Yesterday, at the
funeral of an old friend, a self-made man of humble origins, the Pastor made a
“He never had much
taste for formal schooling, and he left it to start work as soon as he could –
it’s funny how often you hear that about successful businessmen...”
The Pastor, who has
delivered many eulogies, was speaking from his own experience. Most of us who
are in business would say the same.
This can be overstated:
most of us also know successful entrepreneurs who have had the best possible
University education, but there does seem to be a greater proportion of school
dropouts than PhDs among heads of businesses.
Executives who are all
MBAs and Graduates of Ivy League and Russell Group Universities might work for
a man who left formal education at fifteen.
Partly, this is a
generational issue: these days it seems everyone gets a degree.
Yet it is also a
reflection of the fundamental difference between a good executive and a good
The executive needs to
be a conformist, and the universities today are, sadly more than ever, bastions
of conformist thought. They also tend to breed an excessive sense of
The entrepreneur, on
the other hand, must be nonconformist and self-reliant. This sounds more like
the class rebel than the school swot.
The irony is that all
these self-made men tend to express a great respect for formal education.
Perhaps that respect would be less if they had gone through it, and seen how it
can drain them of the very qualities that led to their success.