They say learning can never be confined within the four walls of a classroom. And that adage has never been truer for these successful high school dropouts who have proven to the world that not having a high school diploma is never a deterrent on the road to influence and success.
Sir Richard Branson
Richard Branson struggled with dyslexia as a young student. At 16, he dropped out of school and started a magazine called Student. Though his first business venture failed, out of its ashes came his mail-order record business which made him a billionaire — Virgin Records. After establishing a name in the music industry, there’s no stopping this billionaire from moving to other ventures like airline and space travel. Today, Virgin Group has almost 500 subsidiaries, and Richard Branson is now worth a whopping $5.7 billion.
The man behind one of the most beloved and recognizable movie studios and theme parks worldwide is also a high school dropout. Walt Disney dropped out of school when he was 16 years old to join the Army. He was rejected due to his age, so he became an ambulance driver instead. In 1923, he founded the Walt Disney Company. Five years later, his company introduced an anthropomorphic mouse to the world, and the rest is history.
Prior to being a hip-hop celebrity, Shawn Carter, a.k.a Jay-Z, quit high school and became a successful drug dealer. The business acumen he learned while dealing drugs came in handy when he started his own talent agency (Roc Nation) and record label (Roc-A-Fella). In 2019, he became the world’s first-ever hip-hop billionaire, thanks to his diverse investments in music, liquor, and tech companies.
With 44 nominations and 18 Grammy's under her belt, Aretha Franklin is the legendary Queen of Soul. However, she never had a high school diploma as she had to stop schooling at the age of 14 to take care of her first-born child. A tumultuous childhood and early pregnancy didn't stop her from pursuing music, and she winds up becoming the first female being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Arts.
In the world of luxury goods, Francois Pinault is royalty. But life wasn’t always rosy for this French billionaire. He dropped out at age 11 because his classmates mocked his poor background. He worked in his father’s lumber mill and enlisted in the army in 1956. He started his first business in 1963. Today, Francois Pinault owns fashion conglomerate Kering, which owns world-renowned luxury brands like Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen, among others. He also owns a holding company, Artemis S.A, which has a portfolio of investments in diverse industries. He now has a jaw-dropping net worth of $54.6 billion.
Centuries before well-known dropouts like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs became tech superstars, there was Benjamin Franklin, who quit school at the age of 10. His first stint was at his father’s candle and soap shop. And later on, he worked at his brother’s printing business, where he learned newspaper publishing. While he never earned a high school diploma, Benjamin Franklin self-studied his way to become a politician, diplomat, author, inventor, and founding father. The Declaration of Independence even has his byline and signature.
John D. Rockefeller Sr.
The world’s first-ever recorded billionaire didn’t have a high school diploma to his name. Two months before his graduation, John D. Rockefeller Sr. dropped out to pursue a brief bookkeeping course at Folsom Mercantile College. He shortly started working at age 16 and went on to become arguably America’s richest man of all time with a net worth of $340 billion in today’s dollars. Ironically, though he never finished high school, this billionaire spent his fortune helping many gain excellent education.
With a net worth of $71.1 billion, Amancio Ortega is one of the wealthiest men in the world. But this self-made billionaire didn’t always have the luxury of riches while he was starting out. He was forced to stop schooling at age 14 to work as an errand boy for local shopkeepers. In 1975, he opened the first Zara store in A Coruña, Spain. By 2020, he has 2,208 Zara stores in 96 countries, making him the wealthiest retailer in the world.
Prior to becoming one of the most influential directors in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino quit high school at the age of 16 to study acting. He didn’t last in that pursuit and ended up working in Video Archives. It was in this job that he developed a passion for film, closely observing the movies that people like to rent. In 1992, his breakthrough film, Reservoir Dogs, was an immediate hit, paving the way for his thriving directorial career in Hollywood.
Hong Kong’s richest never had a high school diploma as he has to quit school at age 12 to escape from Japanese occupation in mainland China. He soon worked with his father at a factory and became the breadwinner at age 15 when his father died. When he was 21, he started his own company and, from there, built an empire from the ground up. Li Ka-Shing ends up owning a holding company, CK Hutchison Holdings, which has stakes in various industries worldwide.