How to Win in Business

These 5 self-made billionaires all share the same surprising trait

Apple CEO Steve Jobs
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

In the United States, adults who have a college degree make more money and face lower unemployment rates than those who don't, according to federal government Labor Department data. But there are exceptions to every rule.

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and John Paul DeJoria are all self-made billionaire entrepreneurs who either dropped out of college or skipped higher ed entirely.

The legendary Apple CEO attended Reed College in Portland, Ore., for one semester before dropping out because he didn't have any money, he says in a graduation speech he delivered in 1991. He enrolled for another year and a half of coursework later on, he says.

Zuckerberg and Gates both dropped out of Harvard when their respective tech companies, Facebook and Microsoft, started taking off.

"Your ability to think differently will become one of your biggest advantages in life – taking you places where most straight-A students will never go." -Richard Branson, founder Virgin Group

Branson and DeJoria skipped college entirely. Branson dropped out of high school to start his first ever venture, Student magazine. He went on to found Virgin Brands, which now includes some 60 companies with 60 million customers around the world.

DeJoria went directly into the U.S. Navy after high school. When he returned from active duty, he had a hard time finding a job. At one point, he collected bottles for cash. He went on to co-found the hair care company Paul Mitchell Systems and tequila maker Patrón Spirits Co.

Their stories are evidence that there is no single track to success. Even if you don't thrive in academic settings, there are many diverse paths available to you for reaching your goals.

As Branson says in a letter to his 10-year-old self, his lack of success in the classroom opened other doors for him later in life.

"Your imagination is one of your greatest gifts – this will become more and more apparent when you enter secondary school," writes Branson to himself. "You will face many challenges, and often feel like you don't fit in and that you can't always keep up. Don't let this hold you back.

"Use your imagination to find inventive ways around it. Your ability to think differently will become one of your biggest advantages in life – taking you places where most straight-A students will never go."

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