Whether you're a student or not, you've heard that getting a higher education will make a difference in earnings over your lifetime. Sure, some millionaires and billionaires have dropped out of college (e.g., Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, worth $35B) or even high school and have still done exceptionally well in life.
Several billionaires dropped out of their PhD programs to deal with success: Larry Page ($29.5B) and Sergey Brin ($29B), both co-founders of Google; Elon Musk ($12.2B; co-founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Solar City). Brin and Page were in Computer Science at Stanford, while Musk was in Applied Physics at Stanford. Had Page and Brin completed their doctorate degrees, they would have been near the top of this list, just below S. Robson Walton of the Walton billionaire clan.
On the flip side, while we can't guarantee attending one of the top online doctoral programs will make you a millionaire or billionaire, some have gone as far as completing one or more master's degrees and a PhD. We've put together a list of 20 of the wealthiest PhD holders in world. Except for Robert Gore (#20) and John C. Martin (#19), everyone on this list is a confirmed billionaire (cross-referenced against Forbes). Yet, Gore is part of a family that is worth $5.8B, and Martin was in fact declared a billionaire in early 2014.
- Net worth values are estimates only and can fluctuate wildly in just a few days — or even in a single day. The net worth data here was retrieved on Feb 19, 2015.
- In the United States, a JD (Juris Doctor, aka Doctor of Jurisprudence) is a law degree that is equivalent to a professional doctorate. For that reason, some people listed here have a JD, not a PhD.
- In some countries, an MD (Doctor of Medicine) is equivalent to a professional doctorate, but not in the United States. There is, however, an MD-PhD degree, and some people listed here hold such a degree. Since the majority of people on this list are American citizens, MD-only holder billionaires are not included.
- This is not necessarily a comprehensive list, as the supposed net worth of some billionaire PhD holders was not confirmed and thus left out.
- Several billionaire PhDs have passed away in recent years, including Amar G. Bose, founder of Bose Corp. (speaker systems, home entertainment systems); James Stewart, a Canadian mathematician who incorporated elements of Calculus (mathematical topic) into the architecture of his mansion; and Ray Dolby, founder of Dolby Laboratories (movie theater and home sound systems).
20. Robert Gore / University of Minnesota
Robert Gore is an engineer and scientist, and co-inventor (with father Bill Gore) of Gore-Tex waterproof fabric, an application of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). Other applications of PTFE that the company has produced are for electrical wire insulation, medical use and more. Gore-Tex itself is often used for sporting gear. PTFE applications and particularly Gore-Tex have been a significant party of the Gore family's wealth — estimated at $5.3B as of Jul 2014. Since the passing of Bill Gore, the money was divided up amongst the children of Bob and those of his siblings. Bob Gore's net worth, is listed at $800M by Business Insider as of Oct 30, 2013, and as he is not on Forbes' Billionaires list at the time of this writing, he is likely not a billionaire at present.
Gore completed a bachelor's in chemical engineering at University of Delaware, and an MS and PhD (1963) in chemical engineering from University of Minnesota (U of M). U of M, located in the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in the state of Minnesota, was established in 1851. It is a public university that is divided into these two campuses, about five miles from each other.
19. John C. Martin / University of Chicago
John C Martin has been the CEO since 1996 of Gilead Sciences, a drug and biotech firm. He also held the role of President from 1996 to 2008, then took on the Chairman role. He has held other Chairman roles, is currently a Director of Gilead and was a Director of California Healthcare Institute, has held several other executive roles at various companies and organizations, and was a on the Presidential Advisory Council. It's hard to pinpoint Martin's exact net worth as Mar 2014 Bloomberg article declared him a new billionaire (after 25 years with Gilead) at $1.2B, yet he is not listed on Forbes' Billionaire's list at the time of this writing. Our estimate based on the shares and options he holds, plus the net from previous exercising of options, suggests that he is worth between $800M and just under $1B.
Martin graduated with a BS from Purdue University, an MBA in marketing from Golden Gate University, and a PhD in organic chemistry (1977) from University of Chicago (U of C). The U of C, located in Chicago, Illinois, was established in 1890. It is a private research university funded with a donation by oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller.
18. Leonard S. Schleifer / University of Virginia
Leonard Schleifer is a co-founder, CEO, Director and President of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Thanks to his roles there, he is one of the highest-paid American CEOs and became a billionaire for the first time in early 2014, 25 years after co-founding Regeneron. The company had a few early setbacks in trying to find cures for Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) and obesity. After changing their strategy, the company started to see successes, including for macular (eye) degeneration, cholesterol, and others. His current net worth is $1.4B.
