Many aspiring business tycoons may assume they need an expensive Ivy League degree to reach the top of the corporate hierarchy. But just how essential is an impressive alma mater in the business world? Here are some findings from an analysis of the degrees held by CEOs of some of the companies on the Dow Jones Industrial Average list. (Find out how the DJIA index tracks market movements - and where it falls short. Check out How Now Dow? What Moves The DJIA?)

In Pictures: 8 Great Companies With Top-Notch Healthcare Benefits

The Usual Suspects
Sure, many of these corporate leaders are indeed Ivy League graduates - but it's definitely not a clean sweep, as several non-Ivy grads are on the list as well. Those who did attend the Ivies mainly leaned toward Harvard, Yale and Brown.

A Few Surprises
When scanning the CEOs' bios, a few unusual alma maters stand out. One CEO, Bill Weldon of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), is a Quinnipiac University alumnus, while another - Mike Duke of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) - earned his degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Robert McDonald of Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) graduated with an engineering degree from West Point.
Some International Flavor
Several of the CEOs are grads of universities from outside the United States. Two - George Buckley of 3M (NYSE: MMM) and Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) - attended college in the United Kingdom, at Universities of Southampton and Huddersfield and Hull University, respectively. Another, Klaus Kleinfeld of Alcoa (NYSE: AA), graduated from University of Goettingen and University of Wuerzburg, both in Germany.

Types Of Degrees
When it comes to the CEOs' types of degrees and majors, there are some predictable findings. About one-third of the group has MBAs, with four of those earned at Harvard. There are also quite a few law degree grads - again, many from Harvard. Other popular majors include math, economics, business and marketing. There are also some history, psychology and biology majors - and one CEO even holds a degree in television and radio studies. Perhaps not surprisingly, that CEO is Robert Iger of Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS).

One Unusual CEO
One of the leaders stands out for his college background - because he doesn't have one. Jim Skinner, CEO of McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), never graduated from college. After a 10-year stint in the Navy, Skinner started a career at McDonald's - as a restaurant manager trainee.

A Typical CEO?
How do the Dow Jones top execs compare to CEOs in general? Based on one expert's findings, CEOs overall tend to be a more diverse, unpredictable group. Leslie Braksick, PhD, conducted a 2008 survey of CEOs as part of the research for her book, "Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew". She found there's no such thing as a "typical" CEO.

"A sample of 150 of the Fortune 500 showed few trends in terms of undergraduate institutions," she says. "Schools ranged from Harvard to Slippery Rock, with many attending state schools such as Penn State and UCLA, as well as private schools including Dartmouth, Brown and Tufts." (The road to the executive suite is paved with education. For related reading, see Female CEOs: What It Takes To Climb The Corporate Ladder.)

Grad School Stats
When considering education at the grad level, the stats become a bit more predictable. About half of the sample group has MBAs - with Harvard being the most popular choice - while 11% have law degrees. Of the 15 CEOs in the group who attended Ivy League undergraduate school, 12 went on to get graduate degrees, many at other Ivy League schools, Braksick notes.

The Non-Educational Element
Braksick's research uncovered one other interesting finding - a statistic that indicates the CEO's degree may not be the most important factor in his/her rise to the top. Braksick found that 82% of the CEOs in the study had held international assignments with full profit-loss accountability prior to being named as CEO.

"All of those CEOs identified that experience as being absolutely pivotal in preparing them to be CEO of a multinational corporation in a globally economic world - and far more critical to their success than where they attended college," says Braksick.

The Road To CEO-dom
If you aspire to one day hold the top spot at a big company, an Ivy League degree - especially an MBA or law degree - would definitely be a big advantage, but it's by no means essential. Many top CEOs did fine with a public school degree - and there's even the rare exception who worked his way up the ranks with no degree at all. To really tip the odds in your favor, though, set your sites on international positions with lots of responsibility. (CFA, MBA ... Or Both? These certifications require time and money, but combined programs are making obtaining both more realistic.)

Get a rundown of the latest financial news in this week's Water Cooler Finance: Buffett Buzz, Toxic CDOs And Facebook Privacy.

Related Articles
  1. Professionals

    Is A Stockbroker Career For You?

    Becoming a stockbroker requires a broad skill set and the willingness to put in long hours. But the rewards can be enormous.
  2. Chart Advisor

    ChartAdvisor for February 5, 2016

    Weekly technical summary of the major U.S. indexes.
  3. Investing Basics

    How to Become A Self-Taught Financial Expert

    Becoming a self-taught financial expert may not be as daunting of a task as it seems.
  4. Chart Advisor

    ChartAdvisor for January 29, 2016

    A weekly technical summary of the major U.S. indexes.
  5. Personal Finance

    University Donations: Which Schools Got the Most

    A closer look at the staggering $40.3 billion donated to colleges and universities in 2015.
  6. Chart Advisor

    ChartAdvisor for January, 22 2016

    A weekly technical summary of the major U.S. indexes.
  7. Chart Advisor

    ChartAdvisor for January, 15 2016

    A weekly technical summary of the major U.S. indexes.
  8. Investing

    Job or Internship?: A Guide for College Students

    College students, which is better for your future - an entry-level job or a unpaid internship? Find out now.
  9. Savings

    The Top 12 Weirdest Scholarships Available

    Cut your college expenses drastically by winning one of these off-the-wall scholarships.
  10. Investing Basics

    The Pros and Cons of Indexes

    Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of stock indexes and passive index funds. Discover how there is an opportunity cost to using index funds.
  1. What's the difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics?

    Microeconomics is generally the study of individuals and business decisions, macroeconomics looks at higher up country and ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What’s the difference between the two federal student loan programs (FFEL and Direct)?

    The short answer is that one loan program still exists (Federal Direct Loans) and one was ended by the Health Care and Education ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Student loans, federal and private: what's the difference?

    The cost of a college education now rivals many home prices, making student loans a huge debt that many young people face ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Can I use my IRA to pay for my college loans?

    If you are older than 59.5 and have been contributing to your IRA for more than five years, you may withdraw funds to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Can I use my 401(k) to pay for my college loans?

    If you are over 59.5, or separate from your plan-sponsoring employer after age 55, you are free to use your 401(k) to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are the best MBA programs for corporate finance?

    Opinions vary based on which publications you consult, but the best MBA programs for a career in corporate finance are at ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
  2. Super Bowl Indicator

    An indicator based on the belief that a Super Bowl win for a team from the old AFL (AFC division) foretells a decline in ...
  3. Flight To Quality

    The action of investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles. This ...
  4. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
  5. Ponzimonium

    After Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme was revealed, many new (smaller-scale) Ponzi schemers became exposed. Ponzimonium ...
  6. Quarterly Earnings Report

    A quarterly filing made by public companies to report their performance. Included in earnings reports are items such as net ...
Trading Center