These are the richest Americans who never went to college

Most American billionaires have a college degree, but these self-made superstars built their fortunes with just a high school diploma, or even that.

JImmy John Liautaud opened the first Jimmy John’s sandwich shop in January 1983, just months after graduating from high school. Liautaud’s army veteran father gave him the choice of enlisting or starting a business after high school. He chose the latter.

Liautaud struggled in his high school classes due to undiagnosed dyslexia. He was ‘a real street kid,’ he says of growing up in Cary, Illinois, which taught him a lot about hierarchy, honor and ‘the efficiency of being honest’ .

“You have to be right on the street,” says Liautaud, a lesson he applies to being a successful businessman. “When you say you’re going to show up at three o’clock, you show up at three o’clock. When you say you’re going to do something, you do it.

The business took off, and in 2016 Liautaud sold an estimated 65% stake in Jimmy John’s to private equity firm Roark Capital in a deal that valued the company at $3 billion. He sold his remaining Jimmy John stake in 2019 to Inspire Brands, a branch of Roark Capital, for an undisclosed amount. Worth an estimated $1.7 billion, Liautaud is one of 24 of approximately 700 American billionaires who graduated from high school but never attended college (not counting those who signed up and dropped out, like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates).

Diane Hendricks, America’s richest self-made businesswoman, was forced out of school at 17 after becoming pregnant, but made sure she got her GED. She married the father but the couple divorced three years later. The young single mother got a job as a waitress at a local Playboy Club and later sold real estate before co-founding roofing supply distributor ABC Supply in 1982. Not going to college, she says, the made it more entrepreneurial. “I created my own learning opportunities. I found patterns. I learned by doing and from my mistakes,” Hendricks says via email. “Pursuing a career is much more important than pursuing an education.”

Two of his seven children also chose not to attend college. “My two sons immediately got to work,” says Hendricks. “Our family strongly believes that all work, all jobs have value, whether or not they require a college degree.”

Another notable high school grad who debuted among the nation’s wealthiest in recent years is Mailchimp’s Dan Kurzius. He was a part-time DJ, competitive skateboarder, and worked in real estate before getting into web design with co-founder Ben Chestnut. He and Chestnut had both witnessed the difficulties of small businesses (his father ran a bakery-grocery that went bankrupt) and started Mailchimp, never raising money from investors. In September 2021, financial software giant Intuit announced that it was buying Mailchimp for $12 billion in cash and stock.

The richest person in the country to have made his fortune without going to college is oil tycoon Harold Hamm. The youngest of 13 children, Hamm grew up on a farm in Oklahoma, picking cotton as a child and working at a gas station as a teenager. He eventually started his own trucking business to haul water to the oil fields, and in 1971, when Hamm was 25, took out a loan to drill his first well, launching his career in oil drilling. Currently chairman and chief executive of oil producer Continental Resources, he is worth $21.1 billion and ranks 28th on the recently released Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans.

In addition to the two dozen billionaires who only have a high school diploma, there are three billionaires who never even graduated: former hairstylist and founder of OGX hair care products Todd Christopher, cable TV pioneer Alan Gerry and David Murdock of Dole Foods.

Although the wealth accumulated by these billionaires is anything but average, their level of education resembles that of many Americans. About 28% of Americans say a high school diploma is their highest level of education, and nearly 9% have never graduated from high school. More than three-fifths of Americans have not earned a bachelor’s degree, according to 2022 US Census Bureau data.

“University plays a role, for sure,” says Liautaud, “but I think everything plays a role, and I don’t think it’s a big thing. I think it’s a thousand little things that make people successful.”

Here are the American billionaires who amassed their fortunes without attending college. (Net worth is as of October 11, 2022.)

Harold Ham

Net value : $21.1 billion

Wealth source: petroleum gas

Residence: Oklahoma City, OK

David Green

Net value : $13.2 billion

Wealth source: Hobby Lobby Stores

Residence: Oklahoma City, OK

Diane Hendricks

Net value : $11.5 billion

Wealth source: building Provisions

Residence: Afton, Wis.

Christy Walton

Net value : $9.7 billion

Wealth source: walmart

Residence: Jackson, Wyoming

Don Vultaggio

Net value : $6.6 billion

Wealth source: Arizona Drinks

Residence: Port Washington, New York

Dennis Washington

Net value : $6.3 billion

Wealth source: Construction, mining

Residence: Missoula, Montana

Archie Aldis Emmerson

Net value : $5.5 billion

Wealth source: Timberland, sawmills

Residence: Redding, California

Gaelle Benson

Net value : $4.7 billion

Wealth source: New Orleans Saints

Residence: New Orleans, LA

Ronald Wanek

Net value : $4.5 billion

Wealth source: Furniture

Residence: St. Petersburg, Florida

Marianne Ilitch

Net value : $4.3 billion

Wealth source: Pizza Small Caesars

Residence: Bingham Farms, Michigan

Dan Kurzius

Net value : $4 billion

Wealth source: Advertising by e-mail

Residence: Atlanta, Georgia

Isaac Perlmutter

Net value : $4 billion

Wealth source: Marvel Comics

Residence: Palm Beach, Florida

Richard Schulze

Net value : $3.4 billion

Wealth source: best buy

Residence: Bonita Springs, Florida

Bill Austin

Net value : $3.1 billion

Wealth source: Hearing aids

Residence: Brownsville, TX

Ron Burkel

Net value : $3 billion

Wealth source: Supermarkets, investments

Residence: London, United Kingdom

Todd Christopher

Net value : $3 billion

Wealth source: Hair care products

Residence: Clearwater, Florida

Jean-Paul DeJoria

Net value : $2.9 billion

Wealth source: Hair products, tequila

Residence: Austin, TX

Haim Saban

Net value : $2.9 billion

Wealth source: TV network, investments

Residence: Beverly Hills, California

Sean Parker

Net value : $2.8 billion

Wealth source: Facebook

Residence: Los Angeles, CA

S. Daniel Abraham

Net value : $2.5 billion

Wealth source: Slim-Fast

Residence: Palm Beach, Florida

david murdock

Net value : $2.2 billion

Wealth source: Dole, real estate

Residence: Ventura, California

James Leprino

Net value : $1.9 billion

Wealth source: Cheese

Residence: Indian Hills, CO

Jimmy John Liautaud

Net value : $1.7 billion

Wealth source: Sandwich chain

Residence: Key Largo, Florida

Alan Gerry

Net value : $1.5 billion

Wealth source: Cable television

Residence: Liberty, NY

Darwin Deaison

Net value : $1.4 billion

Wealth source: Software

Residence: Dallas, TX

Farris Wilk

Net value : $1.3 billion

Wealth source: Natural gas

Residence: Cisco, TX

Dan Wilk

Net value : $1.3 billion

Wealth source: Natural gas

Residence: Cico, TX

Over Forbes 400

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