Famous rags-to-riches stories made without academic qualifications

This week the UK was abuzz with the jubilant celebrations of those who received their A Level results, just a few weeks after the country’s most recent generation of graduates donned their hard-earned caps and gowns. There will be thousands and thousands of students jumping over the moon in glee at their achievements and to them we say a huge congratulations! However, there will no doubt be equally as many young people disappointed with their results or worrying what their futures hold without academic qualifications but we’re here to tell you it’ll all be okay.

Embarking on further education after your school years and then going on to attend a prestigious university is a quintessentially British thing to do. It’s almost as high up there on the list of ‘thingswalt disney you have to do if you’re Brit’ as eating strawberries & cream during the Wimbledon season and being in a permanent state of dismay about rainy weather, even though it happens for at least 70% of the year. There is a definite pressure for young people to attend university here in Blighty and a certain stigma attached to those who don’t. This stigma causes those who don’t attend or don’t succeed at higher education to consider themselves inferior or incapable of success but we want to do our bit to help put this right.

There is a whole array of incredibly successful celebrities, famous entrepreneurs and multi-billionaires who all flunked high school but are still whizzing around the continent in their private jets and trotting to business meetings in their Louboutin heels. We all know Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates climbed to the top of the career ladder without a qualification to their name, right? Their business biographies are equally impressive every time we hear them but here are some more entrepreneurial stories that prove how academic accolades aren’t always a pre-requisite to success.

Historical lightbulb moment: iconic inventor, Thomas Edison

Yep, that’s right, the historical genius that is Mr. Thomas Edison was indeed a high school drop-out. How could we fail to include somebody that invented the electrical lightbulb and motion picture camera without the backing of any qualifications in maths, physics or chemistry?

Edison was late to start school due to an illness so was already a few paces behind his peers who had been in education for a longer than him. Even when he got to school he was criticised by all his teachers for his wandering mind and after just three months of formal education, dropped out to be home-schooled by his own mother. With more than 1,000 patents to his name, it wasn’t long before Edison propelled himself to multimillionaire status and bagged himself a prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.

Abreast of the competition: Ultimo founder, Michelle Mone OBE

At the tender age of 15-years-old, Michelle Mone dropped out of school without a single qualification under her belt. She embarked on a journey to fulfil her ambition of becoming a model and managed to capture it for a short while before getting married and falling pregnant with her first child. Following this, Mone created a fictional CV and landed herself a job in marketing for brewery firm, Labatt where she later became head of department. She was eventually made redundant from this position and it was then that she decided to start up her own business after finding a solution to the discomfort she was experienced after wearing a cleavage-enhancing bra.

Mone obtained European license to use a new silicone product to manufacture her improved undergarment design and in 1996, after co-founding MJM International with her husband, produced the patented Ultimo bra. In 1999, the brand was launched in leading highstreet department store, Selfridges and sold out six weeks’ worth of stock in just 24 hours.

Mone sold part of her stake in what became Ultimo Brands Limited down to 20% and used the profits to buy luxury fake tan company, UTAN which she is now sole owner of. She is now working with the country’s MPs to front a scheme aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship in the most disadvantaged parts of the UK.

If you can dream, you can do it: creative mogul, Walt Disney

Another famous face fronting the endless list of entrepreneurs who have achieved global success without the safety net of academia is none other than animation fat cat, Walt Disney. The brains behind much loved characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and despite briefly taking night course at the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago, was seriously lacking in the qualification department.

Disney attempted joining the army but was knocked back for being too young so instead joined the Red Cross (with a forged birth certificate) where he was sent to France as an ambulance driver. Upon returning from France, Disney got a job in a Kansas bank where he was responsible for creating advertisements for newspapers, magazines and theatre, which shows how the value of industry experience existed long before unpaid internships and zero hour contracts.

Disney founded The Walt Disney Company in 1923 with his brother Roy O. Disney and soon became a profound influence on the 20th Century entertainment industry with operations in theatre, TV, film, radio, music, publishing, online media and theme park design. Disney’s legacy has enabled him to remain the face of a multi-billion pound empire today and a timeless icon in cartoon, animation and cinema.

The sweet taste of success: business tycoon, Sir Alan Sugar

When addressing this entrepreneurial superstar, you have a choice of prestigious titles: Sir, Lord or Baron but life wasn’t so peachy when he was known as ‘Mop Head’ on the council estate in Hackney where he lived with his family. With only one GCSE to his name, Sugar has now earnt himself a place in the Sunday Times “billionaire’s club” through sheer hard work and determination.

Mop Head began life as a sales assistant in a local green grocer but became in touch with his entrepreneurial side at a very early age. Upon leaving school at the age of 16, Sugar began selling car aerials and electrical goods from a van that he bought with £50 worth of savings. This business nouse grew by a rate of knots and before he knew it, little Mop Head was the founder of his own global trading company, Amstrad (AMS).

Ranked as the 101st richest person in the world, Sir Alan Sugar can now afford to fund his expensive Rolls Royce and Bentley habit, as well as keep his own four-seat Cirrus SR22 aircraft in top condition. At its peak Amstrad achieved London Stock Market value of a whopping £1.2bn, which isn’t half bad for someone who started out their professional career polishing Granny Smiths. Sugar sold his shares in AMS in 2007 and has since been involved in a number of lucrative projects, including popular BBC TV series The Apprentice.

Let these stories inspire those of you that are working your way towards success without a CV crammed with academic qualifications. Talent, passion and hands-on industry experience just as, if not more valuable to employees or potential investors than A Level grades and degree-level achievements. Of course, there are some professions where this level of education is absolutely essential (like brain surgery and rocket science) but there are also plenty of sectors that require nothing more than a head full of ideas, willingness to work and solid knowledge of the industry.