Ever wonder where the chief executives of some of the world’s most successful companies went to college? Well, don’t tell your kids, but some CEOs never graduated college-and some never even bothered to apply.
From computers to cruise lines, these 10 CEOs made it to the top without a college degree and defied the idea that to be successful you have to have a diploma.
Alfred Taubman, the founder and former chief executive of Taubman Centers , began his career in retail at age 11 at a Sims department store, where he continued to work through high school. After Taubman graduated, he attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for less than a year, when he was called to military service during World War II. After his service was complete, Taubman returned to the University of Michigan to study art and architecture. Soon after, he proposed to his college sweetheart and transferred to night school.
Instead of finishing college and receiving a degree, Taubman saw opportunity in the real estate business. According to his book, ‘Threshold Resistance,’ Taubman recognized the immense expansion of the middle class after the war and decided to cash in by starting Taubman Centers, a realty company. Over a period of about 50 years, Taubman continued to expand his company and took the company public in 1992. Today, the company’s CEO is Robert Taubman, Alfred oldest son and, yes, he did graduate college.
Position: Founder/Former CEO, Best Buy
Market Cap: $10.1 billion
Richard Schultz, the former CEO and founder of Best Buy , started working as a paperboy at age 11 and had a series of jobs throughout high school. He had planned to go to the University of St. Thomas, but military service in the Minnesota Air National Guard stopped him from fulfilling his college-bound dream.
After his service in the military, Schultz worked for his father selling electronic components. A few years later, he founded his own company, The Sound of Music , which sold audio components, sheet music, records, tapes, and instruments.
In the 1980s, Schultz realized that a small business was not going to survive in a widely evolving industry, so he changed the name of his company to Best Buy and expanded his product line. Schultz felt that consumers would be drawn to his stores if they could see the products they were buying on shelves, instead of keeping them in the back room. This technique helped create a new experience for shoppers.
Although Schultz relinquished his duties as CEO, he still serves as chairman of the board for Best Buy. Shultz may not have attended the College of St. Thomas, but he was awarded with an honorary doctorate of law degree.
Position: CEO, Polo Ralph Lauren
Market Cap: $11.9 billion
Ralph Lauren, the chief executive of Polo Ralph Lauren , established his company in 1967 as a line of men’s ties and developed the company into a global fashion empire. Lauren’s successful clothing line came from his unique, classic style that went against conventional fashion of the time.
According to the Ralph Lauren website, Lauren said, ‘I never went to fashion school-I was a young guy who had some style. I never imagined Polo would become what it is. I just followed my instincts.’
With only a high school diploma in hand, Lauren followed his instincts. His decision to ditch college and focus on running his business lead to a series of breakthroughs in the fashion world, including the first shop-within-a-shop designer boutique for men in Bloomingdale’s department store in 1969. Lauren continued to build his empire, expanding it to include women and children’s fashion, fragrances, and home furnishings. Today, Polo Ralph Lauren is one of the most successful fashion companies in the world.
Position: CEO, Virgin Group
Company Worth: $18 billion
Virgin Media Market Cap: $8.1 billion
Forget graduating from college, this chief executive didn’t even finish high school. Richard Branson, the current CEO of Virgin Group , dropped out of high school at age 16 to start Student Magazine . Four years later, Branson founded Virgin Group as a mail-order retailer. He opened his first record shop in London and two years later built Virgin’s first recording studio. In 1977, Branson signed his first big name group, the Sex Pistols, and continued to sign popular artists such as the Rolling Stones and Culture Club.
In 1984, Branson developed Virgin Atlantic and the brand began to grow. Today, Virgin Group provides mobile, broadband, TV, radio, finance, health, tourism, leisure, and travel services.
Position: CEO, Carnival
Market Cap: $19.6 billion
Instead of spending four years in college, this chief executive spent time working his way up the chain of command at Carnival .
Micky Arison, the CEO of Carnival, started in the sales department and was promoted to reservations manager in 1974. He was later promoted to vice president of passenger traffic and just three years later he was named president of the company.
Arison helped acquire Holland America Line, Windstar Cruises and Westours, allowing Carnival to become one of the leading cruise lines in the industry.
In 1987, he was appointed chairman of the board and in 2003 he reached the highest position in the company as CEO. Arison showed that it’s possible to work your way from an entry-level position to CEO without a college degree.