- There are many stories about prominent college dropouts who later became billionaires, but fewer about ultra-wealthy people who dropped out of high school before making their fortunes.
- Billionaires who found fame and wealth after dropping out are in industries including fashion, tech, and music.
- Jay-Z, hip-hop’s first billionaire, never graduated from high school. The rapper does, however, publicly encourage people to value education.
- Virgin Group founder Richard Branson quit school at 16. Soon after dropping out, he started his first company, which later became Virgin Records.
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Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and rapper Jay-Z have two things in common: Both are wildly successful billionaires, and both never graduated from high school.
But they aren’t the only billionaires who never picked up a high school diploma. While a number of prominent college dropouts later became ultra-wealthy – particularly tech titans like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates – it’s generally rarer for high school dropouts to become among the richest people in the world. But still, it does happen from time to time.
Keep reading to learn more about five of the most prominent billionaires who also happen to be high school dropouts.
Zhou Qunfei dropped out of high school at 16 to work in a watch lens factory.
Attending accounting classes at night, she saved up nearly 20,000 HK$ (about $2,500) and eventually opened up her own watch lens company, run by herself and her family members.
She is now the CEO of Lens Technology, which manufactures glass for brands such as Apple, Samsung and Tesla. In 2015, the company went public and Zhou’s stake in the business was worth $7.2 billion, the New York Times reported that year.
“I have encountered many difficulties and setbacks as an entrepreneur,” she said in an interview with CNBC Make It. “But the key to success is to persevere, especially during the most difficult times.”
The self-made billionaire is currently worth about $6 billion, per Forbes.
Amancio Ortega dropped out of school at 14 to begin running errands for local shopkeepers.
Years later, Ortega founded the retail chain Zara in his native Spain; the company has since expanded globally. Today, he is the second richest man in Europe (behind only LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault), with a staggering net worth of $70.4 billion.
Francois Pinault, founder of the luxury group Kering, dropped out of school when he was 11 years old to work in his father’s lumber mill.
- REUTERS/Charles Platiau
According to Forbes, Pinault dropped out because his peers used to make fun of his “poor background.” Today, he has a net worth of $33.2 billion, also per Forbes.
Jay-Z attended the George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School but never graduated.
Jay-Z went on to become hip-hop’s first billionaire in June 2019; per Forbes, he’s currently worth about $1 billion. His fortune comes from his stakes in liquor brands, art, real estate, and in companies such as Uber, according to Forbes.
While he personally managed to find immense success after dropping out of high school, the rapper encourages people to take their education seriously.
“Education is super important,” Jay-Z said in a press conference for a performance at Carnegie Hall. “I don’t have a high school diploma or a college diploma, but still for me to articulate, I had to have some form of schooling to articulate my thoughts.”
Richard Branson dropped out of high school when he was only 16 after struggling with dyslexia.
Soon after quitting school, Branson founded his first business, a student magazine, and eventually a mail-order record company. which later became the Virgin Records music label. Today, his company, Virgin Group, oversees nearly 500 subsidiaries. Branson himself has a net worth of $3.9 billion.