Thursday, March 09, 2006

Billionaire College Dropouts

Are college dropouts more successful than people with good education? It would seem so if you consider that many billionaires are people who dumped college. However, what this hides is the fact that although millions quit studies before completing them, very few of them go on to become rich.

What the list of the super-rich dropouts signifies is that in business, a top degree is not as important as having the right aptitude, attitude, determination and vision.

Here are some dropouts who went on to become billionaires:

Bill Gates

William Henry Gates III (1955-), along with Paul Allen, co-founded Microsoft Corporation, the world's largest software maker. Bill Gates, the wealthiest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $48 billion (Rs 211,200 crore!), is probably the best-known college dropout.

Gates attended an exclusive prep school in Seattle, went on to study at Harvard University, then dropped out to pursue software development. As students in the mid-70s, he and Paul Allen wrote the original Altair BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800, the first commercially successful PC.

In 1975, Micro-Soft - later Microsoft Corporation - was born. Three decades on, Gates has been Number One on the Forbes 400 for over a dozen years. And here's something you probably didn't know: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation currently provides 90 per cent of the world budget for the attempted eradication of polio.

Paul Allen

You can't help being among the world's wealthiest folk if, like Paul Gardner Allen (1953-), if you happen to co-found Microsoft. Forbes, in 2005, ranks Allen as the seventh richest, worth an estimated $21 billion!

Born in Seattle, Allen befriended Bill Gates while in school. Both shared an enthusiasm for computers, and would regularly sneak into University of Washington labs to work on projects. They were eventually caught, but managed an agreement with administrators by providing free computer help to students who needed it.

Allen attended Washington State University, dropping out two years later to write software. He also convinced Gates to drop out of Harvard, to found the company that would make them famous.

A year ago, Allen was back in the news for funding the SpaceShipOne sub-orbital commercial spacecraft. As always, the sky continues to be the limit.

Henry Ford

Founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford (1863-1947) is better known for his hand in creating the American middle class.

He managed this by applying the concept of assembly line manufacturing to the mass production of affordable cars, promptly revolutionizing industrial production.

Born to Irish immigrants, Henry was the eldest of six children. He left home at 16 to work as an apprentice machinist, married, tried a bit of farming, ran a sawmill, experimented with internal combustion engines and eventually formed the Detroit Automobile Company with a few other investors.

When the company went bankrupt, he formed the Henry Ford Company, but was forced out by investors. He returned with the Ford Motor Company.

Even if you aren't a fan of the fabulous Model T, here's something everyone should thank Ford for. In 1926, he instituted the five-day, 40-hour work week. And the modern weekend was born.

Andrew Carnegie

Industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) is better known, today, as the steel tycoon who started over 2,800 libraries. His rags-to-riches tale is also among the most famous in American history.

After moving to Pennsylvania from Scotland, a teenage Carnegie worked hard in factories, invested his money wisely and, within a span of four decades, managed to gain control of a number of manufacturing plants that grew to become the Carnegie Steel Company.

He is equally -- if not more -- famous for his donations of over $350 million to further public education: an ironic gesture coming from a dropout.

The author Dale Carnegie was a distant relative, gaining fame for his 1937 bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People. And here's another titbit to chew on: During the American Civil War, Andrew Carnegie avoided the battlefield by paying a replacement the sum of $850.

Kirk Kerkorian

Born in 1917, this Nevada billionaire is President and CEO of Tracinda Corporation. That may not ring a bell, considering he's better known for two other things. One: Being one of the pioneers who shaped the city of Las Vegas as we know it. Two: Coming up with the concept of Megaresort - a resort integrating the services of a hotel and casino with dining, entertainment and shopping into a single venue.

Kerkorian was born to Armenian immigrant parents. He was a skilled amateur boxer who went on to fly airplanes, founding Transinternational Airlines and selling it for $104 million.

He first visited Vegas in 1944, as a pilot, and eventually bought a place there that eventually grew to accommodate the world famous Caesars Palace.

To cut a really long story short, he now owns and operates a great many properties, apart from other business ventures. And his is a tale that's not over yet.

Subhash Chandra Goel

Here's something not many people know about Subhash Chandra Goel: The Zee chairman dropped out after standard 12.

