A degree is not necessary for success

Steve Jobs, Dario Fo, Roberto Benigni and Dario Fo. Here are some well-known people who dropped out of school

A degree is not necessary for success

They are called “billionaire dropouts”, businessmen who reached success without holding a degree, and are regarded as role models, even in Italy. They represent individuals who managed to accomplish a stellar career simply relying on their efforts and brilliant skills.

Mark Zuckerberg

The latest and most impressive example is undoubtedly that of Mark Zuckerberg, the father of Facebook, who launched the famous platform in his university campus – Harvard! – which he later left to devote himself entirely to this project. Brave and visionary, if we consider that he managed to turn his intuition into the largest social network in the world.

Bill Gates

There are two well-known names who came before Zuckerberg in the IT sector: the departed co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, and the creator of Microsoft, Bill Gates. The latter left Harvard, like Zuckerberg, after two years of studies to start the biggest software company, Microsoft Corporation, which from 1995 to 2006 made him the richest man in the world.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, instead, created Apple in a garage and was not inspired by books – he only attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, for six months – but rather by life experiences, particularly a journey made in India.

Piero Angela

Italy also has a number of extraordinary talented people who lack a higher degree. Above all, the most popular scientific journalist on TV: Piero Angela. Through his programs he informed and educated millions of Italians, despite he never got a degree. On this matter, he once wrote: “to tell the truth, I was terribly annoyed at school and I was a very bad student”.

Enrico Mentana

The same goes for another famous journalist: the “machine-like” Enrico Mentana, nicknamed so because of his fast talking (it is estimated that he can read his TV news summary in less than 60 seconds). The popular TV News Director enrolled in the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Milan but he never graduated.

Roberto Benigni

Another talented Italian is Roberto Benigni (in the highlight photo): comic actor, film director and successful actor worldwide. He won an Oscar prize and got a nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 for his modern epic poetry work of the Divina Commedia. Born in Tuscany, Benigni holds a high school degree in accountancy but he never attended university. He only later received two university degrees Honoris Causa (in Philosophy, Literature, Psychology, Modern Philology, Communication, Italian Language and Literature and Law).

Dario Fo e Franca Rame

In the art world, we cannot forget to mention Dario Fo. Author, writer, painter, director, theatre and art personality who used to call himself “timeless jester”. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature despite he lacks a university degree. After attending the Brera Fine Arts Academy, in fact, he enrolled in the Architecture Faculty at the Milan Polytechnic University, but he soon left it to devote himself to drama.

Eugenio Montale

Same story for Eugenio Montale: Nobel Prize for Literature, a poet – author of the well-known collections “Ossi di seppia” (cuttlefish bones) and “Male di vivere” (mal de vivre) – who never got a degree. Despite being a mere accountant and a self-educated man, he managed to leave a strong mark on the Italian and international culture. An international fame proved also by the many translations of his poems made in several different languages.

Walt Disney

Turning our attention to the States, our memory goes to another exceptional self-made man: Walt Disney. The father of Mickey Mouse dropped out of school when he was 16 and was fired by the head of the newspaper he worked for as illustrator because he was reputed lacking in ideas and imagination. The Animation Studios that currently carry his name, the record of awards and nominations received and the 30-billion-dollars annual turnover of the Walt Disney Company, however, are a clear testimony of his astonishing achievements. They are, indeed, beyond any possible expectation.

Richard Branson

The life of Richard Branson, the tycoon of Virgin (besides other 360 organizations) is equally amazing. He not only doesn’t have a degree, but he left school when he was only 16. In that occasion, the headmaster told his parents “This boy either ends in prison or becomes a billionaire”. Indeed, he can now rely on a net worth of 5,2 billion dollars.

Ralph Lauren

A similar fortune was attained by another big name: Ralph Lauren. He dropped out of Baruch College in Manhattan to enroll in the army and then started working as a tie-maker. While doing this job, and not presenting a thesis, he was spotted for his creativity and resourcefulness. So, he opened his own tie-making company, which made half a million dollars in its first year, while today his net worth is estimated around 8,2 billion dollars.

James Cameron

James Cameron, Oscar-winner film director and producer, is also free from money problems: his net worth amounts to 700 million dollars. However, before becoming a world cinema star, he worked as a lorry driver. It goes without saying, he never got a degree.

Ingvar Kamprad

The success of Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Ikea, has nothing to do with a higher degree. Dyslexic like Richard Branson, he started working as matchstick seller and had alcohol-related problems in his early years. However, once he had the idea of making low-cost and do-it-yourself furniture, his life changed dramatically. Today he holds a net worth of 40 billion dollars despite he keeps himself very cautious (for the records): he flies economy, drives an old car and wears second-hand clothes, mostly from flea markets.

Peter Thiel

Finally, one last billionaire should be mentioned: Peter Thiel, the patron of the online payment system, Pay Pal. To tell the truth, he holds a degree – Philosophy at Stanford University – but today he urges students to leave school and take the challenge to set up their own business. Indeed, through his Foundation, he offers 100 thousand dollars to young people who show brilliant business ideas and are willing to move from university to real life. After all, he often claimed: “We are in a bubble and it’s not the internet. It’s higher education”.

(Translated by Cecilia Braghin)


Silvia Pagliuca

Silvia Pagliuca Giornalista professionista e Comunicatore pubblico, è laureata in scienze e tecnologie della comunicazione, con Master in management della comunicazione sociale, politica e istituzionale e Master in giornalismo presso il campus IULM - Mediaset. Scrive di lavoro, startup, innovazione e imprenditoria per Corriere della Sera, Corriere Imprese e Corriere del Trentino. Collabora come copywriter e consulente in comunicazione per diverse realtà pubbliche e private.