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Success without a college degree

By Kate Lorenz
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( -- Many think the only way to succeed is through education. While piling on the degrees can earn you piles of dough -- and debt -- it's not the only option.

Some of today's most successful people don't have a college degree. But what they lack in academic credentials, they make up for in tenacity, brains, guts and strong business sense.

Richard Branson -- In 1970, Richard Branson founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer, and not long afterward he opened a record shop in London. Two years later, the first Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded "Tubular Bells." Since then many household names, including Ben Harper, Fatboy Slim, Perry Farrell, Gorillaz, Lenny Kravitz, Janet Jackson and The Rolling Stones have helped to make Virgin Music one of the top record companies in the world.

Branson sold the equity of Virgin Music Group -- record labels, music publishing and recording studios -- in 1992 in a $1 billion deal, but he remains chairman of Virgin Group, which today includes Virgin Atlantic, Books, Games, LifeCare, Limousines, Megastores and Hotels.

Barry Diller -- Barry Diller started his career in the mail room of the William Morris Agency after dropping out of UCLA after one semester. He was hired by ABC in 1966 where he created the ABC Movie of the Week, pioneering the concept of the made-for-television movie.

At age 32, he became president of Paramount Pictures, which produced a string of successful television shows (Laverne and Shirley, Taxi, Cheers) and feature films (Saturday Night Fever, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Beverly Hills Cop) under his helm. From 1984 to 1992, he was chairman and CEO of Fox Studios and was responsible for creating the Fox Broadcasting Company. Today, Diller is the chairman of Expedia and the chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp, which includes Citysearch, Evite, Home Shopping Network, Lending Tree, and Ticketmaster .

Matt Drudge -- Pundit, blogger and radio personality Matt Drudge is best known as the proprietor of the Drudge Report Web site. "The only good grades I got in school were for current events," he has said of his education. Drudge opted out of college and floated among a number of odd jobs including convenience store clerk, book salesman and grocery store sales assistant.

In 1989, he moved to Los Angeles and took a job in the gift shop of CBS studios, eventually working his way up to manager. The inside scoop he learned while in this position was allegedly part of the inspiration for founding his gossip rag The Drudge Report. The tabloid made gained notoriety when it was the first to break the news of a relationship between White House intern Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Janus Friis -- Named to Time Magazine's 2006 list of 100 most influential people, Janus Friis holds no formal education. He worked at the help desk of CyberCity, one of Denmark's first ISPs and later worked at Tele2, the leading alternative consumer oriented pan-European telecom operator. It was at Tele2 where Friis met Niklas Zennström, with whom he co-founded the file-sharing application KaZaA and Skype, the peer-to-peer telephony application. In early 2006, Friis and Zennström sold Skype to eBay for $2.6 billion.

Rachael Ray -- Rachael Ray's career started at Macy's department store, first at the candy counter and then as the manager of the fresh foods department. Ray quickly followed with stints in gourmet markets and restaurants in New York. At gourmet food market Cowan & Lobel, she began a series of cooking classes -- 30 Minute Meals. Those classes became so popular that she was soon doing weekly segments for the evening news.

Today, Ray is an Emmy-winning television personality who hosts a nationally syndicated talk show and four different programs the Food Network, publishes her own magazine, and has written multiple cookbooks.

Jeff Valdez, Founder SiTV -- Named one of AdAge's Marketing 50 in 2005, Jeff Valdez grew up the youngest of nine children in a housing project in Pueblo, Colorado. At 18, he moved to Colorado Springs, where he made mobile homes, worked as a janitor, and took a job in a drill-bit factory. After hurting his thumb in a machine at the factory, Valdez went on the road as a drummer with a lounge band called Wildfire. After about 10 years of touring, Valdez returned to Colorado Springs and opened the Comedy Corner a club showcasing up-and-coming comedians, including Roseanne Barr. He became well-enough known around town to run for a failed bid for mayor in 1990. But in 2004, he launched Si TV, the first all-English language network targeting a Hispanic audience.

Anna Wintour -- Best identified by her trademark sunglasses and pageboy hairstyle, Anna Wintour is an icon of the fashion world. She reportedly attended North London Collegiate School, but never graduated. She started in 1970 working in the fashion department of Harpers and Queen in London. In 1976, she was named fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar, followed by a brief stint at New York Magazine, three years as creative director of American Vogue, and finally named editor of British Vogue in 1986.

In 1998, she became editor-in-chief of American Vogue. Wintour's work style is so notorious, the novel "The Devil Wears Prada" and its subsequent motion picture are said to be based on her. In recent years, she's focused on many philanthropic endeavors including raising more than $10 million for AIDS, putting Vogue's support behind women-owned businesses in Kabul, Afganistan, and promoting various post-9/11 campaigns.

Sources: Virgin Group Web site, "Tavis Smiley" on PBS,, Washington Post Company Web site, Museum of Broadcast Communications,,,,,

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