How Bezos Defies Tech's Biggest Myth

Not All Startup Founders Drop Out of College; Bezos Was an A-Plus Student

Oct 22, 2018
Finance

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – If you follow tech industry news, by now you’ve heard that classic Silicon Valley startup story.

A few men have dropped out of college and are working in a garage when they strike a great idea. With total dedication to delivering on this idea, they launch a successful company. They create the most consumer-friendly personal computer on the market to date. They start Microsoft. They start Apple. 

Industry giant Amazon also started in a garage. But its founder, Jeff Bezos, did not drop out of college.

In fact, education played an immensely important role in his success, points out David Kass, clinical professor of finance at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Despite Silicon Valley’s popular dropout lore, education has played a vital role in the founding of most of the tech industry’s most successful companies.

Before working on Wall Street and before founding Amazon in 1994, Bezos got an education. He graduated from Princeton University with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. Like many students, he even switched majors in school.

“I wanted to be a theoretical physicist,” said Bezos last month at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. “I was a really good student. I got A-pluses on almost everything.”

But he struggled with mastering partial differentiation and decided to switch majors, he told the audience. During one particularly challenging assignment, he had an epiphany. “It was in that exact moment that I realized I was never going to be a great theoretical physicist.” 

In school, as in business, Bezos was determined to be not just good, but great.

Driving toward exceptional performance in your own studies and career can be a valuable perspective to take, says Kass.

“If you’re passionate, you’ll get noticed,” says Kass. “That passion will help you stand out.” Passion for your work also makes it easier to dedicate the time and effort required to be not just good, but great.

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About the Expert(s)

Dr. David Kass has published articles in corporate finance, industrial organization, and health economics. He currently teaches Advanced Financial Management and Business Finance, and is the Faculty Champion for the Sophomore Wall Street Fellows. Prior to joining the faculty of the Smith School in 2004, he held senior positions with the Federal Government (Federal Trade Commission, General Accounting Office, Department of Defense, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis). Kass has recently appeared on Bloomberg TV, CNBC, PBS Nightly Business Report, Maryland Public Television, Business News Network TV (Canada), American Public Media's Marketplace Radio, and WYPR Radio (Baltimore), and has been quoted on numerous occasions by the Washington Post, Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal, where he has primarily discussed Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway.

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