Schleifer completed a BS at Cornell University, and an MD-PhD at University of Virginia (UVA), after which he did a stint at Cornell's New York Hospital. UVA, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, was established in 1819. It is a public, flagship, very-high research activity university. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both served as rectors at UVA.
17. Todd R. Wagner / University of Virginia
You've likely heard that when startups successfully go public or get sold, some employees become millionaires or even billionaires. In the case of Broadcast.com (originally AudioNet), co-founded by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban, all 300 employees became millionaires when it was sold to Yahoo, according to Forbes. Wagner, who spent time as a CPA in Texas, is partnered with Mark Cuban in 2929 Entertainment, and the pair have invested in theaters, movie production companies and more. He also founded a charitable foundation for underprivileged children, and his Chideo charity videos network provides paid access to videos by celebrities, with 80% of proceeds after fees going to various charities. His net worth is $1.5B.
Wagner earned a bachelor's at Indiana University and JD (Juris Doctor/ Doctor of Jurisprudence) at University of Virginia (UVA). UVA is also the doctorate institution of Leonard Schleifer (see #18, above).
16. Henry T. Nicholas III / UCLA
Henry Thompson Nicholas III cofounded Broadcom Corp (with Henry Samueli; see #15), a Fortune 500 company as of 2009, and a semiconductor supplier — one of the largest in the world in the category of broadband and wireless technology. His former roles at Broadcom including Co-Chairman, President and CEO. In recent years, he has focused on philanthropy an advocating victims rights. He founded Nicholas Academic Centers – which prepare students for top colleges – and Henry T. Nicholas foundation – which funds community causes and various programs. He declared in 2007 that he planned to give away over $100M. His net worth is $1.7B.
Nicholas earned a bachelor's, master's and doctorate in electrical engineering at UCLA, just like his Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli (see #15, below). However, they met not at UCLA but at TRW Inc., and aerospace and defense communications company. UCLA was established in 1882 as the State Normal School at Los Angeles, became the University of California Southern Branch in 1919, and finally the third campus in the University of California system in 1927, as UCLA. It is a public research university and the largest by enrollment of the UC system, as well boasting more undergrad applications for Fall 2015 than any university in the U.S.
15. Henry Samueli / UCLA
Henry Samueli wears many hats. In addition to being a co-founder of Broadcom Corp (with Henry Nicholas; see #16, above), a former CEO of the company and current Chairman and CTO, he also co-founded PairGain Technologies, a telecom equipment company. Samueli received the Marconi Society Prize in 2012 for innovation, partly for the fact that he holds over 70 patents. He is co-owner of NHL hockey team Anaheim Ducks (formerly Anaheim Mighty Ducks; purchased from Disney) with his wife Susan, and has a net worth of $2.4B.
Samueli completed a BS, MS and PhD (1980) in electrical engineering at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Thanks to donations of $30M and $20M, he has schools of engineering in his name at UCLA (where he has taught electrical engineering) and at UC Irvine (where he is an adjunct professor), respectively. A memorial library for his parents, who were Holocaust survivors, is situated at Chapman University.
14. Romesh T. Wadhwani / Carnegie Mellon University
Romesh Wadhwani is the founder, CEO and executive chairman of Symphony Technology Group, a private equity firm which invests in and/or oversees over two dozen Internet companies including Shopzilla Inc through Connexity. He also founded Aspect Development Inc., which was sold to i2 Technologies in 2000, and is on a number of boards of directors. His net worth is $2.5B. Some of his wealth is used for philanthropy through the Wadhwani Foundation, which provides for training and entrepreneurship programs in India. He also signed Bill Gates' and Warren Buffet's Giving Pledge. For his philanthropy, Forbes India gave him the "Non-Resident Philanthrophist Award."
Wadhwani has a BS from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay and an MS and PhD in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). CMU, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was establish in 1900 by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, originally as Carnegie Technical Schools, later Carnegie Institute of Technology, and then by its current name.
13. Min Kao / University of Tennessee
Min Kao (aka Min-Hwan Kao) is a co-founder of Garmin Corp (1989), with Gary Burrell). Garmin Corp is a maker of satellite navigation systems for planes, cars, boats, pets and more. The comapany name is a mashup of the founders' collective first names, GARy and MIN. The Garmin GPS receiver was the first of its kind to be approved by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Kao stepped down from his CEO role at Garmin near the end of 2012, but remains as executive chairman. His net worth is $2.8B.
