Fortune 500 CEO Backgrounds

The college diplomas of the nation’s top executives tell an intriguing story: Getting to the corner office has more to do with leadership talent and a drive for success than it does with having an undergraduate degree from a prestigious university.

The above quote is the opening statement of the “Any College Will Do” article in the Wall Street Journal that I really agree with. The fact that “Some 10% of CEOs currently heading the top 500 companies received undergraduate degrees from Ivy League colleges” should probably tell you something- Ivy League schools don’t cater to CEO’s. The article makes a good point that many of those that attend Ivy League schools make the jump straight to investment bankers or huge law firms because they don’t want to fight through the ranks of middle management to get to a high-paying job.

In my opinion, being a top CEO is about being balanced. A large organization really is all about people. Someone needs to lead the troops, make tough decisions, speak to the press, and worry about the grand business vision of a company. CEO’s don’t necessarily have to be the smartest people in an organization to succeed (and they often aren’t). In fact, I would argue great CEO’s are the ones that actively recruit people they know are smarter than themselves.

I think CEO’s are the confident ones that grasp the big picture, act on their gut, have the gift of being able to work with anyone & everyone, and seize opportunity. Opportunities are everywhere out there- some people are just better at realizing and acting on them. Further- the self-motivation and passion to succeed is crucial in a successful CEO (this is kind of obvious).

Somes quotes of interest from the article:

  • Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college, says, “You have to trust your gut”
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln alum Warren Buffett says, “I don’t care where someone went to school, and that never caused me to hire anyone or buy a business”
  • A.G. Lafley, CEO of Proctor and Gamble, mentions that “I learned to think, to communicate, to lead, to get things done”

In conclusion, there are all sorts of ways to succeed- but going to an Ivy League School is not a requirement to the corner office! Good thing for me since I went to a large state school!!

Thanks to BusinessPundit for mentioning the story.

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    Drew:
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  • Matt

    Ivy League colleges and universities certainly make up well under 10% of all colleges and universities in this country. It seems strange then, to conclude, based on the 10% figure, that “Ivy League schools don’t cater to CEO’s.” If there is only one Ivy grad that aspires to be a CEO for every 100 such grads from non-Ivy’s, I’d have to say the fact that the Ivy grads get one out of ten CEO jobs reflects awfully well on the Ivy’s. Of course Ivy’s get better students on average anyway, but that’s a separate issue.