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How important is education? 5 Aussie business leaders who left school early

In the world of business, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of self-made individuals who defied conventional education and carved their own path to success. Everyone knows the stories about how Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg became two of the richest people in the world - despite never finishing their college degrees. Thanks to the rise of technology and social media, there are now multitudes of free, practical resources from the greatest business minds in the world available to anyone with a laptop and solid wi-fi connection. So, it begs the question - how important is formal education in becoming a successful entrepreneur and business leader? Put simply, not very.

In the world of business, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of self-made individuals who defied conventional education and carved their own path to success. Everyone knows the stories about how Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg became two of the richest people in the world - despite never finishing their college degrees. Thanks to the rise of technology and social media, there are now multitudes of free, practical resources from the greatest business minds in the world available to anyone with a laptop and solid wi-fi connection. So, it begs the question - how important is formal education in becoming a successful entrepreneur and business leader? Put simply, not very.

1. Melanie Perkins

Melanie Perkins is the CEO and co-founder of the global graphic design platform, Canva. Perkin’s entrepreneurial drive started from just fourteen, when she began her first business selling handmade scarves at local markets. In an interview with Entrepreneur, she said she ‘never forgot the freedom and excitement of being able to build a business.’ Yet, it wasn’t until university that Perkin’s was inspired to endeavour a second venture. Working as a design tutor, she noticed the struggle and wasted time students spent trying to learn design programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft. She believed there was a business opportunity in making the design process easier and at 19, she dropped out of her course to pursue her first business, Fusion Books. This innovative platform allowed students to design and customise their school yearbooks with a simple template and drag-and-drop tool. The business was a booming success and a stepping stone to launch the all-in-one design platform, Canva. Perkin’s success comes down to her ignorance of intimidation. By having big ideas and chasing after them, she is consistently motivated to word harder and dream bigger.

2. Lindsay Fox

Lindsay Fox, a transportation tycoon, is proof that formal education isn’t a prerequisite for building a business empire. Fox left school at just 16 and took a job as a truck driver. He saved enough money to purchase his first truck, and from there, he started Fox Transport. Over the years, he expanded his transport business into logistics and development - forming Linfix, one of Australia’s largest privately-owned logistics companies. His infamous slogan, ‘you’re passing another FOX’, is now seen in over 11 countries, delivering sophisticated logistics services to some of the world’s largest companies. Fox’s work ethic, determination and ability to spot lucrative opportunities secured him a spot as one of Australia’s most successful business leaders and continues to instil the Linfox company today. In 2016, the company launched a new business strategy called Outfox which focuses on innovation and agile solutions to drive sustainable growth. It is part of their strategy to remain at the forefront of industry research, while ensuring Linfox and their clients are prepared for the future.

3. Janine Allis

Janine Allis is the founder of Boost Juice Bars, a global franchise that began without a high school graduation or business degree. As a teenager, Allis had a thirst for adventure and travel and so, dropped out in grade eleven to see the world. In 2000, she returned to Aussie shores and embarked on her business journey with a brilliantly simple idea: make healthy living tasty and fun - and that’s when Boost Juice Bars was born. Allis may have began selling juice and smoothies from her Adelaide home, but her brand rapidly grew into one of the most popular healthy fast food brands in the world. Now, Boost boasts over 580 stores across 13 different countries (and counting). Riding on the back of her knack for foodie businesses, Allis and her husband decided to diversify her operations and started a holding company called Retail Zoo, which they use to acquire and grow other retail food chains. She believes the winning formula as a small business owner is to stick to your values, build the right team, listen to your clients and market like you’re bigger than you are. It’s this humble approach, as well as her entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity that have earned her recognition as one of Australia's most influential business figures.

4. John Ilhan

Heralding from the working class, John Ilhan left an indelible mark on both the business world and the community he served. Ilhan was born in Turkey and raised in Melbourne, facing a tough school life and developing a ‘survival of the fittest’ mindset from an early age. After just one year at university and a two-week stint working alongside his parents at a Ford production line, Ilhan made the move into the world of sales. He noticed he had a flair for connecting with people, earning their trust and fostering loyalty by always doing the right thing by them. It might sound like a simple philosophy, but it paved the way for Crazy John's, a pioneering mobile phone retail chain, which quickly became a household name in Australia. Ilhan described his first few years in business as ‘a blur…because I spent all day, all night in the shop, worrying about every cent. I used to sleep in the store on the floor.’ However, his innovative approach and unwavering commitment to customer service propelled Crazy John's to the forefront of the telecommunications industry. Ilhan was named Australia’s richest person under 40 in 2003 with a net worth of $200 million. Beyond his business acumen, Ilhan was admired for his generosity and dedication to giving back. His philanthropic endeavours ranged from supporting educational initiatives to contributing to medical research. Tragically, Ilhan's life was cut short at the age of 42, but his legacy endures through the impact he made on countless individuals and the lasting contributions he made to society.

5. Richard Branson

While he wasn’t born on our shores - it’s difficult to ignore Richard Branson’s impact on Australian business as the owner of the Virgin Group. At just 16, Branson left school due to dyslexia-related struggles. He had already begun his first magazine, called Student, which sold almost $8000 worth of advertising in the first issue. With the booming success of his magazine, he expanded his portfolio with a mail-order record business. Alongside his 20 employees, they coined the name Virgin and his conglomerate began. It was Branson’s adventurous spirit, persistence and willingness to take risks that made him one of the world’s most recognised and admired entrepreneurs. He never allowed inexperience to deter him from chasing success. Afterall, he named his company Virgin because he was new to the business.

"A person's value as an employee and a business owner goes far beyond their education,” says David Crook, Managing Director at Nero Financial. “The modern business world has coined them as ‘soft skills’ - but I like to call them survival skills. It’s the ability to network, negotiate and adapt that truly leads to success."

Do you have a business idea? Here at Nero, we’re proud to help Australian entrepreneurs find the finance backing they need to succeed. Speak to our expert team or call us on 1300 025 949 to get the ball rolling today.