Kao earned a bachelor's degree from National Taiwan University, and an MS and PhD in electrical engineering from University of Tennessee, Knoxville — to which he donated a $17.5M endowment to U Tenn, resulting in the Min Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science building (open as of 2012).
12. David Ross Cheriton / University of Waterloo
David Cheriton could quite possibly be one of the most laid-back billionaires, sporting a bearded, sweater-wearing professor look, cutting his own hair, driving an old Volkswagen beetle and supposedly being quite frugal with his money in general, which once earned him a "cheapskate billionaire" moniker) His net worth was at $1.7B as of Mar 2013, reached $3.3B in Sept 2014 but is $2.9B as of Feb 2015 (with at least $1B of that being from his Google shares). Fortunately, he was willing to invest $100,000 of his own money in 1998 to promote the idea of two young Stanford PhD students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google with that money. (Another $100K was funded by Andy Bechtolsheim, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems.) Cheriton has also founded/ co-founded or funded several other tech startups, including OptumSoft, Granite Systems, Kealia and Arista Networks (which went IPO in 2014 and gained him an extra $540M in net worth in a few short months).
Cheriton completed a BA in mathematics at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) and an MS and PhD at the University of Waterloo (Canada). To the latter, he later donated $25M in 2005 to the computer science department, which was renamed after him as the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. He initially taught at his alma mater, where he had been rejected entry to the music department, then he went to teach at Stanford University in 1981. University of Waterloo, located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, was established in 1956. It is a highly prestigious especially for its engineering, math and computer science programs, and its graduates have spawned a number of startups in the "Technology Triangle" of the region — sometimes referred to as Silicon Valley North.
11. John N. Kapoor / University at Buffalo
John Kapoor is the founder and executive chairman of pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics, and a stakeholder and chairman of Akorn Inc. Insys, a drugmaker for cancer patients, went public in May 2013 and has had its shares rise in value over the last few years, making Kapoor a billionaire as of late 2013. His current net worth is $3.1B. He also serves or has served on other boards of directors in various capacities, founded and is President of EJ Financial Enterprises (healthcare startup venture capital firm), owns a number of Indian and Japanese restaurants, and has a cancer-related charity, the John and Editha Kapoor Charitable Foundation — which honors his wife Editha, who passed away from breast cancer.
Kapoor earned a BS in pharmacy at Bombay University and a Ph.D in medicinal chemistry (1972) at SUNY Buffalo (UB or University at Buffalo, SUNY), to whom he has donated nearly $11M. UB, located in Buffalo, New York, was established in 1846, originally as a private college. It is a public research university, has several campuses, and is the largest in the SUNY system by enrollment. Amongst associated alumni and faculty are a U.S. president, Canadian prime minister, Nobel Laureates, and numerous varied award winners.
10. William Ingraham Koch / MIT
William Ingraham Koch (aka Bill Koch) is one of four brothers and twin to the more famous David (who with brother Charles is known as "the Koch Brothers"). A fourth brother is Frederick, and their father, Fred Chase Koch, founded Koch Industries, which was initially based on oil refining. (Grandfather Harry Koch founded a newspaper and was an initial shareholder of QA&P Railway, which later merged with Burlington Northern Railroad). When Bill tried to take over the family business in 1980, his brothers fired him, after which he sold his stake for mearly $500M and founded Oxbow Carbon. He's had a side endeavor of convicting wine counterfeiters – spending millions doing so – as well as yacht racing, in which he won an America's Cup race in 1992 with his boat "America." His current net worth, from oil and other investments, is $2.9B, down from $4B in Mar 2012.
Koch has a BS, master's and PhD in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was established in 1861. It is a private research university, top-ranked worldwide, and has had numerous associated award-winning faculty and alumni including over 80 Nobel Laureates.
9. David E. Shaw / Stanford University
David E. Shaw, a computational biochemist and computer scientist, founded the hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co in 1988, which used proprietary algorithms in their trading strategy. He also founded D.E. Shaw Research (focused on computational biochemistry), for which he is Chief Scientist, was appointed to the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology for both President Clinton and President Obama, was elected to several academies (AAAS, NAE, NAS) and holds roles on various boards of directors. He was called King Quant due to his success with high-speed quantitative trading, whic often employed advanced mathematical models. His net worth is $4.1B.
Shaw earned a BS from University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and PhD in computer science from Stanford University. Shaw was a faculty member of Columbia University, in the department of Computer Science and researched massively parallel computing. Stanford, located in Stanford, California (adjacent to Palo Alto), was established in 1891. It is a highly-ranked private research university (full name Leland Stanford Junior University) founded by Leland Stanford, a railroad magnate and politician, and which was named for his son, Leland Jr. The university was one of four original points of access for ARPANET, which predated the Internet.
8. Miuccia Prada / University of Milan
Miuccia Prada (aka Maria Bianchi) took over the designer women's fashion wear label Prada in 1978 – which was founded by her maternal grandfather, Mario Prada, circa 1913. Her role as primary designer and more recently co-CEO of Prada paid off exceptionally well when the company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in Jun 2011. Her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, is the other co-CEO. Each of them had a net worth as high as $6.7B in Jul 2011, exceeding an expectation of $5B. Currently, they are each worth $4.1B, for a combined total of $8.2B, but were being investigated by the Italian tax authority (as of Sep 2014).
Not surprisingly, she has landed on best-dressed and most-powerful women lists. Before taking over the family business, however, she was reportedly a street mime and a member of the Italian Communist Party. This was after graduating with a PhD in pedagogical/ political sciences from the University of Milan in 1975. The University of Milan, in Milan, Italy, is a public university that was founded in 1924, starting out with the four traditional schools common in many older European educational institutions: Humanities, Law, Mathematics and Medicine. It is one of the largest in Europe.
7. George R. Roberts / UC Hastings
George R. Roberts, one of the highest-paid CEOs in the United States, is a co-founder of KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, 1976), along with Jerome Kohlberg and Henry Kravis. KKR focused on leveraged buyouts, and their some of their dealings were discussed in the book "Barbarians at the Gate," which had an eponymous movie. Roberts, who once made the cover of Fortune Magazine, has a net worth of $5.2B
Roberts received BA in economics from Claremont McKenna College (1966) and a JD (Juris Doctor) from University of California (UC) Hastings College of the Law (1969). UC Hastings, located in San Francisco, California, was established in 1878. It is a public law school (oldest on the West coast United States) with no other graduate programs and no undergrad programs, and is named after its benefactor, Justice Serranus Clinton Hastings.
6. Gordon Earle Moore / Caltech
Gordon Earle Moore, co-founder of both Fairchild Semiconductor (1957) and chipmaker Intel Corp, is the author of Moore's law (that computing power would double every two years). He is Chairman Emeritus of Intel and was previously a director of Gilead Sciences (see John C. Martin, #19 in this list). He has a foundation that contributes up to $250M yearly for environmental conservation, science and other causes. A recent contribution was $250M for the Thirty Meter Telescope, which will operate in Hawaii in 2022. His net worth is $6.9B.
Moore earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry (1950) from UC Berkeley, and a PhD in chemistry (with minor in physics) in 1954 from California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and was involved in post-doc research at Johns Hopkins Universityâs Applied Physics Laboratory. Caltech, located in Pasadena, California, was established in 1891. It is a private applied sciences and technology research university that started as a prep school, which runs Caltech Seismological Laboratory, manages NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and whose alumni and faculty have dozens of Nobel Prizes and United States National Medal of Science or Technology.
5. James Goodnight / North Carolina State University
James Goodnight, statistician and software engineer, is the co-founder of SAS Institute – maker of SAS enterprise analytics software, used by companies, governments and universities – with business partner, billionaire John Sall. Together they own a number of country clubs, spas and hotels, and founded private school Cary Academy. While SAS Institute is facing a decline in valuation due to some competition from cheaper or even free open source statistical analysis packages, Goodnight – who is CEO – has a net worth of $7.5B.
Malone completed a BS, and MS in statistics and a PhD in statistics, all at North Carolina State University (NCSU). NCSU, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, was established in 1887. It is a public research university and is part of the Research Triangle in the region, which also includes Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill.
4. John Malone / Johns Hopkins University
John Malone has held multiple executive positions, including CEO of TeleCommunications Inc., President of Jerrold Electronics, and chairman of Liberty Media and related Liberty companies. Other companies that Liberty Media has an interest in (ranging from minority to majority) include Sirius XM Holdings, Time Inc., Time Warner, Viacom, Barnes and Noble, Atlanta National League Baseball Club and several more. He attempted a takeover, unsuccessful, of Time Warner Cable. His net worth is $8.3B and Forbes notes that he owns 2.2M acres of land across seven states, making him the largest landowner in the U.S.
Malone completed a BA in electrical engineering and economics at Yale University (1963; he was a National Merit scholar), an MS in electrical engineering at NYU/ Bell Labs (1965), and an MS in industrial management (1964) and a PhD in operations research (1967) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). JHU, located in Baltimore, Maryland, was established in 1876. It is a private research university, named after entrepreneur Johns Hopkins, and a founding member of the American Association of Universities.
3. Eric E. Schmidt / UC Berkeley
Eric Schmidt is the executive chairman of Google (also CEO in the past), was CEO of Novell, had managerial and executive positions at Sun, and was on the Apple board of directors (while an executive at Google). He was hired by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. With a net worth of about $9.1B (Forbes 2015), Schmidt might only be #137th richest in the world, but he's #49 in the United States. This is down from a net worth of $9.4B in Dec 2011.
Schmidt completed a BS in electrical engineering at Princeton University, followed by an M.S. and PhD (1982, computer engineering), both at UC Berkeley. He has also spent time as a trustee for his alma mater Princeton as well as Carnegie Mellon University. UC Berkeley, located in Berkeley, California, was established in 1868. It is a highly-ranked public research university which is third most-entrepreneurial, after Stanford and MIT (if dropouts are included). UC Berkeley placed #8 on Founderdating.com's similar list, and #2 on GeekWire's list of universities graduating the most VC-backed entrepreneurs. UC Berkeley was declared a "Public Ivy" school in 1985.
2. James Harris Simons / UC Berkeley
You may have never heard of James H. Simons because he has managed to stay mostly off the radar, prefering anonymity and rarely giving interviews. Yet he has had an illustrious career, retiring only a handful of years ago.
In addition to being a codebreaker for the NSA at 26, head of a math department at 30, winning a top math prize at 37, he founded Renaissance Technologies (RenTec) at 44, one of the top hedge funds worldwide – thanks to proprietary mathematical trading models – and is the source of most of his net worth of $14B. He retired from his CEO role at RenTec as of Jan 1, 2010, but is still a non-executive chairman.
Martin also started establishing charities at 56, with wife Marilyn as president of the Simons Foundation (one of several charities). He founded Math for America, to promote public school math education with teaching fellowships, and financed the National Museum of Mathematics, aka MoMath. He has also contributed over $1B into various projects, including the World Science Festival, and establishing a telescope to be set up in the Chilean Andes mountains for the purposes of Big Bang research. He and wife Marilyn signed Bill Gates' and Warren Buffet's Giving Pledge in 2010, to give away at least a portion of their wealth.
His career as a code breaker, mathematician, hedge fund manager, pattern recognition researcher and philanthropist was preceeded by a BS in mathematics at MIT at age 20 in 1958, followed by a PhD in math at UC Berkeley at 23 in 1961. He taught math at Stony Brook University and was made chairman in 1968 at 30.
1. S. Robson Walton / Columbia University School of Law
S. Robson Walton (aka Rob Walton) is one of the Walton clan — often referred to as the richest family in America, inheritors of Sam Walton's Wal-Mart legacy. Robson is the oldest sibling and Chairman of the company. However, he has the least net worth: $38.1B compared to sister Alice ($38.5B) and brother Jim ($39.7B). (His brother John Thomas Walton passed away in 2005 and his assets went to wife Christy Walton and son Lukas — currently valued at $40.7B. Ann Walton Kroeneke ($5.5B) and sister Nancy Walton ($4.6B) are the daughters of Bud Walton, the brother of Sam Walton, who was originally a business partner.)
Initially, Rob Walton worked at law firm Conner and Winters, who represented Wal-Mart, amongst others. Less than a decade later, he became a senior VP of Wal-Mart, later a vice chairman, and then chairman a few days after his father passed away in 1992. He has stakes in other investments.
Walton completed a BS in business administration at the University of Arkansas and a JD at Columbia University School of Law (1969). He is a trustee at the College of Wooster, where he had attended classes before U of Arkansas. Columbia University, located in New York City, was founded in 1754 as King's College, becoming Columbia College in 1784 and Columbia University in 1896. It is a private Ivy League university. Its Columbia Law School — considered in the top five by US News — was established in 1858.
Some of the information in this list comes from the following Web sites and pages.