At Harvard Business School, he managed no better than average grades. With some embarrassment, he recalls being more impressed by who had made the cut and gotten into BS than their actual abilities. Just 12 weeks before graduating with his MBA, he had no plan or idea on how to turn his expensive education into a living. He didn’t even sign up for a single recruiting interview on campus.
Yet today, he is the richest MBA on the planet. Michael Bloomberg, who graduated with his Harvard MBA in 1966, boasts a net worth of $59 billion, a fortune that makes the HBS alum the 20th wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes. And even more startlingly, the moment that led him to his wealth was one that few would ever want to experience: He was unexpectedly fired by the company that had hired him straight out of Harvard Business School. At the age of 39, Bloomberg found himself terminated from the only full-time job he had ever had.
He gained a highly valuable concession prize, however: $10 million in severance after 15 years of 12-hour days and six-day weeks at what was then Wall Street’s hottest firm, Salomon Brothers. The payout, in cash and convertible bonds, gave Bloomberg the freedom to start in 1981 the company that is the source of his great wealth. Leveraging the revolution in financial information, Innovative Market Systems would later become Bloomberg LP and pretty much own the market with the Bloomberg Terminal which sits on the desks of 325,000 analysts, traders and portfolio managers around the world.
THE MBA BILLIONAIRE BUNCH
Bloomberg is among a bevy of billionaires with MBA degrees. Currently, nine of the top 100 wealthiest people in the world have an MBA, with a majority of them–five in all–from Harvard Business School. Not surprisingly, Harvard’s West Coast rival, Stanford Graduate School of Business, is next with two MBAs among the top 100. But MBAs billionaires abound from many business schools including the University of Iowa, Wake Forest University, the University of London, and the University of Cincinnati, among others. All told, there are at least 18 MBA graduates among the top 250, and billionaire MBAs are littered throughout the 2,755 billionaires on Forbes 2021 rich list, which expanded by 660 more than a year earlier.
Right behind Bloomberg on the Forbes list is Stanford MBA Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, with a fortune valued at $50 billion, placing him 25th on the list, five places behind Bloomberg. Ukrainian-born Len Blavatnik, who earned his MBA from Harvard in 1989, has an estimated net worth of $32 billion which puts him 46th on the Forbes rich list and the wealthiest person in the United Kingdom thanks to a conglomerate he founded. A 1972 Harvard MBA, Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder and CEO of The Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private equity players, is worth $21.9 billion. That fortune makes him the 79th richest person in the world, according to Forbes.
Yet another Harvard MBA, Abigail Johnson, a 1988 graduate and the CEO of Fidelity Investments, the investment firm founded by her grandfather, has racked up a fortune of $20.9 billion (85th on the Forbes rich list). She joins HBS alum Ray Dalio, with his $20.3 billion in wealth, who graduated from Harvard Business School with his MBA in 1973. After his first year at Harvard, Dalio and his friends created the company that later became Bridgewater Associates, a firm meant to trade commodities that became the largest hedge fund in the world. Among this super rich crowd, Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has an MBA from Duke Fuqua, is a mere piker, coming in at 2,263rd on the Forbes rich list with a net worth of $1.3 billion.
TWO STANFORD MBA DROPOUTS ARE AMONG THE RICHEST 15 PERSONS IN THE WORLD
But you obviously don’t have to have an MBA from Harvard and Stanford to be among the billionaire class. Alexey Mordashov, with a net wealth of $29.1 billion (51st on the Forbes list) earned his MBA from Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. German-born Susanne Klatten and an MBA from IMD in Switzerland, accumulated her $27.7 billion fortune after her father’s death led to an inheritance and majority control of the pharmaceutical and chemicals maker Altana and a big stake in BMW.
Interestingly enough, at least two of the richest people in the world dropped out of their MBA programs at Stanford: The petrochemicals billionaire Mukesh Ambani and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who answered Bill Gates call to join him as business manager of Microsoft. With is $68.7 billion in wealth, Ballmer is believed to be the 14th richest individual on earth. Ambani, with an estimated $84.5 billion net worth, is tenth on the Forbes list, making him the wealthiest person in India.
It’s fair to say that few MBAs made their way onto Forbes rich list as a result of their degree, though for some it was a crucial step toward their eventual fortunes. In his memoir, Bloomberg on Bloomberg, the HBS alum says that his two years in Boston were well spent, teaching I’m the basics of accounting, marketing, production, management, control, finance, and behavioral science. And he found the case study approach highly valuable. “There’s nothing as educational as the instantaneous feedback of a hundred classmates shouting you down when you’re caught unprepared or can’t justify a position,” he wrote.
BLOOMBERG: ‘A FEW OF MY HBS CLASSMATES WERE TOTAL FRAUDS WHO COULD ONLY TALK A GOOD GAME’
But in his Harvard classes, he also collided with people he regarded as posers and “bullshitters.”
“The academic standards there were superior, but not what I’d call outstanding,” he recalled in his book. “There were some very bright students in my class, some classmates I thought ‘not exactly intellectually gifted,’ and a few that I considered total frauds who could only talk a good game. From today’s vantage point, thirty years later, those whom I thought were smart generally did well later in life; those whom I considered dummies did less well. The bullshitters faded away. Street smarts and common sense, it turned out were better predictors of career achievements after graduation than academic success. Given that I received average grades at ‘the B-school,’ I don’t exactly mind.”