Subhash Chandra started his own vegetable oils unit at 19. It was, in a manner of speaking, his first job. Years later, a casual visit to a friend at Doordarshan gave him the idea of starting his own broadcasting company. We all know how that story ran.

Chandra knew nothing about programming, distribution or film rights. What he did understand quite well was the Indian sensibility though. Funded by UK businessmen, Zee came into being as India's first satellite TV network.

Today, it reaches 32 million homes, connecting with 200 million people in South Asia alone. The network also covers Asians in America, the Middle East, Europe, Australia and Africa, making this dropout a very rich one.

Michael Dell

Michael Saul Dell (1965-) joined the University of Texas at Austin with the intention of becoming a physician. While studying there, he started a computer company in his dormitory, calling it PC's Limited. By the time he turned 19, it had notched up enough success to prompt Dell to dropout.

In 1987, PC's Limited changed its name to Dell Computer Corporation. By 2003, Dell, Inc. was the world's most profitable PC manufacturer.

Dell has won more than his fair share of accolades, including Man of the Year from PC Magazine and EM>CEO of the Year from Financial World. Forbes, in 2005, lists him as the 18th richest in the world with a net worth of around $16 billion. Not bad for just another dropout.

Steve Jobs

Steven Paul Jobs (1955-) and Apple Computer are names that have long gone together.

Born in the United States to an unknown Egyptian-Arab father, Jobs was adopted soon after birth. After graduating high school, he enrolled in Reed College, dropping out after one semester.

In 1976, 21-year-old Jobs and 26-year old Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer Co. in the family garage. Jobs revolutionised the industry by popularising the concept of home computers.

By 1984, the Macintosh was introduced. He had an influential role in the building of the World-Wide Web, and also happens to be Chairman and CEO of Pixar Animation Studios.

Today, with the iPod, Apple is bigger than ever. Incidentally, Jobs worked for several years at an annual salary of $1. It got him a listing in the Guinness Book as `Lowest Paid Chief Executive Officer.' He was once gifted a $90 million jet by the company though. And his net worth? Moer than $3 billion.

Dhirubhai Ambani

Dhirajlal Hirachand Ambani (1932-2002) was born into the family of a schoolteacher. It was a family of modest means. When he turned 16, Dhirubhai moved to Aden, working first as a gas-station attendant, then as a clerk in an oil company.

He returned to India at 26, starting a business with a meagre capital of $375. By the time of his demise, his company - Reliance Industries Ltd - had grown to become an empire, with an estimated annual turnover of $12 billion!

Dhirubhai was, in his lifetime, conferred the Indian Entrepreneur of the 20th Century Award by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. A Times of India poll in the year 2000 also voted him one of the biggest creators of wealth in this century.

Dhirubhai's is not just the usual rags-to-riches story. He will be remembered as the one who rewrote Indian corporate history and built a truly global corporate group. He is also credited with having single-handedly breathed life into the Indian stock markets and bringing in thousands of investors to the bourses.

Larry Ellison

Lawrence Joseph Ellison (1944-), co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corporation, founded his company in 1977 with a sum of $2,000. Once a school dropout, he is now, according to Forbes, one of the richest people in America with a net worth of around $18.4 billion. The figure also makes him the ninth richest in the world.

As a young man, Ellison worked for the Ampex Corporation, where one of his projects was a database for the CIA. He called it Oracle, a name he was to reuse years later for the company that made him famous.

Interestingly, the organisation's initial release was Oracle 2. The number supposedly implied that all bugs had been eliminated from an earlier version.

Ellison is quite a colourful man, and has long dabbled in all kinds of things. Want to learn more? Try his biography, The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison.

Richard Branson

British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson (1950-) is known for the Virgin brand, one that has seen success in all kinds of ventures.

His tale begins in 1970, the year he started a record mail order. A record shop in London came next, followed by the launch of Virgin Records in 1972. Virgin Atlantic Airways was formed in 1984, and Virgin Mobile launched in 1999.

Another thing this businessman is known for is his eccentric promotional habits. He has made a number of attempts, unsuccessfully, to fly around the world in a hot air balloon! In 2004, Virgin Galactic was launched -- to take passengers into sub-orbital space.

Brandon supposedly considered running for Mayor of London in 2004, but decided not to. When the 2002 list of 100 Greatest Britons was announced, he stood tall at Number 85.


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