There is a long list of successful businesspeople who have either dropped out of high school, college or university, or didn’t go in the first place.

In the U.S. this famously includes Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Steven Spielberg, who all dropped out of college or university.

Charles Culpeper, former CEO of Coca Cola, and instrumental in the company’s rise, dropped out of high school.

Ray Kroc bought McDonalds in 1961 for $2.7 million and built it into a multi-billion-dollar company. He never even went to school in the first place.

And in the U.K., Simon Cowell dropped out of school at 16, and now has an estimated net worth of £300 million.

Philip Green, Topshop, £4.1 billion, did the same, and Mark Constantine, co-founder of ethical cosmetics company Lush, failed his O-Levels, dropped out of school and became homeless at the age of 16. Lush turned over $1.3 billion in 2017.

Looking back at the previous article, how and where did these people learn the skills necessary for business and entrepreneurship listed last time?

As a quick reminder they were: delegation, communication, negotiation, strategic planning, leadership, team building, analytical skills, sales and marketing, general management, cash flow management, financial management, time management, passion, self-motivation, optimism, creativity, risk-taking, bravery, transparency, enthusiasm and accountability.

Perhaps Richard Branson, the famous, dyslexic, British, high school drop-out billionaire has the answer: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

Tumblr founder David Karp is another interesting exception. Underwhelmed at the computer science courses on offer at his high school, and believing he could learn more on his own, he left high school aged 15 with his parents’ blessing.

Branson’s mother was herself an entrepreneur and his parents were supportive of his early endeavours.

What these two certainly had was mentorship outside of institutional education, passion, creativity, a willingness to rebel and take a risk, and crucially, support.

Self-study has always been possible. Libraries full of books existed long before tutorial videos were posted on YouTube and links from a Google search produced thousands of articles.

The issue for most self-employed and small school or business owners therefore is not a dearth of material; more likely there is too much. Where to start? How to prioritise? How to know when successfully completed? How to implement? How to be effective?

Free resources are great, but most people don’t continue to use them. Only 3.13% of participants completed their courses via MIT and Harvard MOOCs in 2017-18.

In response to this, Seth Godin started the altMBA, an intensive online leadership and management workshop. Coaches work with students in groups and as individuals. Students publish their assignments on the public altMBA site.

This, Godin feels, is key. Whilst supported and guided, mentored by qualified, experienced coaches, students do the work themselves, and peer pressure keeps them motivated to finish and publish.

Independent school and business owners would do well to find a peer group to work with on improving their businesses, and also someone, or several people, who can provide direction and leadership. As with all recruiting, it’s wise to know what you want before looking, and qualify your prospects. There are numerous online forums with plenty of opinions, but what have the authors actually achieved? Is it relevant to what you want to do?

I have two mentors, one a successful businessperson from my field, the other an experienced business consultant who has worked in many different fields. Their advice and insight have helped me immensely. I learn more from 30 minutes talking to them than I did in the whole of my time at high school.


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