Harvard, Columbia, Penn Claim Most Fortune 500 CEOs

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on January 4, 2011

U.S. News and World Report recently studied the educational credentials of Fortune 500 CEOs and concluded that (1) Ivy League schools produce a disproportionate share, (2) big state schools aren’t too shabby either, and (3) just three schools—Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania—account for nearly 100 graduate and undergraduate degrees among the corporate bigwigs.

It should probably come as no surprise by now that an MBA is definitely not a prerequisite for a corner office job. Of the 500 CEOs in the U.S. News study only 174 have MBAs. What’s more fascinating is that nearly 200 have no graduate degrees and 19 have no college degree at all.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison lived up to its reputation as a school that churns out CEOs by the dozen. With 17 degrees among the Fortune 500 CEOs, it came out ahead of Dartmouth, Stanford, Northwestern and a host of other top schools.

A lot of ink has been spilled on the educational credentials of top CEOs, including some of Bloomberg Businessweek’s own. But I’m left wondering if the alma maters of CEOs have anything to do with their success in the business realm. If schools do matter, I also wonder to what extent academics set young men and women on a path to the C-suite, and to what extent it’s the raw intelligence they had from the get-go or the connections they made hobnobbing with similarly brilliant people. I also don’t know what to make of the fact that the list of colleges claiming members of Congress as alumni bears little resemblance to the CEO list. Thoughts?

Reader Comments


January 5, 2011 1:50 PM

Look, I get it - MBA's are worthless. I have one, and every where I turn, I'm told they're worthless.

But I didn't do it to have a corner office, I did it because I finally realized what I wanted to do after 4 years in the workforce and I needed more than a B.A. in psychology to switch careers and get there. I also needed someone to push me rather than just read tons of business books on my own (won't happen). Finally, I just wanted to understand finance and business in general better for myself and my own personal well-being.

I know that wasn't the main point of the article - I guess it was just the tipping point for me.


January 5, 2011 7:47 PM

US News should study Which school has more CEO behind bars.

BW's Louis Lavelle

January 6, 2011 10:14 AM

Hey Matt, thanks for your comment. I should point out that the study was about ALL degrees, graduate/undergrad/professional. Also, I wouldn't leap to the conclusion that an MBA is worthless just because every Fortune 500 CEO doesn't have one--that wasn't my intention at all. As you point out, not everybody gets an MBA to run a Fortune 500 company, and many of those who do (like yourself) have very good reasons for pursuing the degree. You never said if the MBA helped you get what you wanted out of your career, but I hope it did. If we ever pull ourselves out of this horrible job market it will probably continue to pay dividends for you long into the future. Best of luck Matt.

Louis Lavelle
Associate Editor
Bloomberg Businessweek

Luke S

January 9, 2011 4:31 AM

I think getting further qualifications now is far more important now then it has been previously. Getting a Bachelor and MBA is often a requirements to get promoted to certain positions. I think times have changed since current CEO's where going through the hoops of career progression.

Faith C

January 11, 2011 7:13 PM

I finished my MBA nearly 2 years ago when the economy went really south. I had just got laid off from my job as a factory worker. I got called back six months later and I am still there. Jobs that require an MBA degree are still about networking and fairly unavailable here. I also have an administrative background in purchasing, accounting, and human resources before I got my MBA. One of my issues is my geographic location of positions available for experienced individuals that got their MBA while working entry-level positions isn't widely respected, or else I would have a different job by now. (And, don't get me wrong, it pays pretty well for factory work for this locale, I just don't want to be completely physically disabled by the time I retire).


January 12, 2011 10:40 AM

I agree with Luke. Times have changed and though some current Fortune 500 CEOs have little or no higher education, the trend is clearly in favor of degrees and I doubt that in 15 years there will be half as many F500 CEOs with this kind of profile. I'm about to graduate college and it's a truly frightening job market out there. Seriously, those now ten or so years into the workforce have it easy compared to us, and we probably have it easy compared to those who'll graduate in 2020. Now it seems that everywhere you look, you need a master's degree and two years of experience to push papers. And college graduates can't get experience if experience itself requires prior experience. Can't wait to find something, it's really frustrating looking for a job. I am planning on getting an MBA 2-3 years in, because I know that it's one of the rare ways left to get ahead that actually work most of the time.


January 12, 2011 1:06 PM

I'm a retained exec headhunter. I can tell you some of my clients will not hire candidates without a masters.

For all you looking...keep your head up. We have strong indicators the market is heating back up.

Hall mark

January 13, 2011 2:52 PM

For what i can understand is there are more CEO's without MBA's. At a time when the whole world is blaming MBA's from top financial schools like Harvard, Columbia, Wharton who have made our economy worse, is this report required? Would also like to see how many of the MBA's from these 3 schools were present in the banking/finance companies that wrecked our economy and now getting high paid from our tax money

DD Nuts

January 17, 2011 2:33 PM

Hall Mark,
Those companies didn’t ruin our economy. We ALL did. Regular people took on more risk than they could handle buying houses with balloon payments that they couldn’t afford. Bankers made shady decisions for personal short-term gain and wound up sabotaging their jobs. Some economists at the Federal Reserve gloated that severe recessions were a thing of the past and so didn’t prepare for this. Saying that the companies wrecked the economy is like a kid saying “The devil made me do it.” Yes the devil’s bad but ultimately a person’s able to control themselves and their appetite for risk.


September 6, 2011 2:40 PM

I know exactly why, because money, power and position is passed down from generation to generation. If I was born into wealth I wouldn't waste my time on a degree either. CEOS are predestinated. Business is all about who you know anyway and if I had my own business I would too see that it stay within my bloodline.

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