Harvey Mackay: What they don't teach in biz school

A college education is valuable, and I salute all the graduates who are heading out into the wonderful world of work. A degree is an important step toward career achievement.

But a sheepskin doesn't guarantee success. Without taking anything away from the value of higher education, some pretty famous "dropouts" have made the grade in business. For example:

• Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc., had no college education.

• Sir Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Brand of 360 companies, dropped out of school at age 16.

• Kirk Kerkorian, real estate investor worth approximately $15 billion, left school in the eighth grade.

• Ralph Lauren, fashion designer, dropped out of business school after two years.

• And the most famous Harvard dropout of all is Bill Gates, Microsoft mogul and philanthropist extraordinaire.

What common trait do they all share? The No. 1 attribute that employers look for: initiative. They all took ideas and put them into action. Some had a little experience that they translated into big business. Others trusted their gut instincts and went out on a limb. The best education money can buy won't necessarily include a class on initiative. So, dear graduates, hone this skill, because you will be competing against people whose formal education can't match yours -- but their go-getter attitude will propel them to the top.

As my friend, the late Jim Rohn said: "Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune."

One of the best compliments I can give when writing a reference letter is that the person takes initiative. Translation: the willingness to at least try, to take a risk, to give it their absolute best shot. When I recommend someone in those terms, a light goes on for the prospective employer.

Initiative is not a promise of perfect results. Sometimes it results in failure -- sometimes, a satisfactory, but not remarkable, outcome. Other times, the effort ends in a smashing success.

If that sounds like a challenge you are ready for, prepare yourself to:

• Be creative. Write down even the most unconventional and seemingly impossible solutions. Always, always be open to new ideas.

• Learn new skills. Identify what you want or need to learn to improve your worth. Set a goal to master a new skill with every project.

• Do the legwork. You want to convince people your idea will work? Hit them with facts. Find supporting research.

• Don't sit on your ideas. Speak up if you have the idea and the supporting facts to back it up. Volunteer to lead the team or do the project yourself.

• Try, try again. If your one idea didn't get an OK, don't be discouraged. Demonstrate your willingness to adapt.

Mackay's Moral: When you take initiative, there's no telling where it will take you.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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