Entrepreneurs weigh in on whether you need a degree to run your business
Facebook and Microsoft founders Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates popularised the notion that you don't need to have a degree to successfully launch a thriving business, but is this really true? Below are a few comments from South Africans who are successfully running businesses – with and without academic schooling.
There's no point:
Brian Altriche, founder of RocoMamma's restaurants, doesn't value a degree as a prerequisite to achieving success as an entrepreneur. "It is much more important to develop and harness ones' creative skills. However, aspects of a degree could be beneficial as long as it doesn't become a rigid guideline to developing a business."
Mimi Rupp, who qualified as a beautician and runs a business called Stone etc, argues that no education is ever wasted and she does short courses and attends workshops. "In retrospect, not spending 4 or 5 years at university was to my benefit. I got out into the job market far quicker than the average and thus had quite a head start".
Kit Group CEO Andrew Robinson says his BCom taught him "how to read the business section of the newspaper". He says self-education is key and "all the information is out there, you just have to access it. Tertiary institutions teach you to think in a certain way, the same way as everyone else, and it puts you in a box."
Tim Shier, a serial entrepreneur, says university was useful, but not for the reasons that one might expect. He has a Bachelors in Science and notes two subjects helped him with parts of the business, but "their overall impact on my ability to run the business was low". "Going to university was incredibly useful but, academics are not the best way to get an education. Nothing out performs practice and practical experience."
Avi Lasarow, who founded DNAFit, notes a business degree is a nice to have, but is not an essential as running a business can be learnt as you go along through books and networking, among other things. Marco Broccardo, CEO of Colony HQ, argues not having a degree allows him to be a "blank canvas". "I think that if I had any pre-conceived ideas through theory, I may have given up long before I even really got started."
Brett Haggard founder of htxt.africa and Filtered Digital, who has a semi-completed IT degree, has never found this to have hampered him in running a business. "People seem to trade on what you know and the quality of your work, as opposed to whether you have proof of having studied (at least that's the case when you run your own show)". He does, however, regret missing out on graduation because of a missed half course.
Bradley Elliott, MD of Platinum Seed, who has a Bachelor of Commerce degree, says: "With any degree there are bound to be courses that are more beneficial than others. Key understandings, especially in terms of financial and economic principles are extremely helpful in running a business. However, the most valuable part of a degree, in my opinion, is the work ethic and organisation required when you're studying towards a degree."
Mthuthu Msibi, an intern at Bamboo Revolution, says a degree forces you to actually start something, and it helps you to network with the correct people, an asset she says is among her most valuable.
Amy de Castro, owner of Bamboo Revolution, argues a degree is a facilitator in starting a business, but isn't necessary. She benefited from the tools she learnt through her Post Graduate Diploma in Enterprise Management as well as the practical side. "Without a doubt, I found the most valuable part of the diploma to be the practical aspect of actually doing and learning as a result."
Reputation Matters founder Regine le Roux adds BCom provides a "very good overview of the different elements that need to be taken into consideration, especially business communication". However, she notes, "it did take a business coach to help me work 'on the business, as opposed to in the business'".
Carol Taggart, CEO of MSC Business College, says "further education not only develops one's thinking but also assists in getting a foot in the corporate door. In fact, studying after school is a must, as on average, not only does further tertiary education offer graduates more jobs to choose from, but graduates also typically earn more than non-graduates."
Mary Holroyd, Weight Watchers founder, started the company with the equivalent of a Grade 10. She says studying would have been limiting as it would have given her a ceiling, but found her MBA – which she did at the age of 60 – to be useful as it gave her a "more professional helicopter view of my company and tools and structures to better manage the company. We do not need to see tertiary education as an achievement in itself. A tertiary education enables you to better follow your passions and fulfill your goals. A degree or diploma is not a destination – it is an enabling tool."
With such a mixed bag of input, it seems if you do decide to study, choose a degree that will add value to your business.