A Conversation with David Malcolm, San Diego Entrepreneur, on Succeeding Without a (Traditional) College Degree

    Can you succeed in business and forge a career without a four-year or even two-year college degree? Without question. Among those who have done so are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Rachel Ray, Sir Richard Branson, and David Malcolm, a highly successful San Diego entrepreneur with five decades of professional experience.

    But should you count on being able to succeed without a traditional college degree? Well, that depends on what you want to do, but it is likely to be a steeper path to the top.

    Education is More Than a Degree

    Every individual is different and every life path is different, but as David Malcolm has found – education is a critical success factor. Education comes in many forms.

    “I did not earn a traditional college degree, but I benefitted tremendously from education. While still in high school, I earned my real estate license and went into the industry in which, 50 years later, I still ply my trade, loving (almost) every moment,” said Malcolm.

    “My formal education included earning my CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) designation, considered the gold standard for commercial real estate professionals. I even took the first class during my honeymoon!”

    Later in life, Malcolm was fortunate enough to go through the Harvard Business School’s Presidents Program and today is a distinguished Harvard Business School contributing lecturer, giving lectures to smart, young people on an annual basis.

    The School of Hard Knocks

    Pretty much an unavoidable form of “education” comes via the school of hard knocks.

    Malcolm began his real estate career at 18, full of youthful energy and fresh perspective, which enabled him to work long hours and see new ideas, but he faced obstacles. Unfortunately, young business professionals can be dismissed as rookies because of their lack of experience.

    “I ultimately overcame that through perseverance (not accepting no as an answer) and relationships with mentors who shared their failures and helped me avoid their mistakes. I strongly advise anyone, especially entrepreneurs, to seek out mentors and treasure the education you receive from them. Consider them to be professors of real life … because they are,” shared Malcolm.

    “Another very hard knock came when I sold a property in my first six months in business. My commission was $100,000 (in 1972). But the seller hired an attorney who told me I could take $50,000 then or sue them and win, but it would take three years. I took the $50,000 … a very expensive educational opportunity.”

    Pros and Cons of a College Degree

    Let’s turn this around and start with the cons. College is expensive and the cost is skyrocketing. According to U.S. News, the total cost of a college education has doubled in the past 20 years. Now student debt is a hot topic these days and with good reason. According to the same source, student borrowing increased 25 percent from the class of 2009 to the class of 2021.

    Money talks, and sometimes it screams and presents insurmountable obstacles.

    On the other hand, a college degree has real perceived value and gives you a considerable advantage. A degree is still a requirement to even apply for many, if not most, jobs.

    And a college education is designed to provide exposure to a very broad base of knowledge, ideas and ways of thinking. That broadens your thinking and perspective in ways that pay off big time in a career. According to Malcolm, “It is a ‘booster rocket’ to a better life, especially if you come from a family that did not have degrees or need to overcome personal adversity.”

    That’s why Malcolm and his wife personally support colleges and college scholarships for those who have overcome obstacles and face others in their chosen path. The David Malcolm Scholarship was created precisely for that.

    Consider the Options

    There are numerous ways to get a career-focused education other than college or university, especially today. There are certificate programs (like the CCIM), apprenticeships (yes, those still exist), vocational education opportunities and a myriad of online options.

    You don’t need a college degree to become an air-traffic controller, dental assistant, detective, sports coach or stylist. And you don’t need one to start your own business.

    “A term I grew up with, but don’t hear so much anymore is ‘on-the-job training’. Never underestimate the value of OJT because that is real-world education,” said Malcolm.

    How Do You Decide?

    Whatever path you take, take education seriously and seek it out. Again, always find mentors to impart their hard-earned wisdom. Try different things … even different paths or different careers. Don’t be afraid to try and fail – maybe dropping out of college if it isn’t working for you.

    “What is important is to pick yourself back up again and to learn from the experience. And then keep going. Persistence pays.

    “Take the long view – something that seems to be out of favor lately. Look at your life from a perspective of decades, not months or even years.

    “The bottom line is that you will never have a greater opportunity than your preparation will allow you to make of it. Preparation requires education … whatever that means for you. Whether that includes a traditional college degree or not is up to you,” concluded Malcolm.

    More About David Malcolm

    With a five-decade track record of excellence in the real estate industry, David Malcolm is the President of Cal West Apartments in San Diego, CA, which has provided financing and homes for thousands of residential and commercial clients. He has also served in several civic offices and is a generous contributor to many public and private organizations.

    Zachary Draeger
    Zachary Draeger
    Zacahary Draeger is an investigative journalist known for his projects on exposing fraud within the higher echelons of society and government. His works have led to investigation and prosecution of numerous high authority figures. He also covers variety of topics related to businesses. His work is highly read across the world.

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