These Dropouts Became Billionaires

By Kwabena Okyire Appianing •  Updated: 03/09/22 •  12 min read

Feeling left behind because your peers are in college getting a degree and you’re not? Or you are considering not getting a degree but you are being told that it’s the only way to make it big in life and become wealthy?

We’ll, that is not always the case. A degree or education in general does not guarantee your success in life. It may be true that it’ll help you get somewhere in life but it’s not the same for everyone. 

Here is a list of 21 people who became billionaires even though they dropped out of school at a certain point in their lives. It will inspire you to know that you can still make it.

  1. Ted Turner:

Ted Turner was an Economics major at Brown University. But before taking up Economics, he was majoring in Classics. He switched to Economics because his dad wasn’t happy with him majoring in Classics. Not long after switching to an Economics major, Ted was expelled from Brown University due to his misconduct of having a girl in his dorm. He started his famous media business when he was 24 years old but before then Ted took over his father’s billboard business after his father committed suicide. Most of the many he made came from owning CNN, Ted Broadcast Network and Atlanta Braves, the MLB Baseball team. Ted is worth $2.3 billion.

  1. Ty Warner:

Ty Warner was a student of Kalamazoo College for just a year before he dropped out. He decided to go to Hollywood to start his acting career. His acting career didn’t go well so he left Hollywood to Chicago where he went to work with a toy company called Dakin. He worked at Dakin for 20 years before starting his own toy company, Ty Inc. which manufactured the famous Beanie Babies. The company skyrocketed at the height of the Beanie Baby craze.  It is even said that they made $700,000 in sales in one year. With the profits he made from selling Beanie Babies, Warner bought and became the owner of the Four Seasons Hotel, New York. Ty Warner is worth $2.3 billion.

  1. David Murdock:

David Murdock dropped out of High School when he was in ninth grade. During the second World War, he got called to serve in the army. When the war ended he moved to Detroit but was homeless and destitute until he was able to secure a loan from someone with which he started a diner. He made profits until he moved to Arizona where he started investing in houses. He later went into real estate but the real estate market collapsed later on. In 1978, he acquired control of International Mining and by 1980, he was the largest stockholder in Occidental Petroleum. He is worth $2.3 billion dollars.

  1. Marc Rich:

When you hear his name, you hear controversy. He was a businessman but before that he dropped out of New York University just after one semester of attending to work for Phillip Brothers (Phibro LLC). From doing business and being  a hedge fund manager, financier and commodities trader he made a lot of money which made him very wealthy. Now to why his name is controversial, he was wanted for racketeering, tax evasion, wire fraud and making suspicious oil deals with Iran. He was wanted together with his business partner Pincus Green. Marc was not going to ever return to the US as he was hiding in Switzerland when the indictment was made. Now the main cause of the controversy is because in 2001, Marc was granted pardon by President Bill Clinton on his last day of office. Marc Rich died in 2013 and was worth $2.5 billion.

  1. Kirk Kerkorian:

Kerkor Kerkorian, better known as Kirk Kerkorian was one of the most important people in the shaping of Las Vegas, Nevada. He worked with architect Martin Stern Jr. He dropped out of 8th grade. He built the world’s largest hotel three times, The International H-otel (1969),  The MGM Hotel (1973) and The MGM Grand (1993). He also purchased the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio in 1979. He was a philanthropist and donated $1 billion to Armenia. When he died in 2014, he had a net worth of $4.2 billion.

  1. Micky Arison:

Micky Arison went to the University of Miami but dropped out because he wanted to pursue his dream of owning his own cruise line. If you have ever cruised on the Carnival Cruise line, then you cruised on Micky Arison’s ship. He is the chairman of Carnival Corporation. He was also the CEO until he was replaced in June 2013 by Arnold Donald. The NBA team, Miami Heat also belongs to him. He is worth $6.3 billion.

  1. Ralph Lauren:

Well, we all know Ralph Lauren because he owns one of the biggest clothing lines in the world. 

Ralph Lauren dropped out of Baruch College after two years of studying business there. Lauren joined the military in 1962 and served for two years, leaving in 1964. After he left the military, he was a salesman for Brooks Brothers and later he started designing his own neckties and opened his necktie business. His neckties were designed under the name Polo. Ralph had a strong desire and determination to design and make clothes and that was what made him successful because he had no training in fashion or designing clothes. Today, Ralph Lauren is worth $7 billion.

  1. Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs was the owner and CEO of the world’s famous Apple. He also owned Pixar films. His parents took him to Reeds College in Portland even though they could not really afford it. They used their savings. However, just after six months of attending college, Jobs dropped out. He didn’t leave campus though, he stayed with his friend in his dorm and took calligraphy classes. Later he developed the world’s famous Apple and says his calligraphy classes had an influence on the many typefaces for the MAC. Steve Jobs died in October 2011 after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was worth $10.2 billion when he died.

  1. David Geffen:

David Geffen was struggling with dyslexia and that caused him to drop out of Santa Monica College. He worked with the William and Morris Agency in the mailbox after he dropped out of college. He had a dream of working in the entertainment industry. He did work in the entertainment industry as he dreamt of. He worked with Stills and Nash, Crosby and Laura Nyro as their manager. In 1970, he started Asylum Records with Elliot Roberts. The likes of Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Tom Waits and many famous bands and singers were signed to his record label, Asylum Records. He also owns Dreamworks, SKG, DGC records and Geffen records. He is worth $10.8 billion.

