Money and school don’t always go hand in hand, but it doesn’t hurt to tip the scales in your favor with a good college education. However, sometimes choosing the most appropriate degree is the most difficult part. It can be helpful to seek inspiration from people who have already been successful in your chosen industry.
We have researched and compiled a list of college degrees earned by the richest person in countries across the world.
The map we put together focuses on degrees from the first cycle that the richest people in the world got. There are instances where some of these people have gained qualifications without an undergraduate degree, but all people marked as “no degree” have no tertiary degree at all. Some people also did not graduate, they were marked as “incomplete”. There are also cases where a family is considered “the richest person in the country” and we have marked them based on their family’s cumulative qualifications. Either way, we’ve tried to make the labeling as clear as possible.
The richest man in America is also the richest man in the world, but Jeff Bezos has had a tough 2019. The Amazon boss’s divorce settlement made his ex-wife MacKenzie one of the five richest women in America and the world, allowing Bill Gates to briefly push Jeff out of the top spot. Jeff studied electrical engineering science and computer science at Princeton, and MacKenzie studied English at the same institution a few years later.
The tiny islands of St. Kitts and Nevis matter USANA founder Myron Wentz as their richest resident. However, he was born in the United States and changed his citizenship to the St. Kitts tax haven in the 1990s. This is a marked difference from Bill Gates, who once said, “I paid more taxes, over $10 billion, than anyone else, but the government should be requiring people at my level to pay much higher taxes.”
Samir Mane, the richest person in Albania, did not use his university degree much to build his fortune. He started studying geology in Vienna in 1991 but stopped studying during the first year. He later said, “Basically I learned German there”. However, the language and cultural skills he acquired proved to be useful, as he built his business by exporting inexpensive TVs and VCRs from Austria to his home country.
The richest person in Bulgaria, Vasil Bojkov, has had an interesting education. He attended the Bulgarian National School of Mathematics and used his degrees in applied mathematics and labor economics to boost his business, insurance, and gambling activities. But he also earned a degree in art history at the University of Buenos Aires. Bojkov’s patronage of the arts is renowned, and his delight in beauty and creativity is evident in his famous collection of antiques, as studies are not just about getting rich!
Africa is the continent of youth. Economically, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. In Nigeria, the richest five people have a combined fortune that exceeds the national budget, while six in ten people live on less than $1.25 a day. This disparity can also be traced between different countries. For example, Nigeria’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, has $8.8 billion compared to Liberia’s Benoni Urey, who has “only” $32 million.
Both have made a lot of money by selling loads of things that everyone needs. Dangote graduated in business management and commerce but took his first business lessons in the playground: “I remember when I was in elementary school I would buy boxes of candy, and I was starting to sell them back, just to make money,” he says. His company now supplies 70% of Nigeria’s sugar. Urey studied general science, has business interests in real estate, and owns the largest mobile phone network in Liberia.
The richest person in almost every country in Asia is of the “billionaire” variety. World number one Mukesh Ambani, an Indian, is the boss of his late father’s oil and gas company. Ambani’s background is more scientific than commercial: he studied chemical engineering. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t dare to branch out, and the company recently launched a 4G service. “Everything and everything that can become digital becomes digital,” says Ambani. “India cannot afford to be left behind.
Taiwan, Thailand, China, and Brunei are among the countries whose big billionaires have no degrees at all. In some cases, their wealth comes from royalty. But Li Ka-Shing, the richest man in China and the 30th richest in the world, is a self-taught plastics mogul who started his business on a loan of just $6,500 at age 21. He is known for his philanthropic work and recently pledged HK $1 billion ($127 million) to support businesses affected by the protests in Hong Kong.
Iris Fontbona inherited the mining and drink empire from her husband Andrónico Luksic in 2005. But the richest Latina in the world took the opportunity to drive the family business to ever greater success. Fontbana does not have a degree, but has considerably developed the mining and brewing activities and has also bought majority shares in the Canal 13 television channel.
The richest person in South America (at $24.6 billion) is another brewer. Brazilian Jorge Paulo Lemann owns majority stakes in Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, which in turn owns Pilsner Urquell and Foster’s Lager. But he is the source of his fortune as the founder of the investment company 3G Capital. He got a degree in economics from Harvard, which should make it easier to count all that money.
The richest person in Oceania, Australian Gina Rinehart, started studying economics at the University of Sydney but dropped out to take the practical training in the business of extraction of iron ore from his father. She learned well from what she saw. When her father passed away, leaving behind a bankrupt estate, Rinehart turned the fortunes of the family business, turning it into one of Australia’s leading mining companies.
New Zealander Graeme Hart obtained an MBA from the University of Otago School of Business. Hart was admitted to the school without having obtained an undergraduate degree and therefore on our card is marked as having “no diploma”.
There are not many teachers on our list of the richest people. But Papua New Guinea’s richest person – former Prime Minister Michael Somare – used his educational skills to inspire young minds in several primary and secondary schools before entering politics.
When it comes to developing your career, your degree is not just about what you know, but how your education makes you think. Sometimes the wisest choice is to select a topic that will broaden your understanding of the world and gain your knowledge of the industry through work experience. How does your choice of study relate to your choice of career?