An unqualified success: multi-millionaires who prove you can prosper without a degree

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

What hope is there for the thousands who can't get on a course this year? Plenty, a new rich list suggests

Their legacy may be to donate the word "skillionaire" to the English language.

The "Skillionaires Club", published today, lists 100 people who have made themselves a fortune without ever receiving an academic qualification.

Their success stories have been given added significance this year, with more than 200,000 applicants expected to be turned away from university. The debate continues to rage in political circles over whether the UK is encouraging too many young people to lock themselves into a degree.

All that the 100 have in common is that instead of choosing university they learnt a skill or a trade while working as an apprentice or going to college – that and the fact they have since accumulated vast wealth, making £17.6 billion between them.

Top of the list is Sir Anthony Bamford, the billionaire head of the JCB company. He has already ploughed some of his £2bn fortune back into education, setting up the first of a network of University Technical Colleges which aim to ensure 14 to 19-year-olds who attend also learn a trade.

There are a fair number of celebrities on the list – guitarist Eric Clapton, celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein, motor racing drivers Sir Nigel Mansell and Sir Jackie Stewart, comedian Billy Connolly and fashion designer Stella McCartney all appear.

It is largely a man's world, too, with only seven women in the top 100. One is the Dragon's Den star Deborah Meaden, who runs a range of businesses including the country's oldest textile mill. After leaving school, she left her home in Somerset to study for a diploma at a college in Brighton, a step she said gave her the confidence to pursue a business career.

Another success is Charan Gill, who travelled to Scotland from India at the age of nine. He left school to become a turner and fitter at a Clydeside shipyard before making his money in the Indian restaurant business.

Of his time as an apprentice, he said: "It helped me to know who my customers were because they were basically the people I met in the shipyard." Now his son has just served a four-year apprenticeship as an engineer – not the traditional route for a former independent school pupil. "He is now going to study for a degree while on day release from work," Mr Gill joked.

The list of Britain's top 100 Skillionaires was drawn up by The Sunday Times "rich list" compiler Philip Beresford for City and Guilds.

Self-starters

49: Charlie Mullins

Fortune £55m

Charlie Mullins knew he wanted to be a plumber at the age of nine. Now the 56-year-old, who runs Pimlico Plumbers – often referred to as the "posh people's plumbers" – is worth £55m, according to the list. "I met this local plumber in north London," he recalls. "He had a car and seemed to have a nice lifestyle and money every day. I bunked off school to work for him."

Aged 15 he started a four-year apprenticeship and then set up his own company, which now employs 180 people, has 150 vans and offers 12 apprenticeships.

He has this advice for school leavers considering what to do next: "If you've got a trade, you'll never be out of work. If you've got an apprenticeship, you can't chop and change. I knew people who were getting more money than me but if I hadn't have signed up for four years I'd have left 1,000 times and they would have got rid of me, too."

63: Deborah Meaden

Fortune £40m

Dragon's Den star Deborah Meaden said her decision to go away to college was the first step along a line that gave her the confidence to become a successful businesswoman.

She launched her own glass and ceramics import company after studying for a diploma at a business college. She is now involved in a wide range of businesses, including Fox Brothers, a luxury woollen cloth manufacturer, to fashion designers. She has called for the creation of more apprenticeships, saying that young people she has recruited at Fox thoroughly enjoy the work they do.

94: Charan Gill

Fortune:14m

Charan Gill came to Scotland from India at the age of nine and left school to be an apprentice in a shipyard. He then became involved in an Indian restaurant, starting at the bottom by cleaning the toilets before working his way up and launching a chain of 17 restaurants which he then sold. He now manages a property portfolio. His son is just completing a four-year engineering apprenticeship – not the traditional post-school route for an independent school pupil. Charan believes the apprenticeship helped him to build up a rapport for those who became his potential customers.

46: Mark Pearson

Fortune: £60m

The country's youngest "skillionaire" is the 31-year-old internet entrepreneur Mark Pearson. He runs MyVoucherCodes, an online service which provides discount vouchers to shoppers. He set up his company after having a "brainwave" while searching for a voucher code for a discounted railway ticket five years ago.

1: Sir Anthony Bamford

Fortune: £2.15bn

Britain's richest "skillionaire" is the chairman of the yellow digger maker JCB. Sir Anthony Bamford, whose wealth is valued at £2.15bn, started his working life with a two-year apprenticeship at Massey Ferguson in France in the early 1960s.

JCB itself is valued at £2bn, but Sir Anthony's family also has private assets including a 4,500-acre Staffordshire estate and a 1,500-acre estate in Gloucestershire.

The Top 20

1 Sir Anthony Bamford (industry): £2.15bn

2 Laurence Graff (diamonds): £2bn

3 John Caudwell (mobile phones): £1.5bn

4 Sir James Dyson (industry): £1.45bn

5 Sir Terry Matthews (telecoms): £1.4bn

6 Jim McColl (industry): £570m

7 Trevor Hemmings (property & leisure): £550m

8 Sir David McMurtry (industry): £450m

9 Sir Arnold Clark (car sales): £430m

10 Steve Morgan (property and construction): £400m

11 John Bloor (industry): £385m

12 David Wilson (construction): £360m

13 Ray O'Rourke (construction): £315m

14 Jack Tordoff (car sales): £290m

15 David Hood (electronics): £250m

16 Michael Clare (property & retailing): £237m

17 John Deere (industry): £210m

18 Michael Oglesby (property): £200m

19 Peter Dawson (truck rentals): £187m

20 Ron Dennis (industry & motor sports): £177m

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Guru Careers: Product Training Specialist / Software Trainer

£25 - 32,500K (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Produ...

Recruitment Genius: Unqualified NVQ Assessors - Health, Social Care & Management

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence