Famous CEOs Without College Degrees

These CEOs hit it big by having a big dream and live up to it by making things happen and excel in their field without a college degree. Who said that you always need a paper qualification to start something good? Taking action is way more important and there are good examples of people who we can learn from.

1. Dennis Albaugh
Chairman, Albaugh
Type of Business: Pesticides
Education: Associate’s degree from Des Moines Area Community College
Fun fact: He has a collection of more than 100 classic Chevrolets

2. Paul Allen
Founder and chairman, Vulcan
Type of Business: Media, telecommunications
Education: Dropped out of Washington State College after two years
Fun fact: He persuaded Bill Gates to drop out of Harvard. They later founded Microsoft (MSFT) together.

3. Richard Branson
CEO, Virgin Group
Type of Business: Travel, radio, TV, music, venture capital
Education: No college degree
Fun fact: He became an entrepreneur at age 16 with the creation of Student magazine.

4. Maverick Carter
CEO, LRMR Innovative Marketing & Branding
Type of Business: Marketing
Education: 3.5 years of college at Western Michigan University and University of Akron combined
Quote: “Don’t be afraid if you see an opportunity to go and give it shot. You can finish school later; it’s always there.”

5. John Paul DeJoria
CEO, John Paul Mitchell Systems
Type of Business: Hair-care products
Education: No college
Fun fact: He started out selling greeting cards at age 9.

6. Michael Dell
Founder, chairman, and CEO Dell (DELL)
Type of Business: Computers
Education: Attended University of Texas, Austin; did not finish.
Quote: “When I started our company, it was very much an idea outside of the conventional wisdom, and if there were people telling me that it wasn’t going to work, I wasn’t really listening to them.”

7. Felix Dennis
Founder and chairman, Alpha Media Group, formerly Dennis Publishing
Type of Business: Publishing (Maxim, The Week)
Education: No college degree
Fun fact: He wrote a biography and published a magazine about Bruce Lee; sales surged when the martial arts star died suddenly in 1973.

8. Barry Diller
Chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI)
Type of Business: Media
Education: Dropped out of UCLA after three weeks
Fun fact: He started his career working in the mail room of the William Morris Agency.

9. Bill Gates
Co-chair and Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Chairman, Microsoft (MSFT)
Type of Business: Philanthropy. Software.
Education: Dropped out of Harvard
Fun fact: As a schoolboy, he created a program that allowed people to play tic-tac-toe on the computer.

10. Mukesh “Micky” Jagtiani
Chairman, Landmark International (Dubai)
Type of Business: Retailing
Education: No college degree
Fun fact: The billionaire mall developer flunked out of a London accounting school as a teenager and worked as a taxi driver before becoming an entrepreneur.

11. Dean Kamen
Founder and chairman, Segway
Type of Business: Motor vehicles
Education: Dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Fun fact: Kamen founded FIRST, a robotics competition for high school students.

12. David Oreck
Founder, Oreck
Type of Business: Vacuum cleaners
Education: No college. At 17, enlisted in the army, and flew B-29 bombers during World War II
Quote: “Things are never as bad as they seem to the pessimist and never as good as they seem to the optimist.”

13. Amancio Ortega Gaona
President, Inditex Group
Type of Business: Fashion retailing (Zara, Kiddy Class, others). (A Coruna, Spain)
Education: No college
Fun fact: Often cited as the richest man in Spain, he reportedly has never given any media interviews

14. Phillip Ruffin
Owner, Treasure Island
Type of Business: Casinos
Education: Attended Washburn University for three years and Wichita State University but never got his degree.
Quote: “You get the most experience from the business of life.”

15. Alfred Taubman
Founder, Taubman Centers (TCO). Philanthropist
Type of Business: Shopping malls
Education: Attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor for three years but left to start a family and his career
Quote: “Become an expert in one fundamental area of your market or business. No one starts out as a generalist.”

16. Ty Warner

Founder, Ty, Inc.
Type of Business: Toys (stuffed animals)
Education: Dropped out of college to pursue a career in acting. Later founded Ty Inc.
Fun fact: The plush animals his company manufactured retailed for only $5 in the 1990s, but Beanie Baby-mania drove prices up to $30 or more for the hard-to-get characters.

