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Everyone in the world wants to change it; everyone wants to make decisions that can affect the lives of millions in a positive way. Perhaps the best way to do this is to lead one of the world’s greatest corporations. However, the road to CEO – especially at one of the world’s top 50 companies – is not always an easy or obvious one.

Looking at the statistics and facts – to determine the backgrounds of these CEOs – is a great place to start. In this piece of Jamboree Analysis, we looked at a lot of data to determine, once and for all, the correlation between collegiate degrees (both undergraduate and graduate) and success in industry leadership. We analyzed current data in detail, and validated it with a quick sweep of time shifted data to make sure that the trends held up over time.

Here are the top findings from our exclusive research:

There are other routes to the top, other than a Top Flight MBA. Yes, 20% of CEOs from the top 50 companies on the Forbes 500 have an MBA from one of the top 10 schools in the USA. But a staggering 52% have no MBA degree at all.

It is important to realize that this does not imply that the MBA degree is not a major route to becoming CEO. It is still the single most probable route, and it still does guarantee a seat in the C-Suite of a reputed company, if an MBA holder is hard working. However, many MBA grads go on to found their own companies; many go into policy; many go into teaching. The top roles in the top 50 companies, therefore, could well go to tenured, loyal, high performing employees (agnostic of background) or to experts in the field (who might not need to be MBAs from the best schools in the world).

If you’re not convinced, ask Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates. None of them ever had an MBA.

This also implies that any reputed MBA gives you a good chance of becoming one of the world’s top CEOs. The stats show that 20% of Forbes-50 CEOs have an MBA from one of the top 10 schools, but that 28% have an MBA from a school ranked outside the top 10. This confirms what we have always told our students; aim for the best schools and get in – but, even if that doesn’t happen, ensure that you get into a good MBA program abroad, and work hard, and rise in the organization. Richard Kessler did just this after his MBA stint at Darden, and nothing stood in his way!

The journey to becoming

The journey to becoming a CEO is a long one; it starts with the application, and ends at the top of the world!

Among the 52% Forbes-50 CEOs without an MBA degree, diversity is the key commonality. The CEOs who have never gone to one of the top Business Schools in the world are an eclectic bunch – they count Nuclear Engineers, Economists, Public Policy Experts and Healthcare Professionals in their ranks. This reflects the fact that experts in a given field are of great value to the largest corporations in the world, as they seek to innovate in their area of expertise to achieve the smallest tactical advantage. And this can be taken to the extreme: Ingvar Kamprad of IKEA, which has revolutionized the way the word thinks about furniture, does not even have a university degree at all! Brazil’s Petrobas has at its helm the most powerful Nuclear Engineer in the world: Maria Foster.

The reason that they succeed is because of two reasons: first, management can be learnt on the job, over a large number of years, by a very exceptional breed of employee. Secondly, many of them have attended executive education programs over the years, usually at the very top Business Schools that they did not attend earlier.

64% of the Forbes 50 CEOs have a Master’s / PhD / JD as their highest degree. This is in keeping with our observations, that a top degree abroad is very highly correlated with a successful career in the industry. It might seem that these degrees are more skewed towards Research as a life choice but, as the data shows, the top companies in the world value these professionals so hugely that they have taken over the top position in many Forbes-50 corporations.

This, of course, implies that a graduate degree abroad – of any type – is a great investment for the future; whether you are looking to make it in the world of research or in industry – or even if you have not decided yet – you will be well advised to crack the GRE, write the best application you possibly can, and master one field.

In 80%+ of the cases, the Graduate school is of a higher profile than the Undergraduate school. One common trait across all the Forbes-50 CEOs that we ranked was that there was constant improvement. Even those who completed their undergrad degrees from universities that were not very highly reputed were able to improve the profile of their grad school through hard work; clearly, this passion for excellence and improvement continued through their professional life, as they conquered fifty of the greatest board rooms in the world.

This implies that there is hope for anyone who is looking to work hard and to improve. As long as you can do what it takes to get into a good to great school at any stage of your education, you will put yourself in a position where you could one day head one of the top 50 companies on the Forbes 500.

These trends are long term trends. There is always the risk, in any analysis, that transient phenomena are taken into account. However, historical profiles of Forbes 50 CEOs show the same patterns that we have discussed above; it is clear that these findings are here to stay, and that you will be fine if you make decisions based on this data.

We hope that these insights were useful, and that it has made it easier for you to see your path towards becoming one of the top professionals in the world.

There is one key message that stands out among all these facts. No matter what, it always makes sense to invest in a graduate / undergraduate degree from a good school in the USA. The data proves that you will do well, and that you have a multitude of disciplines to choose from, that can all guarantee success.

If you would like to learn more about how to take the first step towards leading a Forbes 50 company some day, or about how you can become the Indra Nooyi of your generation, do get in touch with us! Jamboree can partner with you throughout the process of admissions abroad – from test prep to application writing and beyond. If you would like to see it for yourself, do use our website to book a sample session with our experts. All the best!


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