World-class execs who didn’t finish school

Who said finishing school was a prerequisite for success? People like Walt Disney and Albert Einstein prove that theory wrong, but one thing they have in common is that they certainly didn’t drop out to play video games. They had success well and truly in their sights.

Richard Branson

Suffering from dyslexia, Richard Branson felt restrained by the confines of the school walls so left at age 16, when he, rather ironically, began his own magazine called Student. It was a national publication run by students for students. It didn’t make him much money, but from this business Branson launched a mail-order record company in 1970, which grew from ads published in Student magazine. Two years later he opened his first Virgin Records store with staff from Student mag. As they say, the rest is history.

Mark Zuckerberg

You know that site we spend half our lives on? This guy dropped out of Harvard to invent it. Zuckerberg launched the site, originally called Facemash, from his dorm room in February 2004, then left university for Silicon Valley to work on Facebook full-time. Eight years later, the site went public and raised the biggest tech IPO of all time at $16 billion dollars. Zuckerberg is now very rich, with his estimated personal wealth sitting at US$19 billion.

Amancio Ortega

If you’re half-interested in fashion, then you must have heard of Zara. The intensely private Spanish guy who launched this internationally renowned brand dropped out of high school at age 13 and is now the third-richest man in the world, according to Forbes, with a net worth of US$57 billion. He left school to try his hand at selling shirts in a store then went on to sell his own bathrobes, and then his wife’s designs, launching his first Zara store in 1975. Zara is now owned by Inditex, of which Ortega owns nearly 60 per cent, and employs more than 92,000 people with 6000 stores worldwide, including lines for women’s, men’s and children’s clothing and furniture.

Jenny Craig

If you’ve ever considered losing weight, then you would have come across Jenny Craig. Not the person, the weight-loss program. With no higher education, Jenny Craig founded this portion-controlled food company in Melbourne in 1983. It is now one of the world’s largest weight-loss programs with centres in the US, Canada, Australia, France and New Zealand. Craig sold the company to private equity firms in 2002 for $115 million.

Ingvar Kamprad

Swedish billionaire Kamprad founded IKEA at his uncle’s dinner table in 1943. Before this, as a school boy, his entrepreneurial skills saw him buying matches in bulk and selling them individually door-to-door on his bike. He then moved on to selling fish, Christmas tree decorations, seeds and later ballpoint pens and pencils. When he was 17, his father gave him a cash reward for his endeavours and he dropped out of school to focus on developing the now hugely successful home furniture retailer. Ever wondered what the acronym IKEA stands for? His Initials Ingvar Kamprad, plus those of Elmtaryd, the family farm on which he was born, and the nearby village Agunnaryd.

David Karp

Tumblr founder David Karp left school at age 15 with the blessing of his mother to develop his Tumblr business and continue his work at an internship. Karp’s mother said that he was not engaged with his classes or students, but seemed to enjoy the internship where he could interact well with the company’s coders and engineers. After years working for cutting-edge technical companies, Karp went out on his own at age 21 and founded Tumblr in 2007 from his mother’s New York apartment. Tumblr was bought by Yahoo! for more than US$1.1 billion in 2013, where Karp remains CEO.

Despite Karp’s huge success, he feels leaving school was not the greatest move on a personal level. “There’s a lot I feel I missed out on… just a whole lot of normal, social, childhood kind of stuff that I definitely missed out on.” So keep that in mind if your kids express in dropping out to invent the next best thing.

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