One may think that today’s top CEOs attended the top schools in the country, but surprisingly few attended Ivy League universities.
- When selecting a college, many students consider how that particular school will look to employers reading their resumes, but if leading CEOs are any indicator, performance is more valuable than education.
- In a study of Fortune 500 CEOs, college professor David Kang found that the company executives did not have any particular universities in common.
- Since Kang began tracking the CEOs in 1999, there has been relatively little change—CEOs attend a diversity of colleges, Fortune reports.
- “It’s an extraordinary testament to the vitality of this country, the incredible range of universities that these people went to,” Kang says. “It’s a country that has a massive economy, and many of these companies in the top 500 are not white-shoe law firms, they’re pharmaceutical, they’re manufacturing, et cetera.”
Why it’s news
Young people today that are looking to be the leaders of tomorrow may be discouraged if they are unable to get into their top school choice. However, Kang’s data reveals that these CEOs’ ability to climb to the top is less dependent on education and more a result of performance.
Of this year’s Fortune 100 CEOs, 11.8% attended an Ivy for their undergraduate education, and 9.8% pursued an Ivy League MBA. Those who did attend Ivy League colleges sparsely decorate the top of the Fortune 100 list.
Walmart’s CEO Dough McMillon attended the University of Arkansas for his undergraduate and received his MBA from the University of Tulsa. Exxon CEO Darren Woods attended both Texas A&M University and Northwestern University, while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella attended India’s Manipal Institute of Technology and later the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In fact, of the top 20 CEOs at the largest companies by revenue in the U.S., only Amazon’s Andy Jassy attended an Ivy during his undergraduate education. Of those 20 CEOs, 14 attended public colleges. Notably, Apple’s Tim Cook attended Auburn University, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway graduated from the University of Nebraska, and McKesson’s Brian S. Tyler completed his undergraduate at the University of California Santa Cruz.
These top leaders show students today that fancy degrees are not necessarily the key to success. Instead, tomorrow’s leaders should focus on delivering positive results and showing management that they have what it takes to move to the next level.
Here’s a look at the top 20 Fortune CEOs and where they got their undergraduate degrees:
Ford Motor Company
The Home Depot
Karen S. Lynch
Brian S. Tyler
Steven H. Collis
W. Craig Jelinek
Michael J. Hennigan
Joseph W. Gorder
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
University of Nottingham
University of Nebraska
Indian Institute Of Technology Kharagpur
UC Santa Cruz
University of Colorado
University of Witwatersrand
San Diego State University
Manipal Institute of Technology
Iowa State University
University of Missouri-St. Louis
College of William & Mary