Do Degrees Make a Difference? 5 CEOs Without Diplomas Who Made It Big

Conventional wisdom tells you that it's essential to have a college degree to succeed. The fact is, however, that some of the most famous and successful people in the world never finished college. This is true for people in almost every field, and it includes many CEOs. Let's take a look at some of the people who have risen to the top of their companies—or started one of their own—without ever having finished college.

Richard Branson – CEO of Virgin Group

Richard Branson not only never graduated from college, he actually dropped out of high school. A natural entrepreneur, Branson began starting businesses at a young age, including a magazine at age 16. He began the company that eventually became Virgin Records in 1969, starting off with a mail order company and a small record shop. As he built up Virgin Media, Branson eventually added more businesses to his holdings, including Voyager Group and Virgin Atlantic airlines. He's had his ups and downs over the years, including a period when he was forced to sell his company. Yet he bounced back and today Virgin Group consists of more than 200 companies, including Branson's latest idea, a space tourism venture called Virgin Galactic.

Michael Dell – CEO of Dell Inc.

Dell is one of the best known computer companies in the world, and its founder Michael Dell is a college dropout. He was a pre-med student at the University of Texas at Austin, but quit to pursue his business interests. Dell had already earned $18,000 as a salesman while still in high school, so he never felt compelled to finish college to launch his career. He started his first computer company, PCs Limited in 1984, which soon evolved into the Dell Computer Corporation. By 1992, Dell became the youngest CEO to be ranked in Fortune 500's list of the top corporations.

Todd Pedersen – CEO of Vivint

Todd Pedersen dropped out of Brigham Young University and began his own company. He started the company that would eventually be called Vivint in 1997. At first, Pedersen’s company sold pest control, but they moved onto alarm systems and other home security devices, and then branched off into solar energy devices, and in 2011, Vivint Solar was launched. Vivint was purchased by the Blackstone Group in 2012, but Pedersen is still the company's CEO. Pedersen has won several notable awards, including being named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 by Ernst & Young and in 2013 by Mountain West Capital Network. Vivint is also listed on Forbes list of America’s most promising companies.

Barry Diller – CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp and Expedia, Inc.

Barry Diller dropped out of UCLA after only one semester to work in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency. He was soon hired by ABC and worked his way up to a job negotiating movie rights. In 1965, he became a vice president of the company, where his innovations included the famous ABC Movie of the Week. Diller went on to work for several other media companies, such as Paramount and Fox and began his own company, USA Broadcasting. His current company, IAC/InterActiveCorp, includes the Home Shopping Network. He is also the CEO of the travel company, Expedia, which owns several brands such as and

Bill Gates – Former CEO of Microsoft

Bill Gates is the world's most famous college drop out. The founder of Microsoft, the largest software company in the world, was a student at Harvard, but dropped out to start his own business. He was actually convinced to drop out by his friend and business partner Paul Allen, who quit college at the same time. Microsoft, which was founded in 1975, rose to dominate the personal computing market in the 1980s and has since expanded into areas such as search engines, video games, mobile phones and tablets. Gates, who has been ranked as the world's wealthiest man several times, now focuses a great deal on philanthropic work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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