These British entrepreneurs shunned university and set up shop instead – earning billions in the process. We chart how they did it
By Kate Palmer
While an ever-increasing number of school leavers are going to university, these British billionaires prove that a degree isn’t the key to financial success.
There are more than 100 billionaires living in Britain, with a combined wealth of more than £300bn. Foreign nationals dominate Britain’s rich list – such as the Russian business magnate and Arsenal shareholder, Alisher Usmanov, worth £10.65bn.
We look at Britain’s home grown billionaires – and find some self-made entrepreneurs who didn’t go to university. These top earners benefited from leaving education early by getting a head start in business.
And Britain’s more modest celebrity millionaires, including 39-year-old Jamie Oliver (worth £200m) and 55-year-old Cath Kidston (worth £30m), prove that lacking a degree doesn’t set back individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit.
More recently, south London schoolboy Nick D’Aloisio made an estimated £18m by selling an app that he developed while revising for his mock GCSEs. The teen now works for internet giant Yahoo.
1) Richard Branson: £2.7bn net worth, left school at 16
Virgin media founder Sir Richard Branson, 64, was a dyslexic schoolboy from Buckinghamshire until he started his own business aged 16. He began selling records through his magazine ironically called The Student raking in sales by undercutting high street store prices.
A young Mr Branson was told by his headmaster that he would either end up in prison, or become a millionaire his teacher fell short of the mark, as the music magnate is now worth £2.7bn. Sir Richard launched Virgin Records in 1972 aged just 21 from a country estate in Oxfordshire. The company’s first release Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (1973) instantly topped the charts.
2) Philip Green: £3.1bn net worth, left school at 15
Sir Philip Green founded the germ of his fashion empire while in his teens. As an O-level school leaver he began importing jeans from Asia to sell in London.
Throughout the 1970s, Sir Philip began buying up stock from struggling retailers and selling on for a profit. Now CEO of Arcadia group, 62-year-old Sir Philip heads fashion labels including Topshop, BHS and Dorothy Perkins.
3) Mike Ashley: £3.4bn net worth, left school at 16
Sports tycoon Mike Ashley, 49, left grammar school at 16 to play county level squash, but an injury turned him from athlete to businessman. The Sports Direct founder and Newcastle United owner set up a sports and ski shop in Maidenhead, Berkshire – by the 1990s he had expanded to more than 100 outlets. Mr Ashley made his money by buying struggling sports brands Donnay, Dunlop and Slazenger.
4) Laurence Graff: £2.8bn net worth, left school at 15
Diamond magnate Laurence Graff, 76, made his billions supplying jewellery and jewels to wealthy overseas customers, having started out as a 15-year-old apprentice at a Hatton Garden jewellery shop.
When the shop went out of business, he started selling his own designs, and by the mid-1970s had begun sourcing gems for clients in the Middle East.
5) John Caudwell: £1.7bn net worth, left school at 16
Phones4U founder and communications magnate John Caudwell, 61, abandoned his A-level study at a school in Stoke-on-Trent and started an apprenticeship at a tyre factory before moving on to selling used cars.
Mr Caudwell jumped on the mobile phone revolution in the 1980s trading as Midland Mobile Phones, later renamed Phones4U, which Caudwell sold for £1.5bn in 2006. The telecoms pundit remains in business, investing in marine, aviation, property and wealth management.
6) Alan Sugar: £900m net worth, left school at 16
Despite holding two honorary doctorates from London universities, Sir Alan Sugar didn’t go to univeristy. Hackney-born Sir Alan, 67, started a business selling electrical knickknacks from a van, but made his fortune selling consumer electronics at prices that undercut other retailers.
After an ill-fated chairmanship of Tottenham Hotspur during the 1990s when Sir Alan went through seven managers during his 16-year time at Spurs he became a household name in BBC’s The Apprentice.
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