiary education, are more likely to attend university themselves and will do better.

Let’s bust the myth that to be successful, you have to go to university by looking at some examples of leaders today who did not go to (or complete) university. These entrepreneurs have proven that it is possible to be successful without a degree, and they offer inspiration to those who have more to offer:

  • Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, dropped out of Harvard University after two years. Watch the movie ‘Social Network’ It’s a bio of Zuck, and the birth of Facebook, fascinating.
  • Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple, dropped out of Reed College after one semester, again a movie portrayal by Michael Fassbender, in the movie that bears his name. Steve Jobs, 2015.
  • Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, never went to university. A total maverick, he’s got an amazing story. Not only did he not attend university, but he’s diagnosed with ADHD, a form of autism. I’ve read all of his books and he’s the least academic person you’re likely to come across, however his business savvy and sharp mind has lead him to be one of the most successful billionaires in the world today.
  • Oprah Winfrey, the talk show host and media mogul, never went to university. If you want to hear a story of struggle and hardship, with a vein of steely determination running throughout the years. Take 5 minutes to read her back story.
  • Sean Carter (aka Jay-Z), the CEO of several companies but most notably Rockafella Records, Tidal music streaming service, Rocawear. It’s probably easier to talk about Jay-Z transcending whole industries and becoming the biggest player. What makes Jay-Z’s story so fascinating, is his deprived beginnings in the Projects of Brooklyn, New York. He tells an all to familiar tale of a broken family, drugs, guns and not a lot of hope. Jay-Z dominates industries despite all of the odds being stacked against him.

These are just a few examples of successful entrepreneurs who didn’t go to university. There are many others who have achieved success without a degree, and there are literally millions of others who succeed everyday without having a few post nominals. These entrepreneurs offer proof that it is possible to be hugely successful without a formal education.

The irony that this empirically disproves the academic argument, that you need to go to university to be successful.

If you are considering starting your own business, don’t let the lack of a university degree hold you back. There are many resources available to help you learn the skills you need to be successful. You can also find mentors and advisors who can help you along the way. Reading my book would be a great first step – Decision Point: The First Book You Read if You Want to Succeed.

Here are a few tips for entrepreneurs who didn’t go to university:

  • Be passionate about whatever you choose to do. If you’re not passionate, it will be difficult to succeed.
  • Be willing to work extraordinarily hard. Everybody is working, that’s the baseline, working hard will get you noticed, but if you want extraordinary success, you have to be obsessive. Starting and running a business is a lot of work. Be prepared to put in long hours, 9 – 5 is a mantra for mediocrity.
  • Be persistent. There will be setbacks along the way, setbacks and issues are what separates the successful and the ordinary. Successful people optimise every situation, good or bad.
  • Be willing to learn. The world of business is constantly changing, and if you’re not adapting to changing trends you’ll fall behind.
  • Find a mentor – Probably one of the single most important thing successful people do, early on.

If you have a good idea and you’re willing to work hard, you will be successful in whatever you choose to do. 






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *