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?)
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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.)
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