Source: Yahoo Finance

21 thoughts on “Famous CEOs Without College Degrees

  1. I am just lost here. Why are readers not commenting yet on this article. One reason maybe because this article is anti-educational. By encouraging students not to complete colleges is not fair. By condonning for them to taking-actions for instant rewards, is encouranging dropping-out colleges. Can a CEO without a college degree become a president like Barack Obama? I do not think so.

    • That statement implies that Barak Obama is smarter than any of these CEOs, which he is not. A good orator? Yes. A nice dresser? Yes. Charismatic? Yes. A good president? No. Intelligent on his policies? No unless your goal is to cripple America’s competitive edge. If Barak Obama were a CEO, the company would fold in less than two years.

    • Yes! Abraham Lincoln did not have a college degree. Some people are naturally Academics others are not. Education is never lost and obvously if you can have it you should however it does not mean you can not achieve success without an academic qualification. I am just taking a degree in Business and I found that it will only be worth for the certificate but really nothing I have done so far reflects the day to day reality in real business. I have been running my own business for 15 years and it is going really well so far. Is the degree I am taking is giving me any new insights?? No. I am a inivative person and I tend to pursue and create my oportunities. Books, models, theories will give you knowledge but drive, innovation and motivation either you have or you don’t have.

    • Please don’t hate on the smart ones that left school to pursue their dreams! That’s what they do…..As for the rest it simple A students train B students to work for C students….. You didn’t know ????

  2. Saying that education is unimportant is not the intention of publishing this article. I’m just trying to say that there are smart ordinary people just like us who had the determination to pursue and achieve their goals even though they don’t have a college degree. I didn’t say that people should just drop out of college (unless you have a really good and profitable plan). And come on, not everyone wants to be or even dream of becoming a president anyway.

    • I like this article, I am a college grad. I worked my a$$ off but never pulled great grades. It should serve to remind people that our education system isn’t perfect and there are plenty of people that can be successful w/o a college education. It’s too bad so many employers put more stock into GPA than character. What the hell is a 3 or 4 point student going to do for you if they have no comon sense? No ability to sell, or network, or work as part of a team?? BLAH!! Good article!

    • College/University if fine. BUT – educate our kids! Don’t fill up their days with classes they HAVE to take just so the instutition makes more money and the kids and/or parents are riddled with debit for tens of years. I say we pay successful local businesses to education the kids that don’t want to (or can’t for one reason or another) go to college. The educational institutions have had a good run, but like every other business, they need a make over and need to wake up. They are not turning out a realistic product (other than in computers and a few other fields), charging a fortune for it, and getting away with it. I’m sick and tired of it! Parents can’t afford to retire because our retirement funds are gone, we’re helping to payoff school debt, and helping our own parents through old age. How much more can we take?!? Who started this MUST HAVE A DEGREE deal anyway? Enough already!!!

  3. Well said. I always think that not being a high achiever in school doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve something of higher value in your life. There are plenty of examples where people have succeeded in their lives in all different circumstances.

  4. Sorry that it took so long for such a good comment to come-in. This article has been interpreted in many ways. But the total sum of all is that education is always a factor in any human,s progress. I am just convinced those in leadership positions, whether in business or in politics , should be highly educated.

  5. Be aware that some CEOs witout college degrees are very closely monitoring any comments made on this subject. I am shocked by the fact the same kind of comments posted here, have resulted in an abrupt suspension of my account with Yahoo’s Questions & Answers program.

  6. Am impressed by these C.E.Os who never had degree. It mean even without college degree one can still be succesful in life. But dat doesn’t mean one shouldn’t acquire university degree!

  7. On the whole, college has many benefits for me because it gave me access to people that would give me networking opportunities for the higher paying jobs that I want.

    A large university such as the one that I go to will also expose you to many different people from various walks of life and beliefs. This experience in itself will be good for helping you grow and open your mind and CRUCIAL in opening up your perspective on the entire world.

    Also, if you are planning on becoming a doctor, engineer, lawyer, scholar or scientist, a university will enforce good habits, give you networking opportunities and teach you technical skills that you need for your career. You NEED to sit down and study to become one of those five things.

