12 Singaporeans Who Prove You Don’t Need a Degree to Be Successful In Life

Is it possible to succeed without a degree in Singapore?

Ask your parents this question and their answer will most definitely be NO.

Still, keep an open mind!

Education and knowledge are inevitably mandatory because it helps with building one’s maturity, character and intellectual capacity.

But before you enter university, or if you are wondering if you should further your education after the tertiary level, think about what you want to do with the rest of your life and if a degree will help you achieve your ultimate goal.

With all that’s said, here are 12 people who have succeeded in Singapore without a degree:

1. Royston Tan


Royston Tan is a Singaporean filmmaker who graduated from Temasek Polytechnic. Many of you may have known him as the director of 881, a Singaporean film written and directed by him. The film, 881, has made it big by topping the entertainment power list in 2007 for his box office.

His recent work 7 Letters in which he was an executive director took Singapore by storm as tickets were sold out almost immediately as reported by The Straits Times. More screenings of the films were added weeks later due to a huge demand.

Throughout his whole career, Tan has won numerous awards namely the 1st Singapore Short Film Awards in 2010 and the 22nd Singapore International Film Festival for Best Director.

2. George Quek


You may not know who George Quek is but we are pretty sure you have been eating his pastries since you were 5.

Yes, Quek is the big boss of the BreadTalk Group, that also owns brands like Din Tai Fung, Food Republic and RamenPlay.

After graduating from Xinmin Secondary School, he left for Taiwan to further his art education at a renowned Taiwan art institute in 1982. However, due to financial reasons, he made a living out of selling dragon beard candy. His business took off as he marketed it as the original Chinese Emperor’s treat.

Currently, Quek not only conquered the region but also internationally, with about 1000 outlets in China, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.

3. Mark Lee


Who knew Singapore’s favourite ah beng would be such a great money maker?

When you are sipping your hot kopi at Old Town White Coffee, think of Mark Lee because he is the co-founder who brought the Malaysian brand to Singapore. Now, he has 7 stores up and running island-wide.

On top of that, Lee co-owns the Monsoon Group, which has 9 salons operating in Singapore.

That’s not all — he also owns Galaxy Entertainment, a production and artiste management company. In an episode of Celebrity Boss on Channel U, Lee said that he doesn’t have any academic qualifications nor background but with his determination and hard work, he is still building his business empire.

4. Fandi Ahmad



Singapore’s own pride and glory is none other than Fandi Ahmad who graduated with a National Trade Certificate. Ahmad is now retired and is the head coach of LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League.

Before his retirement, Ahmad won the Golden Boot for scoring 21 goals in the Malaysia Club and became the first Singaporean sports person to have earned a million Singapore dollars.

In 1993, he joined Singapore FA as the captain and scored 26 goals out of the 39 games he played in the double winning season. From 1979 to 1997, Fandi scored 55 goals and earned a place in the Asian Football Confederation Hall of Fame.

Internationally, he played for Singapore in the first and second Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) and won a silver medal both times.

He was also the first Singaporean sports person who has a biography written about him, The Fandi Ahmad Story with over 17,000 copies sold in 2 months.

Even the Madame Tussauds Singapore Museum has a wax figure of him!

5. Charles Wong


Here is the Charles in Charles and Keith!

Wong did not manage to pass his O Levels but at the age of 22 he started Charles & Keith and 2 years later, his brother joined him. He was inspired by his mother’s shoe store and it was his dream to open one himself in future.

When they first started, the suppliers could not produce the designs that the customers wanted and eventually, they took to designing the shoes themselves. Over the years, they introduced new accessories like purses, handbags, sunglasses and even key chains, which sat well with most women since prices were affordable.

Currently, they have a team of about 70 designers and 300 stores worldwide. Pedro is also another brand by Charles and Keith to target the modern male customers as well. They soon developed a female section, and included leather in parts of the products.

6. JJ Lin


Girls swoon and scream at the sight of him. With dashing looks and a great voice, what’s not to love?

JJ Lin was a graduate of Saint Andrew’s Junior College. Even as a trainee in Taiwan, he wrote songs for artistes, including the popular Remember (記得 Jì Dé) for Taiwanese singer A-Mei, A-Do’s Let Go (放手 Fàng Shǒu).

One of his albums Cao Cao (曹操), sold around two million copies in just two weeks and the results shocked the Chinese music industry.

In May 2009, Lin won three awards at the 14th annual Composers and Authors Society of the UK (Compass) Awards Presentations.  He was honoured with the Top Local Artiste of the Year award as he was one of the Singaporean artistes who generated the highest royalty earnings for the year.

