What kind of stake do the world's richest business magnates have in education? The answer to that question involves cutting-edge research, for-profit empires and schools on multiple continents.
Education Dive looked at the portfolios and profiles behind Earth's billionaires, and while some inherited their companies and others were self-made, a handful of them have significant interests in how students learn.
Based on the Forbes' 2013 list of the world's billionaires, as calculated in March 2013, these six power-players represent our picks for the richest and most influential names in education:
6. SUAT GUNSEL
Net Worth: $1.1 billion
Notable Company: Near East University
A Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, Dr. Suat Gunsel launched Cyprus’ first study center in 1978. This allowed hundreds of students to get to Turkey’s most respected universities, and many of his early students are now professors, parliament members and government ministers. His Near East University, founded in 1988, is Northern Cyprus’ largest educational facility and includes a pre-school, primary school and college spread among 16 faculties and 4 institutions. The majority of his wealth, however, is tied into land holdings in Northern Cyprus and Turkey, and his other holdings include interests in a hospital and bank. In his spare time, he jogs, rides horses, plays tennis and collects stamps and antique cars.
5. PETER SPERLING
Net Worth: $1.15 billion
Notable Company: Apollo Group
For-profit education giant Apollo Group is the source of Peter Sperling’s fortune, but the sector has taken a beating in recent years due to increasing regulatory pressure and declining enrollments. The company, which operates the University of Phoenix, announced 800 job cuts and 115 campus shutdowns in October in an attempt to cut costs, and its stock has fallen 60% in the past year. Sperling’s father, John, a humanities professor, founded the University of Phoenix in 1976 after leaving San Jose State and is still involved in the company. Outside of education, Sperling has a hand in renewable energy politics, and was commended by the Renewable Energy Accountability Project in April 2011 for helping to pas renewable energy goals and standards into California law.
4. SOICHIRO FUKUTAKE
Net Worth: $1.2 billion
Notable Company: Benesse Holdings
Soichiro Fukutake’s Benesse Holdings is one of the world’s largest educational services companies. Founded in 1955 by Fukutake’s father as Fukutake Publishing Co., Ltd., Soichiro joined the company in 1973 and eventually became president in 1986. The company adopted the brand and philosophy of “Benesse” (which means “well-being”) in 1990. Aside from offering prep courses and language instruction, Benesse is expanding to nursing homes, executive training and translation services, and acquired Berlitz language schools in 2001. Fukutake commutes between the company’s corporate headquarters in Okayama, Japan, and his home in Auckland, New Zealand, where he moved his family in 2009.
3. RANJAN PAI
Net Worth: $1.3 billion
Notable Company: Manipal Education and Medical Group International
Dr. Ranjan Pai is the chief executive officer of Manipal Education and Medical Group International, which includes six colleges and 15 hospitals in India, Nepal, Malaysia, UAE and Antigua. Pai’s grandfather, the late Dr. T.M.A. Pai, founded the first of the privately owned institutions in 1953 in Manipal, and his father took control in 1978. Ranjan joined the family business at the age of 28 after quitting a job in the U.S. and taking over a medical school project in Malaysia. His interests include stem cell therapy and clinical research.
2. BERTIL HULT
Net Worth: $4.1 billion
Notable Company: EF Education First
Swedish billionaire Bertil Hult made his fortune helping other people learn. In 1965, he dropped out of college after one year to form EF Education First, a company focused on helping set foreign exchange students up with host families. He founded the company in the basement of his dorm building, and it has programs available today in over 50 countries. This wasn’t the first time he dropped out of school, though—shortly after junior high, he quit school due to troubles with dyslexia and, without ever attending a class, eventually learned English by making coffee and running errands for a London ship broker. Recently, the Hult International Business School teamed up with former President Bill Clinton to encourage business schools worldwide to develop sustainable nonprofit business models.
1. BILL GATES
Net worth: $67 billion
Notable Companies: Microsoft
Although Bill Gates doesn’t make any money from education, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Microsoft co-founder due to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s education reform efforts. The foundation’s education investments in its College-Ready Education and Postsecondary Success programs, aimed at preparing high school students for college post-graduation and increasing the number obtaining degrees, and its “Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery” financial aid reform project. If anyone can help accomplish these goals while also trying to rid the world of diseases like polio and malaria, it’s probably the world’s second-richest man.
Would you like to see more education news like this in your inbox on a daily basis? Subscribe to our Education Dive email newsletter! You may also want to read Education Dive's list of the 10 education journalists on Twitter you need to follow.