LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP by Biodun Owojaiye.
These days, academic excellence and achievement is the subject of much derision and venomous assault. From far and wide, across the cyber space, media outlets and in the midst of idle gist, there is a surfeit of individuals who are unrelenting in pushing academics to the background. Tertiary education, compared to the primary and secondary, has been the most hit with not a few alluding to its perceived ‘uselessness’. There are many reasons put forward by those who belong to this school of thought. One of such is the seemingly numerous ultra-successful individuals who didn’t attend a university or at best were drop-outs, opting to pursue other ‘valuable’ ventures instead of ’wasting’ time in the University. Since, dropping out halfway didn’t impede the progress of these ones in life; many argue that university education is perhaps overrated. This group of individuals often measure achievement, success, progress in terms of wealth alone, which though acceptable is not always sufficient.
What they see.
It is a fact that Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College after just one semester, co founded Apple Inc. became one of the icons of modern technology and died a billionaire, as The Walt Disney Company’s single largest shareholder. It is also a fact that Bill Gates, co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation , a Harvard University drop-out who never went back to complete his studies, today is the primus inter pares of billionaires and the most consistent one of the last two decades. That Mark Zuckerberg, also a Harvard University drop-out and cofounder and chairman of Facebook is one of the world’s youngest billionaires is true. Larry Ellison of Oracle dropped out of both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chicago and yet sits atop a multibillionaire dollar fortune today. Paul Allen, the man with whom Bill Gates cofounded Microsoft also dropped out of the University of Washington and is at present a billionaire.
What they ignore.
In the same vein, It is also true that the Oracle of Omaha who has a fortune of about 53.5 billion US Dollars (2013 estimates), Warren Buffett, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Berkshire Hathaway holds a Bachelors in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska Lincoln and a Master of Science degree in Economics from Columbia University while Indian business magnate estimated to be worth 27.5 billion United States Dollars (2013), Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries holds a Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Mumbai. It is also real that Carlos Slim (73 billion dollars, 2013), Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Telmex, America Movil, Samsung Mexico and Grupo Carso studied Civil Engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico as George Soros (20 billion United States Dollars, 2012) of Soros Fund Management received a PhD in Philosophy from the London School of Economics many years ago. Brothers, David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries with separate fortunes of 34 billion United States Dollars each both obtained Masters Degrees in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after completing their Bachelors. Bernard Arnault (29 billion United States Dollars, 2013), business magnate and art collector, chairman of LVMH and owner of several other luxury brands is an Engineering graduate from the Ecole Polytechnique just as Lakshmi Mittal (16.5 United States Dollars, 2013), Chief Executive Officer of ArcelorMittal, the World’s largest steelmaking company graduated from St Xavier’s College, Calcutta with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Business and Accounting. For every ‘drop-out’ billionaire, it is accurate to say one can name a ‘graduate’ billionaire. And these degrees are not honorary, neither were they obtained in the twilight of their lives, they were earned as young men.
What they don’t see.
Observing the drop-out billionaires, it is apparent most of them had considerable talent or a competitive edge which conferred advantage in one area or the other. Bill Gates attended a private school where he was early exposed to computers at a time when computers weren’t so popular. It is on record that he scored a verifiable 1590 out of a possible 1600 in his SAT (it used to be 1600, not 2400); this makes it all the more plain that he did not opt out because he was a lazy student. Moreover, with Paul Allen, he had developed a version of the BASIC programming language for the Altair 8800, the first personal computer while still a student at Harvard. He left Harvard so he could devote more time to Microsoft. Larry Ellison had encountered computer design before dropping out of the University of Chicago; hence he had a straw to cling to. Steve Jobs had received lectures at Hewlett-Packard Co. in Palo Alto after school while still in high school, so he wasn’t entirely without skill when he dumped College. Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard University so he could dedicate more time to Facebook. Paul Allen had a perfect SAT score of 1600, and dropped out so more time could be spent on building Microsoft. These men didn’t drop out because they couldn’t cope or because they felt that University was useless, they were smart and had things to hold on to. It would have been folly on their part if they had left school with no worthy alternative.
A number have claimed that the university stymied their intellectual development, but this folks forget that a university education confers more than just ‘book knowledge’, even though there is nothing wrong with ‘book knowledge’. It provides an arena for socialization which is one of its latent functions. A ready-made example of this is noticeable in the story of billionaire Google cofounders, Larry Page (23 billion United States Dollars, 2013) and Sergey Brin (22.8 billion United States Dollars, 2013) who met in Stanford University as PhD students. Also, the structured way of doing things in a university help imprint timeless values such as purpose, time management, character, punctuality, perseverance, tenacity, determination, diligence and many more. These values are sine qua non to achieving success in any field, the act and art of making billions inclusive. It is evident that many billionaires possess these which should naturally be by-products of attending a tertiary institution (though not everyone acquires it). The billionaires who dropped-out have had to acquire these traits on their own. It goes without saying then, that receiving formal education up to the tertiary level can and should quicken one’s steps to wealth, if wealth is the objective. Quick to highlight that Orville and Wilbur Wright never completed high school, little mention is made of their perseverance and the many hours of diligence and hard work they invested in their work. Mention is rarely made of the volumes of Mathematics and Engineering these brothers consumed independently. And so it is with billionaires, people only see the billions; they don’t see the values that helped acquire them.
