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Thursday, October 27, 2011


Go to school, get good grades, get a good college education, find a nice job with benefits and get the gold watch. We’ve all heard that mantra but let’s be real: College is not the launching pad it once was and simply put, school isn’t for everyone.

Back in the day there was a significant stigma attached to being a high school or college dropout.  A bit of that stigma still exists but by now we’ve seen a number of well-known and highly successful individuals begin their careers by taking a calculated risk and dropping out of school.

William H. (Bill) Gates III, co-founded the world’s largest software business, Microsoft, and has gone on to became one the richest men in the world. He also dropped out of Harvard University in 1975 at age 20.

John Mackey is the Chairman and CEO of Whole Foods Market started his own natural foods store, where he sold food dropped off by local farmers.  Mackey dropped out of three different Texas colleges in the mid-1970s.  

Ron Popeil, known as the father of the infomercial and inventor of such products as the Veg-O-Matic and the Pocket fisherman. Popeil dropped out of a Florida high school in 1951 at age 16. 

Russell Simmons, started Rush Communications, a huge conglomerate that includes two record labels (Def Jam Records and Russell Simmons Music Group), a management company, a clothing company (Phat Farm), a movie production house, television shows, a magazine, and an advertising agency.  Simmons dropped out of City College of New York in 1977 at age 20.

Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s leading software companies.  He is also one the wealthiest men in the world.  Ellison left the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the end of his second year. Ellison also attended the University of Chicago for one term before moving to Northern California permanently.

Steve Jobs, co-founded Apple Computers with Steve Wozniak.  Apple Computers has pioneered some of the most game changing technologies ever seen: iTunes, iPad, iPod, iPhone among others. Jobs enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Oregon but dropped out after six months.

The founders of such ground breaking companies as: You Tube, WordPress, Dell Computer, and Facebook have college dropouts among their members.

I believe that we need more schools (or other institutions) where students can learn and nurture the entrepreneurial skills that will allow them to succeed in today’s environment.

Companies exist for one reason only: to make a profit. At the end of the day it’s usually not what you learn in the classroom that makes a profit. It’s the real world street smarts that you can pick up on the playground, hanging out at a friend’s house or even while babysitting younger siblings.

A relative of mine had a fourth grade education and yet he became a multi-millionaire with several successful businesses, fabulous homes and two Rolls-Royces. What did he learn that doesn’t get taught in school?

PayPal  co-founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel has gone as far as to pay students to drop out.  Well, it’s not exactly that direct.  He is encouraging gifted students to drop out and launch start-ups.

While he caught some heat for this, he clearly understands something that much of the “brain washed” public does not.  Nothing happens until you sell something. Students don’t learn much about sales, networking, negotiation, creativity and embracing failure in the school environment.  These are a few of the critical ingredients to business success.

Which will be the greater engine for job creation in this country: college grads or college dropouts?

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