Closer to home, he was selected to perform the remixed version of Home and one million copies were sold within a week all over Asia. Lin also performed together with American singer Sean Kingston at Marina Bay Sands.

In 2014, Lin won the prestigious Golden Melody Award for Best Male Mandarin Singer with his 10th milestone album Stories Untold.

7. Addy Lee


At a young age of 19, Addy Lee left Penang and came to Singapore. For 3 years, he did creative art of hairdressing and learnt the ropes of running a hair salon business which led to the establishment of Monsoon Group, with 9 salons opened in Singapore and Malaysia. He has also started Monsoon Hair Academy and is co-owner of 3x Media Production.

Beyond just being a successful businessman and hair stylist, Lee is often featured on television, print commercials, and seminar workshops. He is also the stylist of local celebrities — Michelle Chia, Joanne Peh, and Mark Lee, just to name a few.

Sentosa Cove is home to many of the richest people in Singapore and yes, Lee owns an apartment there as well. He said that his apartment gives him a lot of ideas for his work and businesses.

8. Mathilda Koh


Mathilda Koh is the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bioskin.

She used to have troubled skin and was introduced to a product which cleared her skin miraculously. Intrigued by the product, she ventured into the world of beauty and started researching and taking courses. Initially her friends and family members are the ones trying out her products but in 1996 when she was only 22, she found Bioskin.

Bioskin now has 6 branches in Singapore. It also provides more services, such as AbsTrim Men, which offers tummy slimming services for men and Nails Concept, manicure and pedicure for ladies.

Koh boldly pursued her interest and with her fighting spirit, she was awarded the Spirit of Enterprise award in 2010 and the Successful Entrepreneur award for 2010 – 2012.

9. Wendy Cheng, better known as Xiaxue


Xiaxue is Singapore’s top and pioneering blogger who graduated from Singapore Polytechnic with a Media & Communications diploma. She is a stakeholder in Nuffnang too.

Her famous blog can hit up to 40,000 views a day when she was actively blogging. Further, Xiaxue has 610,000 followers on Instagram and 286,000 followers on Twitter. She also has her own online TV series Xiaxue’s Guide To Life produced by Clicknetwork and a baby clothing line, BabyStyleIcon!

Even after almost 14 years of blogging, Xiaxue’s limelight does not seem to dim especially after the birth of her son Dashiel Marquet Sayre who reportedly earned $25,000 worth of sponsorships and endorsement deals even before he was born!

10.  Ben Yeo


Many of you may not know but MediaCorp artiste Ben Yeo graduated from hospitality school SHATEC with a diploma in culinary skills. Today, he has opened 2 stores, Play Kitchen and Tenderfresh Classic.

With ambitions of being an entrepreneur, Yeo managed to save enough capital from being a MediaCorp artiste to start his first business, Play Kitchen. It was only a little shop lot at Jurong Point’s food court but at that time, he said that opening a restaurant is far too costly.

Not long after, he opened Tenderfresh Classic with two other partners.

Yeo is also an author for a children’s cookbook, Cooking for Kids where he featured his two children, Javier and Jarius. Yeo said that the purpose of this book is not to push his children into the limelight but to document the childhood of his children.

11. Dick Lee


Dick Lee was a graduate of St. Joseph’s Institution. To date, he is a Singaporean pop singer, composer, songwriter, playwright and a businessman.

In the 1990s, Lee has written countless songs for the top singing talents in Asia. He also wrote plays and musicals as well and one of his works was composing songs for the musical of Phua Chu Kang. The musical raised over a record-setting $2 million.

He was a judge at Singapore Idol for three seasons. Lee also held a concert, Dick Lee: Celebrating 40 Years In Music in 2014.

Further, Lee wrote the National Day song Our Singapore for SG50.

On top of everything that he does, Lee is also the owner of restaurants Slappy Cakes and Dancing Crab.

Indeed he is a man of many talents!

12. Ryan Tan


Ryan Tan is a cinematographer and art director of famous YouTube channel, Night Owl Cinematics. Tan left the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), and together with his wife Sylvia, they started the channel with the intention of improving their videography skills. Little did they know that one of their videos, Shit Singaporean Girlfriends Say went viral and had over a million views. From then on their career soared and Tan took pride in editing his videos and artwork.

With over 430k subscribers on their YouTube channel, Tan is excellent at his game and also for scoring such a pretty wife!

What do all these people have in common?

The drive to succeed.

You don’t have to be a scholar or a rocket scientist to realize your own talent or passion.

It will be hard fighting for what you want to do without a degree but as long as one doesn’t succumb to hardship, success is right round the corner!

Featured image via Temasek Clothings, SG Asia Tatler, Alchetron, China Daily

Drop us your email so you won't miss the latest news.

  • More From Author