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  1. Howard Hughes:

Howard Hughes was a very wealthy man in the US during his days. When his father died while he was still in college, he dropped out of college. As a man of many interests, he decided to pursue them and he did them impressively which made him successful. He was an engineer, businessman, director, aviator, movie producer and philanthropist. His movies were controversial, some of which include; The Outlaw(1943), Hell’s Angels(1930), The Racket(1928) and Scarface(1932). He died in 1976 and was worth $2.5 billion which is equivalent to $11 billion today.

  1. Jack Taylor:

Jack Taylor is the founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. He attended Washington University in St. Louis to pursue other things because he found sitting in the classroom boring. After he dropped out, he joined the US Navy as a pilot during World War II. After the war ended, he started a delivery company and later joined Lindburg Cadillac where he became a Sales Manager. He started his car rental business in 1957 in partnership with his employer. He started with 7 cars and by 1980, he had 6,000 cars and 50,000 cars in 1989. In 2016 when he died, he was worth $12.8 billion.

  1. Donald Newhouse:

Donald Newhouse dropped out of Syracuse University but still made it. He is a businessman who owns Advance Publications alongside his brother, Samuel. They inherited it from their father, Samuel Irving Newhouse Snr. They put out a lot of newspapers across the entire US. Advance Publications also put out many publications including The New Yorker, Vogue, Vanity Fair and Conde’ Nast. He is worth $15 billion.

  1. Sheldon Adelson:

Sheldon Adelson was a businessman who was involved in casino, hotel and resort businesses. He started his first business of selling newspapers when he was 12 years old. When he was 15, he started a candy-vending business. He dropped out of the City University of New York and joined the army. He started selling a chemical that defrosted windshields after he left the army. Sheldon has started over 50 businesses. He lost his empire twice and had to start all over again. He was the owner of the famous Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. He died in 2021 and was worth $29.8 at the time of his death. 

  1. Michael Dell:

Michael Dell is the founder, CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies. At the age of 15, Dell got his first computer, an Apple II, and he disassembled it to see what it was made of. He enrolled at the University of Texas, Austin to study pre-med because his parents wanted him to be a doctor. He started his business out of his dorm room, selling subscriptions to newspapers. In his first year, he made about $200,000 in profits. He dropped out of the University of Texas, Austin to continue his computer venture which has eventually made him a billionaire today. Michael Dell is worth $59.8 billion.

  1. Mark Zuckerberg:

Almost everyone knows Facebook or is even on Facebook. It was invented by Mark Zuckerberg and three of his college friends. He attended Harvard University and that was where Facebook was launched. Together with three of his friends, Zuckerberg launched Facebook from their dorm room.

During their summer break, they got their first investor, Peter Thiel. Zuckerberg and his friends had plans of returning to college but decided against it. They stayed in Silicon Valley and developed Facebook further. Mark Zuckerberg is now the CEO of Meta, Facebook’s patent company. He is worth $107 billion.

  1. Sergey Brin:

Sergey Brin attended the University of Maryland where he studied Mathematics. He dropped out of Stanford university where he was pursuing his PhD. He dropped out to fully work on the web search engine he and his buddy, Larry Page had developed on campus. Their search engine had become so popular on campus that they both decided to suspend their studies and take it up full-time. The web search engine is now known as Google and has taken him to the World of the billionaires. Sergey Brin is worth $110.3 billion. 

  1. Lawrence Ellison:

Lawrence is a businessman, software developer and Co-founder of The Oracle Corporation. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a year as a pre-med student. He dropped out because his adoptive mother passed away. He then attended the University Of Chicago for a term and dropped out. He is a yachtsman and has even formed his own club called BMW Oracle Racing. He is worth $111.3 billion.

  1. Larry Page:

Lawrence Page, better known as Larry Page is the buddy with whom Sergey Brin created Google. He attended the University of Michigan where he earned a degree in computer engineering. As already stated, they started off in their dorm room and later dropped out of Stanford University where they were pursuing their PhD. After dropping out of Stanford University, they rented a garage where they worked to complete their idea and bring it into existence. And now Google is what it is and now very successful. Larry Page is worth $116.1 billion.

  1. Bill Gates:

Bill Gates started the famous Microsoft business with his childhood friend, Paul Allen of blessed memory. Bill dropped out of Harvard University to start his business which is known to be one the most lucrative computer businesses globally. Gates was the chairman and CEO of Microsoft until 2001 when he was replaced by Steve Ballmer as CEO. Bill Gates is a great philanthropist and he Co-founded the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation with his ex-wife, Melinda Gates. He wants to donate a large percentage of his wealth to charity before he dies. He is worth $132.9 billion.

  1. Elon Musk:

Just like Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Elon Musk dropped out of college when he was pursuing a PhD. He dropped out of Stanford University. He already had a degree from University of Pennsylvania. He is the founder, CEO and Chief Engineer at SpaceX. He is the CEO of Tesla Inc, founder of the Boring Company and Co-founder of Neuralink and OpenAI. He is the wealthiest person in the world at the moment with a net worth of $241.4 billion.

  1. John D. Rockefeller:

John D. Rockefeller was a High School dropout. Till today, he is considered the wealthiest American of all time and the richest person in modern history. Rockefeller made his wealth from the oil and refinery business he started with his brother, William Rockefeller. They had the largest oil and refinery business in the US, controlling about 90% of oil in the US. He founded the University of Chicago, Rockefeller University, Central Philippine University, General Education Board and Rockefeller Foundation. He died in 1937 with a net worth of $340 billion (adjusted for inflation).

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We hope you have been inspired by these stories. So if you feel left behind, just know that a college degree or an education does not determine your future. Not to say an education or college degree is not good for you but you can still make it in life. You just need to be focused, disciplined and determined to make it.

Kwabena Okyire Appianing