What media never tells you about the legendary 'college dropouts'

S. Aijaz
25th Jun 2014
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Every diatribe on education is almost always punctuated with the inspirational story of the Billionaire College Drop Out. He has a messianic role to play in the students' psyche. There's a religious fervour with which people will try to divorce the seemingly arbitrary relationship between entrepreneurial success and educational qualification. So, out come the prophets who've taken the reciprocating saw to the iron veil welded onto the people's eye: Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates and a whole host of surnames that have become household names.

But, this stale-cake narrative takes away from the real story behind these men: privileged families, prodigious intelligence, shrewd business sense, industry and a violent determination to make it or break it. YourStory explores the men behind the mirage.

Michael Dell

Seven-year-old Michael Dell took one look at his toys, and shrugged. Like any rational child, he invested in stocks and precious metals at a time when the closest thing to a stock a child would have were a pile of old Lego blocks.

By the time he was seven, his prized possession was a calculator. He spent his adolescent angst disassembling his Apple II, and then enrolled in the pre-medical program at the University of Texas at Austin. When was the last time a medical course was so unchallenging, you decided to drop out and become $18.5 billion richer? Because, that's what Michael Dell did.

Steve Jobs 

Steve Jobs struggled. Unlike Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, privilege was largely oblivious to his existence. He spent a large part of his childhood taking apart, repairing and rebuilding electronic devices like the television set, which, as you may have noticed, we've only just stopped beating into submission. His story isn't the story of a man who struck rich because he dropped out, disillusioned by the education system. It’s the story of a man who had to make a choice between impoverishing his parents and education.

An early reader, he was recommended to skip two grades due to his fantastic test scores. His parents chose one.

Jobs was intelligent, savvy and a shrewd businessman. When he dropped out of Reed College, he spent the next 18 months attending creative courses and roping in the kind of brains needed to eventually create his Apple Empire.

Related Read | 11 Unusual and Amazing Facts about Apple. 

Mark Zuckerberg

The Facebook CEO is often celebrated by the young and restless as the quintessential drop-out billionaire. However, a cursory glance at his profile makes you realise he's the last person you'd have befriended in school. Mark Zuckerberg didn't become worth $28.6 billion for nothing. At school, the man wore the geek trifecta like a crown with his obsessive interest in math, physics and astronomy. Born to privileged parents, he attended the Phillips Exeter Academy, joined Harvard, dropped out of Harvard, and hasn't looked behind ever since Facebook. Perhaps, being called a prodigy by his teachers and reciting the Iliad for fun had its benefits.  


Bill Gates 


Bill Gates was born to philanthropic businessman William H. Gates and Mary Maxwell Gates, who doesn't just have a few feathers in her cap, but the entire peacock’s tail on her crown. Gates' story is like the story of Batman if his parents lived into old age. Though he didn't play dress-up in a flying mouse costume in suburban America. He spent his adolescent years programming and coding as opposed to the non-productive rebelling without a cause.

Bill Gates would eventually drop out of Harvard not because Harvard had failed him- because Gates had already succeeded.

Related Read | 20 Amusing answers to surpirising questions by Bill Gates

Albert Einstein

Amongst the suits, Einstein deserves a place simply for all the myths that surround the hardly-elusive scientist. No man has been more popular for being a scientific genius, revolutionary and drop-out. Whilst his theories are best kept in journals, Einstein's image will always be the stuff of pop-culture legend: tongue, ridiculous hairstyle and cheeky quotations.

Except, Einstein did go to college (making him the odd one out in this list): Swiss Federal Polytechnic School, Zurich and the University of Zurich. As a boy, he built mechanical devices, because, we're assuming, it tickled him to see how ridiculously stupid everything else was to his fiercely analytical mind. In college, Einstein's idea of romance included reading extra-curricular physics books with future-wife Mileva Marić.

By 16, he wrote his first essay: 'On the Investigation of the State of Ether in a Magnetic Field'. By 16, our best essay was a letter to a fictional editor.

Related Read | How to think like Einstein 

Gautam Adani  


Indian billionaire Adani did drop out of Gujarat University to become worth $5.7 billion. He also made his first million at 20 from his diamond brokerage business. Gautam Adani is one of India's contributions to the billionaire club with the diversified empire that spreads over agriculture, infrastructure, minerals, oils, development, etc: All synonyms for hard, hard, hard work.

Amancio Ortega

Amancio Ortega is our only rags-to-riches story. Priced at $65.6 billion, Ortega's humble beginning is one of the few relatable stories of inspiration. His journey into the billionaire club expatiates upon the virtue of hard work and dedication to substantiate success. No intimidating recitations of ‘Iliad’, television reparation during childhood or a thesis written during his teens.

Born 1936 in Leon, Spain, Ortega dropped out of school at 14 to work. With his nose to the grindstone throughout his adolescence and prime, he finally established his quilted bathrobes business Confecciones Goa in 1972. It took him nearly three decades of obstinate determination and diligence to carve a legend out of himself with nothing but his strength, smarts and ethic.

Every time you wear Zara, you have him to thank.

There are many that slip into the hallowed halls of college drop outs, losers, strugglers and the poor turned game-changers, revolutionaries, innovators and makers of history. Saudi businessman Mohamd Al Amoudi spent years building his diverse empire. Francoi-Henri Pinault inherited his father's blood, sweat and toil; Vinod Goenka chose expanding his father's construction firm over education; and PNC Menon was fortunate enough to meet an Arab willing to show him how the Omani sky could be his limit at 26. Today, Menon is worth $600 million.

The lesson is harsh, but simple: The statistics are against you. Sportsmen aren’t born; they’re made from childhood, not during a college crisis. Actors are usually lucky. The Screen Actors Guild has 105,368 members, of which only a handful are millionaires.

In a world of 7 billion people, there are only 13.7 million millionaires worth $50 trillion. 13.7 million is barely a blip on the population radar. In America alone, millionaires account for only 0.9% of the population (2009), and billionaires, the more ridiculous, 0.0001%. (Americans account for nearly 40% of the world's billionaires)

Between striking rich or die trying, odds of just dying are far greater. But, let's not end on a macabre note. What you need to take away from these men is not their lack of educational qualification. It's that the only thing that's going to stop you from being successful is you. Your determination, hard work and work ethic are determiners of where you'll kick the bucket on the ladder of success: At the bottom rung complaining about the system or the top rungs by confronting the system?

You will also love this infographic from Funders and Founders on "The Aha Moments - How Entrepreneurs realized what to do in life"

aha full


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