Does a Degree Guarantee Success in Business?
Sylvia MacArthur, Madison MacArthur, September 2014

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-"img-business-degree-madison-macarthur"As we work with many top tier global companies across many industries we routinely see a strong bias, if not an absolute requirement, for undergrad and post grad degrees. These days a bachelor's degree is practically a prerequisite for getting your résumé read—two-thirds of employers said they never waive degree requirements, or do so only for particularly outstanding candidates. In many companies promotional opportunities are limited for staff without degrees – sometimes despite strong employee performance.
I have seen many quality candidates over the years lose out to far less accomplished and business savvy candidates, simply because the client would not entertain a candidate without an undergrad.

Although a strong proponent of formal education (as a recruiter I know how limiting it can be not to have a degree), I firmly believe that an education is different from a degree. An education can take many forms -  formal, informal, self-directed, on the job training etc. I believe that success in business and life requires a lot more than mere certificates. It is a combination of factors such as aptitude, creativity, inquisitiveness, attitude, an ability to see and seize opportunities and willingness to work hard to attain them.. and more. There are many, many creative and free thinkers that just don’t conform well to a structured classroom setting and learning by rote. They are often stifled by the environment and drop out of university.

I had a client that had a Masters degree from the top US Ivy league college that had an interesting perspective on education. She would entertain a candidate without a degree that had done some interesting things over one that had a BComm and an MBA. She felt that this combination was a waste of time as the types of case studies the student would have worked on for both degrees were all based on the same principals and reasoning – just more years of doing the same thing, that likely resulted in the candidate only having one way of thinking. Not the kind of person she wanted for her company, she wanted agile, flexible, creative thinkers.
Great examples of overachievers that either never went, or dropped out of University include multi millionaires and billionaires such as:

Daniel Abraham, founder of Slim-Fast
Roman Abramovich, richest man in Russia, multiple businesses
Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft
Wally “Famous” Amos, founder of Famous Amos cookies
John Jacob Astor, real estate builder & investor
Ronald Baron, founder of Baron Capital
Eike Batista, mining executive, one of the 10 richest men in the world
Carl Bernstein, Watergate reporter, Washington Post
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin
Edgar Bronfman Jr., heir to the Seagram liquor fortune
James Francis Byrnes, U.S. senator, Supreme Court justice, secretary of state, governor
Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and philanthropist
Scott Carpenter, astronaut
Tom Carvel, inventor of the soft-serve ice cream machine, founder of Carvel 
Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel
Winston Churchill, British prime minister
Jack Kent Cooke, media mogul, owner of Washington Redskins 
Simon Cowell, TV & music producer
Charles Culpeper, major shareholder and CEO of Coca Cola
John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems & founder of Patron Spirits tequila
Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers
Felix Dennis, magazine publisher, Maxim, Blender, and others
Richard DeVos,  co-founder of Amway
Barry Diller,  Hollywood mogul, Internet maven, chairman of IAC/InterActive Corp
Walt Disney, founder of the Walt Disney Company
George Eastman, inventor and founder of Kodak
Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle software company
Shawn Fanning, developer of Napster
Carly Fiorina, prior CEO, Hewlett-Packard
Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company
J. B. Fuqua, industrialist, philanthropist, funded Fuqua business school at Duke University
Bill Gates,  co-founder of Microsoft
David Geffen, founder of Geffen Records and co-founder of DreamWorks
J. Paul Getty,  oilman
Amadeo Peter Giannini, founder of Bank of America
John Glenn, astronaut, U.S. senator
Hyman Golden, cofounder of Snapple
David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby
Philip Green, retail mogul, Topshop
William Randolph Hearst, newspaper publisher
Richard Heckmann, investor, CEO of U.S. Filter,
H. Wayne Huizenga, founder of WMX waste management, owner of Miami Dolphins
Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, billionaire oilman
Peter Jennings, news anchor
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers and Pixar Animation
Henry J. Kaiser, founder of Kaiser Aluminum
Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, one of the richest people in the world
David Karp, founder of Tumblr
Li Ka-Shing, one of the wealthiest investors in Asia
Kirk Kerkorian, owner of MGM movie studio, Mirage Resorts, and Mandalay Bay Resorts
Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s
Ralph Lauren, founder of Polo & Ralph Lauren
Mike Lazaridis, founder of Research in Motion
Marcus Loew, founder of Loews movie theaters, co-founder of MGM movie studio
Mary Lyon, founder of Mount Holyoke College (America’s first women’s college)
John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods
John Major, British prime minister
Hendrik Meijer, founder of Meijer grocery stores
Dustin Moskovitz,  co-founder of Facebook
David Murdock, real estate tycoon, investor, chairman of Dole Foods
David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue airlines
David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather
Larry Page, founder of Google
Marc Rich, commodities investor, built Philbro into the world’s largest commodities firm
Leandro Rizzuto, founder of Conair
John D. Rockefeller Sr., founder of Standard Oil
Karl Rove, presidential advisor
Colonel Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
Vidal Sassoon, founder of Vidal Sassoon
Al Schneider, founder of Schneider National freight company
Richard Schulze, founder of Best Buy
Walter L. Smith, president of Florida A&M University
Daniel Snyder, owner of Snyder Communications, Red Zone Capital & the Washington Redskins 
Alfred Taubman, chairman of Sotheby
Jack Crawford Taylor, founder of Enterprise Rent-a-Car
Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s
Ted Turner, founder of CNN and TBS
Jay Van Andel, co-founder of Amway 
Anton van Leeuwenhoek, microbiologist, discoverer of bacteria, blood cells, and sperm cells
Theodore Waitt, founder of Gateway Computers
DeWitt Wallace, founder and publisher of Reader’s Digest
Ty Warner, developer of Beanie Babies
Sidney Weinberg, managing partner of Goldman Sachs
Leslie Wexner, founder of Limited Brands
Dean White, hotelier and billboard magnate
Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inns
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

And this is far from a complete list!  I can’t imagine that there are too many top tier companies that would not have wanted to harness the talents of at least some of these people despite their lack of degrees.

Some companies like Google (FORTUNE top company to work for)are starting to rethink the requirement for degrees. Lazlo Bock, VP of People at Google stated in a recent NY times article that after extensive analysis of Google employees, they found no correlation between how people fared in college and how they performed on the job. He went on to state that while previously quite focused on requiring degrees, they now have units where 14% of the team is made up of people that never went to college. However companies showing this level of creativity in hiring are still few and far between.

So, while having a degree is not the be all and end all to realizing success in business, if you choose that route you better have vision, passion, and the perseverance and drive to do whatever it takes.