There Might Just Be a CEO Degree and 44 of Top 100 CEOs have It

I researched the background of the top 100 CEOs on the Fortune 500 (US) Company List; this is what I found.

There Might Just Be a CEO Degree and 44 of Top 100 CEOs have It
Photo by Charles Forerunner / Unsplash

Deciding where to go to college or what to study can be stressful. If you think you or your kids are of CEO caliber, read where the Top 100 CEOs on the Fortune 500 List went to school.

Table of Content

The Learnings:

Go to college. Only Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Dell can get away with it and you ain't them.
Study either engineering, business, or economics in college. It could be any kind of engineering, such as electrical, mechanical, etc.; accounting and finance, in addition to the good old business administration, all count as business. 
If you want to further increase your chance, study MBA, ideally from a M7 business school.

The Chart:

The Summary:

Where Are They From?

  • About 20% of the 100 CEOs are of non-American heritage, with Indian CEOs topping the list at five CEOs. 

Where Did They Go to College?

The colleges these CEOs went to are as diverse as they can be. Most institutions only see one of their distinguished alumni making the top of Corporate America, except:

  • Boston College (4): BC actually has the most alumni as CEOs in the top 100 companies, more than any other institutions, seeing Karen S. Lynch, Peter S. Zaffino, Robert B. Ford, and Ernie L. Herrman leading CVS Health, American International Group, Abbott Laboratories, and TJX respectively.
  • Harvard (3): Andy Jassy of Amazon, Sarah London of Centene, and Tim Sweeney of Liberty Mutual went to Harvard College for undergrad.
  • Cornell (3): Jon Moeller of P&G, Tim Wentworth of Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Craig Desanto of New York Life Insurance went to Cornell for undergrad.
  • Texas A&M (3): This might be the most surprising (no offense Texas A&M!). Darren W. Woods of Exxon Mobil, David M. Cordani of Cigna Group, and Bruce D. Broussard of Humana went to Texas A&M for undergrad.
  • Dartmouth, University of Kentucky, Ithaca College, Penn State, Air Force Academy, and Iowa State are the only other schools that have more than one (2 to be exact) alumni as CEO of the Top 100 companies.

Almost all but four CEOs have bachelor's degrees. The exceptions are:

  • Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Meta. Mark dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year to pursue the Facebook opportunity full-time.
  • Michael S. Dell, Founder and CEO of Dell Technologies. Michael dropped out of University of Texas, Austin in his freshman year to run his business full-time.
  • Richard A. Gonzalez, CEO of AbbVie: Richard was educated at the University of Houston in the field of biochemistry, but never received his bachelor's degree.
  • Kevin Murphy, newly appointed CEO of Publix since Jan. 2024: I found nothing on Kevin's educational background other than a dubious source saying that he went to Hofstra. It's rare that a CEO will want to cover his college background, so I'm putting Kevin in the category of no college degree.

What Did They Study in College?

Though also diverse, the majors that these CEOs chose back in college have much more commonalities. For the most part, this is a tale of two competing forces, a tale not unfamiliar to most people in the modern workforce, called businesspeople vs. engineersIncluding accounting and finance, all business-related majors witness a total of 32 CEOs out of 100. Engineering related majors, including all kinds of engineering disciplines, on the other hand, have a total of 23 CEOs, second most after business. Economics, surprisingly, is the second single most popular major after business, more than accounting or any single type of engineering majors.

When it comes to college majors of the CEOs, it's a tale of two competing forces: business vs. engineering
Electrical Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Chemical Engineering
Industrial Engineering
Metallurgical Engineering 
Petroleum Engineering

Note: Though sometimes people like to criticize the usefulness of a business undergraduate degree, a business bachelor's degree still sees the most CEOs.

Did They Have Advanced Degrees Post College?

62 out of 100 CEOs have some sort of advanced degreesOut of the 62 advanced degree holders, 44 are MBA degree holders. The MBA group is by far the single biggest on the list, showing a common path taken by CEOs across different industries. There are a total of 9 doctorate degree holders, including PHD, JD, and MD, and 9 M.S. degree holders.


Which Business Schools Did the CEOs Get Their MBAs From?

Harvard Business School again demonstrates its exceptional impact on Corporate America. With 7 CEO alumni, the HBS tops the list of business schools with the most CEO. University of Chicago's Booth School of Business comes in second, with 3 alumni. The so-called M7 business schools collectively have showcased their dominance against other businesses in this game. With a total of 18 CEO alumni, six of the seven M7 business schools score more than one CEO in the Top 100 Fortune 500 Companies. The only outlier, MIT's Sloan School of Management, has no CEO alumni at all in the top 100.

  • The M7 Business Schools:
    • Harvard Business School (7)
    • Chicago Booth (3)
    • Stanford GSB (2)
    • Wharton (2)
    • Columbia Business School (2)
    • Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (2)

UCLA Anderson, Michigan Ross, NYU Stern, and Esade Business School are the only other business schools that score more than one (2 to be exact) CEO. Among these four, Michigan Ross and NYU Stern are commonly referred to a group of US business schools called T15, while UCLA Anderson belongs to T20. However, no other T15 or T20 schools have more than one CEO.

T15 Schools with Top 100 Company CEOs:

  1. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan: Vivek Sankaran, Albertsons CEO; Robert D. Isom, American Airlines Group CEO
  2. Stern School of Business, New York University: Charles W. Scharf, Wells Fargo CEO; Peter S. Zaffino, AIG CEO
  3. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University: Tim Cook, Apple CEO
  4. Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley: Robert B. Ford, Abbott Laboratories CEO
  5. Johnson School of Business, Cornell University: Jon R. Moeller, Procter & Gamble CEO

T20 Schools with Top 100 Company CEOs:

  1. UCLA Anderson School of Management: Jim Farley, Ford Motor CEO; John T. Stankey, AT&T CEO
  2. Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University: Ted Decker, Home Depot CEO
  3. McCombs School of Business, University of Texas, Austin: Raj Subramaniam, FedEx CEO
  4. Goizueta Business School, Emory University: Marvin R. Ellison, Lowe's CEO

The rest business schools:

  1. Esade Business School
  3. University of Tulsa’s College of Business
  4. Questrom School of Business, Boston University
  5. University of Hartford
  6. Our Lady of the Lake University
  7. University of Uppsala
  8. University of Houston
  9. Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University
  10. University of Nevada Las Vegas
  11. Manhattan College
  12. University of Maine
  13. University of Wisconsin – Madison

This is the final breakdown of the number of business schools attended by the Top 100 CEOs:

Other ranked - Questrom School of Business, Boston University (USnews 51)
Other unranked

The Disclaimer:

This is a not to say that you should definitely invest in an MBA education. The average age of these 100 CEOs is 60, which means that the majority of them went to business schools in the 1990s. There were far fewer MBAs then, and those with an MBA were likely in much higher demand.

The Limitations:

  • There might be personnel changes, i.e. some CEOs might have retired, changed jobs, or switched roles into chairman, so you need to research further if you want the most updated info.
  • EMBA is NOT differentiated from MBA when I was conducting the research. Instead, it's blended in the MBA category as a whole.
  • If someone has multiple advanced degrees, only their highest degree is represented in the table. For example, if someone has an MS and an MBA, only their MBA is included. Or, if someone has an MBA and a JD, only their JD is included, and so on.

I found the list of all Fortune 500 companies here in case you are interested.