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When i was young things were very different. Back then, not that many people went to university. Some didn't go because they couldn't afford it and others didn't go because they didn't want to.
Many of them left school early to start working or learned a trade. The job market wasn't that competitive so it wasn't really necessary to have a degree in order to get a job.
Once you were employed, if you were diligent and hard working, you could work your way up in the company. Many managing directors with little formal education had been with their company all their working life.
How to Work an Education
Some of them had started as a messenger, sweeper or in some other low position. They got to know the business as they moved their way up the ladder.