Some more examples
The Canadian, David Thomson, studied History at the University of Cambridge while Masayoshi Son, a Korean National, graduated with a degree in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley. Michael Bloomberg, current mayor of New York City, studied at Johns Hopkins University where he majored in Electrical Engineering, while Jorge Paulo Lemann, a Brazilian, earned a degree in Economics from Harvard University. Alisher Usmanov, a Russian, attended Moscow State Institute of International Relations where he obtained a degree in International Law even as his compatriot Suleyman Kerimov obtained a degree in financial accounting and economics at the Dagestan State University. The Americans, Carl Icahn and Jeff Bezos, studied Philosophy and Electrical Engineering & Computer Science respectively at Princeton University. The aforementioned men have one thing in common, they are all billionaires, and none has a fortune less than five billion United States Dollars (as at 2013-08-19)
Bringing it home
A brief reconnaissance of the Nigerian billionaire landscape reveals realities that are not in any way new. Jim Ovia (Southern Louisiana University, University of Louisiana), the founder of Zenith Bank Group, West Africa’s second largest financial services provider by market capitalization and asset base is not a drop-out. Otunba Mike Adenuga (North Western Oklahoma State University, Pace University) chairman of the first indigenous telecoms company in Nigeria Globacom, Equatorial Trust Bank and Conoil completed university as did Michael Ade Ojo (University of Nigeria, Nsukka) of Toyota Nigeria Limited and Elizade Nigeria Limited. Jimoh Ibrahim (Obafemi Awolowo University, Harvard University) of Global Fleet group and the NICON group is no drop-out just as Otunba Subomi Balogun (London School of Economics) of FCMB and Mr Oba Otudeko (Leeds College of Commerce) chairman of Honeywell group and Bharti Airtel Nigeria isn’t. Pascal Dozie (London School of Economics, City University London.) chairman of Diamond Bank and MTN Nigeria and Hakeem Belo-Osagie (Cambridge University, Oxford University, Harvard Business School) chairman of Etisalat Nigeria also completed their university studies. Fola Adeola, founder of Guaranty Trust Bank, a boardroom guru and business maverick attended Yaba College of Technology. Successful drop-outs who stand out are not the rule; rather, I daresay, they are the exceptions.
Entrepreneurship is the Way
While it is clear that founding an enterprise, establishing a business is the way to go if amassing billions is the aim, it is also clear that if these enterprises become big enough (and they have to be big, if one is to be a billionaire) then the founders will need those with the know-how and technical wherewithal to help them run it. Asides the big conglomerates where the founder also serves as the CEO, other companies have men who have attended tertiary institutions at the helms of affairs. The Fortune 500 companies for example, have executives that earn millions upon millions in dollars as compensation annually, and a few of these men are billionaires. An example is Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google. It is shallow thinking to say a company will only pay you to be comfortable and that no company will pay you to be rich. The truth is that if you have great value to add, and the company is big enough, you will be paid enough to be rich and wealthy. And smart CEOs don’t depend on salary alone; they also receive bonuses, stock options and restricted stock grants. However, one must admit it is better and nicer to do the paying and there is no law that says just because one attended a university, one cannot start a business. If anything, business outfits owned by graduates should be better managed.
Receiving a university education is not a measure of one’s life success and it obviously doesn’t mean without it one cannot ‘make it’, however if one gets the chance, one should grab it with both hands and make the most of it. It becomes even doubly important, when one has no obvious ‘outstanding’ or special talent, emphasis on the word obvious. The absence of a special talent that can elevate one above one’s peers and a lack of clear cut opportunity which if pursued wholeheartedly can project one to wealth makes receiving a thorough and qualitative education more important. ‘Book knowledge’ alone may not guarantee stupendous wealth as can be seen in the case of many University professors but there are numerous examples to prove that it also does not hinder its legitimate accumulation. The fact that the drop-out billionaires have sent, and are still sending their offspring to tertiary institutions is proof enough of its importance. It is also appropriate to echo this; a university degree is not absolute. One must also be aggressive in acquiring skills and knowledge along the way, which is the only true way to become and remain immensely valuable.
Not all drop-outs are billionaires, one must look before leaping.
Thank you for your time!
“Steven Jobs.”. Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 2008
“Bill Gates.”. Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008.