    However a CEO is a different matter. From what I hear CEOs have to have innovative ideas, be good with money, know how to lead others, know how to respect superiors, know how network with the right people, be consistent and hardworking, LOOK ATTRACTIVE, know how to make ideas into reality, etc… A college education isn’t necessarily going to teach you those things.

    HOWEVER, that’s no excuse for making shitty grades in school and not going through some sort of post secondary schooling!! The majority of us aren’t going to become CEOs or Movie Stars and college is the surest path to a good lifestyle.

    • I personally don’t understand why people emphasis schooling so much. If you’re going to be something that requires a degree, then college is the way to go. Otherwise, just focus on your own personal talent and god given gift. We all have one. Just work hard, do your best, be smart and the rest will follow.

      • Well, I think the general population thinks that a college degree guarantees a better job, which might be true / false depending on which side of the fence you’re standing. I personally think that with the right attitude and knowledge, a person can go anywhere, with or without a college degree. But then, some people will argue again that a college degree is the place where a person gets all the right knowledge, and so the debates carries on and on…

    • A degree will certainly help you land a job with less experience. Personally, I do not have a degree. A string of events (somewhat purposefully shaped by me) has led me over the last 8 years through jobs at a couple companies that have progressively built my knowledge, income and benefits to a level that is in line with what people of my age (early 30s) with a good degree in a specialized field realize. I have ‘won’ against quite a few people with meaningful degrees in the hiring process. What I am trying to get at here is that a degree can be useful, it isn’t a deal breaker if you do not have it.

      As for someone above mentioning the word “highly educated” and assuming that a degree would make one so- I disagree. I feel that I am much more educated (specific technical knowledge as well as cultures, history, philosophy, science, etc) than a large portion of people I have know who have earned a 4 year degree. University is only one of the paths to knowledge.

      • Joe, thanks for the comments.
        I personally studied 4 years for an engineering degree but I do agree that university ain’t the only place where knowledge can be obtained. Glad that it worked for you and I’m sure there are lots of people who are actively pursuing their dreams, with or without a college degree.

  8. I have 30 years of experience in all facets of my industry. The majority of my career has been in some form of sales (i.e.sales management; B2B sales). A recruiter contacted me for a position I found to be attractive and challenging. The recruiter shared my resume with the hiring managers who liked my background which fit the job description almost perfectly. After a few days I received an email asking if I had a degree as none appeared on my resume. The discussions stopped flat – no degree was a deal breaker. The company apparently would prefer to have a 30 year old piece of paper over a 30 year education through experience.

    • I’ve had a very successful career without a college degree. It has only been recently that I have applied to new companies where I have no connections and have been turned down for positions based on not having a degree. I understand requiring your managers to be highly educated, but I feel I had the best education possible. By learning hands on from some of the best & brightest leaders in the industry. I can guarantee no classroom could have provided me the knowledge & skills I have been able to obtain in my 17 year career. It almost seems unintelligent to imply that I should have forked over thousands of dollars for a piece of paper when I was already out there doing the job. While I am disappointed these companies couldn’t look past my not having a degree I would eventually have a problem working for such a short sited company.

  9. Thanks for a great article, I do not have a degree but have been fortunate to reach upper mid-level mgmt in my career. Unfortunately due to economic downturn, my position was eliminated. Now I find that I am experiencing the same problem as Maggie & I too wish companies would look at the experience gleaned by working for years in the industry rather than if you hold a college degree. Many colleagues I know are not even in the field they majored in! What really gets me is the automatic rejection by HR Analysts for the “experience-but no-degree” candidates after glancing at your resume. What happened to the days when one could go in for an interview and sell yourself because of the simple fact that you as an employee will be an asset to the company and can make work life easier for those above you? I heard Oprah say “it’s not about the degree, it’s can you do the work?” She mentioned the CEOs with no degree which led me to your blog. It’s an encouraging piece. Now if I can only get past the various levels of hiring so I can get the job!! btw, I am in that unique group of 50-somethings who are experiencing the stress of starting all over again in an insecure economic world; sandwiched between kids going to college and aging parents who need attention.

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