Randy Best can’t read, Forbes reports. “I’m acutely dyslexic,” says Best from his office in a glitzy Dallas skyscraper where he is plotting his assault on the ivory tower. “My mother read to me all through college.
She was a schoolteacher, so she was just humiliated–and made it clear to me that she was devastated. Back then there were two reasons you didn’t learn to read: You were lazy or you weren’t very intelligent.”
Even today, as his latest venture, Academic Partnerships, is using the Web to turn struggling midlevel U.S. universities into global education brands, he still needs someone to read to him. On his desk sits a manila folder marked “Read,” where he stashes articles and e-mails for his right-hand woman, Justyna Dymerska, a Cambridge-educated Ph.D., to recite. In fact, Best, 71, can’t even use a computer. His Web activity is confined to an iPad. When he needs to send e-mails, he dictates while someone else types.
It’s a startling confession for anyone, let alone the founder and CEO of an estimated $100 million (sales) education technology company. But Best’s functional illiteracy masks an even rarer ability: making money–and lots of it.
There are the jewelry businesses he founded as an undergrad in the 1960s, the art galleries and cattle yards in the 1970s, and outpatient care, oil exploration and defense contracting in the 1980s. By 1995 Best had made several fortunes and turned, momentarily, to philanthropy.