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Do you need a degree to run a business?

3-minute read

Do you need a degree to run a business?
Mark James

Mark James

2 July 2015

We take a look at some entrepreneurial masterminds in an attempt to answer the burning question.

For many, a degree now feels like a necessity. But as the business world shows us time and time again university isn’t the only way to success. These days, hands-on experience is being valued more than years spent listening to lectures. What lessons can we take from some of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs and their routes to success?

Sir Philip Green

As British entrepreneurs go they don’t come much bigger than Philip Green – current chairman of retail juggernaut the Arcadia Group.

Taught at a posh boarding school at the cost of a wealthy family, you’d have probably expected Green to follow the academic route. Business however had a bigger draw and aged 15 he left school, opting to take a job on the forecourt of his mother’s petrol station.

A job in a shoe warehouse followed until he went it alone aged 23, when he decided to set up his own business importing and selling jeans. The rest they say is history, those formative years vital according to Green. "I was never going to be a scholar” he’s admitted, a lack of schooling doing him no harm.

Martha Lane Fox

A former student of Magdalen College, Oxford where she studied ancient and modern history, it’s fair to say that Lane Fox is one entrepreneur with a weighty academic past.

Co-founder of she was of one Britain’s first web entrepreneurs, her ability to see the internet’s capabilities earning her millions. Could she have done it without a degree? It’s impossible to ever know. But without one she might have never met fellow Oxford grad Brent Hoberman – her Co-founder.

Oxford University still proudly point to her as an inspirational former student, and it’s clear that her time there shaped her later business career. It gave her much more than a grounding in history and improved her employment prospects, bringing new connections and opportunities to work with other visionaries.

Michelle Mone

Michelle’s life story reads like a Hollywood script, so much so in fact it’s set to be turned into feature film. Full of massive highs, massive lows, and endless twists and turns, any university scenes will be lacking, as she didn’t go.

She left education at 15 just like Sir Philip Green, opting to try her luck at a modelling career. This was pretty short-lived however as she fell pregnant aged 18, her new responsibilities forcing her to become a stay-at-home mum. During this time her new family survived on a paltry £13,000 per year, with Mone “stuck at home, in a wee flat, with no TV, skint”.

With no qualifications to her name getting a job was pretty tricky, but she managed to blag a job at a local brewing company. Her rise there was meteoric and she was head of marketing within three years, but it all ended abruptly in her early twenties when she was made redundant.

Rather than viewing this as a setback she saw this as an opportunity. Armed with the cash from her redundancy payout she set up the lingerie company Ultimo, and by the age of 23 - around the time most are finishing uni - she was running her own lucrative business.

“It doesn't matter where you're from or if you manage to get the best education or not” she stated in an interview recently, and looking at her story it’s clear to see a degree isn’t a business essential.

The Reuben Brothers

You’ve probably never heard of them given their fierce commitments to privacy, but with their £5 billion wealth David and Simon Reuben are two of the richest businessmen in the UK.

University appealed to neither, with David joining the scrap metal trade at 17, and Simon starting a career in the carpet trade straight from school. From here they worked hard in their respective fields earning and saving cash, until they had raised enough to get into other areas like foreign investment and property.

Here they were mightily successful – despite the lack of a degree – their achievements yet more proof that great business minds don’t need to built at university.

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