The Universities That Produce The Most CEOs
Harvard comes out on top, followed by the University of Tokyo and Stanford. Those are the schools that the greatest number of CEOS among the world’s top 500 corporations, have on their résumés. Twenty-five of the 500 went to Harvard, 13 went to the University of Tokyo and 11 to Stanford. Times Higher Education (THE), a London magazine that tracks the higher education market, combed through the list of the world’s 500 top CEOS and examined the educational background of each boss. It produced a list of CEOs and their degrees. Read the complete list here.
Though the top schools should be proud of their popularity among bosses, to me what’s most striking about the list is the breadth of schools it covers. Some 100 institutions make up the alma maters of the top 500 bosses. Examples from the world’s three biggest companies: Peter Voser, chief of Royal Dutch Shell, got his Bachelor’s in business administration from Zurich University of Applied Sciences. Michael T. Duke of Wal-Mart Stores graduated from Georgia Tech in industrial engineering. Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, went to the University of Texas at Austin and earned a B.A. in civil engineering. None of the three got a degree beyond a Bachelor’s.
When it comes to the CEO’s job, it seems that experience, track record and expertise trump academic pedigree. Though everyone on the current list graduated from college, in the past, two of the world’s most successful CEOs, Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs, famously dropped out of college (Harvard for Gates, Reed College for Jobs). Though Facebook’s revenues don’t approach the top 500 list, its billionaire CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is another famous college drop-out (Harvard).
That said, as would-be chiefs climb the corporate ladder, having a top institution on their résumé can underline their ability to get ahead in a competitive environment. In an article that accompanies the list, THE interviewed Odgers Berndston, a partner at one of London’s top headhunting firms, who said that a degree from a school with a strong reputation can help an executive get ahead on the path to the C-suite. “There is an elite group of top universities that stand out,” Berndston told THE. “If you have been to Harvard, Oxbridge or INSEAD, that has an impact.”
Berndston added that he looks at a school’s name, or brand, rather than what the candidate studied and how well he did in school. “A lower-class degree from a top institution is better than a first-class degree from a less well-respected one,” he said. In other words, if the candidate went to Harvard, employers don’t much care whether he graduated with honors in economics or just scraped by with a degree in film studies.
Along with its school ranking, THE broke out the top ten women CEOs and found some interesting statistics. Eight of the women, including Maria das Gracas Silva Foster of Brazil’s Petrobas, Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard and Indra Nooyi, chief of PepsiCo, have degrees beyond Bachelor’s. Whitman has an MBA from Harvard, Nooyi a Master’s from Yale and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta and Foster has a Master’s in nuclear engineering from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, and an MBA from Fundacao Getulio Vargas. Only one woman, Irene B. Rosenfeld, chief of Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods), has a Ph.D., from Cornell, in marketing and statistics. She also has a psychology B.A. and an MBA from Cornell.
To me, the takeaways from this list are that a prestigious degree can help you on the way up. It’s also true that many of the world’s CEOs have impressive academic credentials including MBAs, Master’s and Ph.D.s It’s worth paying attention to THE’s top schools list, if you’re ambitious and trying to decide where to study. But it’s also possible to build a serious, impressive career that winds up in the CEO’s office, without a top academic résumé. Once someone is in his 40s or 50s and has 20 or 30 years of experience under his belt, performance is more important than pedigree.
Susan Adams, Forbes Staff
9/25/2013 @ 11:28AM