A researcher who looked into the educational backgrounds of Fortune 500 chief executives has found that most of these industry leaders did not attend an Ivy League school.
A startling discovery: David Kang, a professor of international relations and business at the University of Southern California, started compiling data on the alma maters of Fortune 500 CEOs in 1999.
Initially thinking that individuals who graduated from Ivy League schools would dominate the business field, he was stunned to discover that some of the top executives did not even go to college.
What the data said: Out of the 500 CEOs analyzed, seven or eight had no undergraduate degree, even surpassing the combined number of degrees from any other college or university.
According to his analysis of the available data he compiled, many top-tier corporate executives come from a diverse range of educational backgrounds.
“Like everyone else, I thought Ivy Leagues would dominate,” Kang told Fortune. “But the largest place they had gone to was no college at all. It’s an extraordinary testament to the vitality of this country, the incredible range of universities that these people went to.”
Consistent findings: Over the next two decades, his findings would remain close to what he found in 1999 that a prestigious degree does not necessarily correlate with success in business.
When Kang presented his findings to graduate students at Dartmouth College, he highlighted how these successful leaders attended a variety of colleges and universities.
The latest data: Kang’s points are further confirmed in the recently released 2023 Fortune 500 list, which showed that only 11.8% of Fortune 100 CEOs obtained their undergraduate degrees from Ivy League institutions, while just 9.8% hold an Ivy League MBA.
Remarkable leaders: Notable examples include Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who graduated from the University of Arkansas for his undergraduate studies and pursued an MBA at the University of Tulsa.
Exxon CEO Darren Woods attended Texas A&M University and Northwestern University, while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella earned his degrees from India’s Manipal Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
Other noteworthy findings: Only one out of the 20 CEOs that come from the highest-revenue companies attended an Ivy League university as an undergraduate: Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon, who is an alumnus of Harvard University.
Five of the top 20 CEOs do not have a college degree, including W. Craig Jelinek of Costco and Mike Wirth of Chevron. Meanwhile, 14 of the 20 CEOs attended public colleges, including Tim Cook of Apple (Auburn University), Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (University of Nebraska), and Brian S. Tyler of McKesson (University of California at Santa Cruz).