No college degree required…again

A few days ago my Mom sent me this link to an article about Forrest Lucas of Lucas Oil.   Mr. Lucas is of particular interest to me because he’s from my hometown in Indiana, but also because he created his original product – an oil additive that would make large truck engines run smoother – out of necessity and without a degree of any kind.

Lucas left home at 15, and worked on a farm till he bought his first semi-truck at the age of 21.   After 16 years as a driver he started his own trucking company in California, and because many of the trucks drove long distances taking products east over the desert, he needed a better lubricant than was being made at the time.

California was days away from the rest of the country, and I realized I needed better lubricants for my trucks. I started buying different additives and was studying how to make them. I didn’t have a college education, but my practical education gave me an open mind. I tried different things, got a private blender, and started selling an additive to owner-operators at truck stops. After I found a secret ingredient, it sold so well that I had to decide whether to keep the trucking business going or go into the oil business.

His practical education gave him an open mind.  I love that, and it is so true.  Only within the confines of the classroom is there only one right way to do something.    Make your own oil additive in a blender?    Don’t you need to be a scientist or something to do that?  Don’t you need a degree that tells people you are trustworthy?

No, in fact, you don’t.

Most of Lucas’ initial customers knew he’d been a truck driver himself, and THAT was why they trusted him.

The company grew, as you’ll read in the article, and Lucas added a cattle ranch, racing sponsorships, a cable tv network and LucasOil Stadium, which just hosted the Giants’ Superbowl win, to his repertoire.    An open mind, indeed.

The other thing I like about this article is that it debunks the image of the greedy, self-serving business tycoon who only cares about counting his money.   Not everyone is like that.  In fact, Lucas says that when he started out as a trucker, he noticed that the most successful people he met were very nice.  He never forgot it, and the one thing you can’t be if you work for Lucas Oil is rude or unkind.

Here again is proof that to be successful in life does not require a college degree and massive debt.   Today a taxi driver told me he works on Sunday because he has to pay for his kids, who are in college.  Then he said, “85% of the college students can’t get a job when they graduate.  Instead people want them to take unpaid apprenticeships for a year.  Can you believe that?”

Yes, in fact, I can.   The only thing I can’t believe is that more people don’t skip the degree and go straight to the apprenticeship, giving them the practical experience employers want while saving them 4 years of time and a ton of debt.

Forrest Lucas’ story is just one of many.   Not every self taught person becomes an oil titan, of course.   Some of them might own a successful dog-walking business, or be a hair stylist (looking at you, Michael).   The point is that the college degree as sole road to success story is a myth, or at least an idea whose time has gone.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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