Who says you need a college degree to become one of America’s top CEOs? Well, the law of averages does. You might say there are a few exceptions, including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. We’ll say we agree, but there’s a nuance. Both Gates and Zuckerberg became CEOs as startup founders through an entrepreneurial journey, not through corporate hiring and grooming.
Formal education is a standard requirement for the highest level of the business world. The road to becoming a Fortune 500 CEO may involve more than a college degree, but make no mistake—it often includes a stop at one (or two) of the nation’s colleges or universities.
While a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree are common to top CEOs, there is no single major or graduate degree that they all share. While business and computer science degrees are solidly represented, there are some less common inclusions. And, of course, most CEOs have earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Read on to discover the undergraduate and graduate degrees of some of the nation’s top CEOs.
- Undergraduate and graduate degrees are common for some of the world’s leading CEOs.
- Many CEOs earn an MBA, which sharpens their business acumen while helping to build a foundation of management and leadership skills.
- Notable exceptions to this rule include Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who famously dropped out of college to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions.
Doug McMillon: President and CEO
- Company: Walmart (WMT)
- Bachelor’s degree: BS Business Administration, University of Arkansas
- Graduate degree: MBA, University of Tulsa
A native of Jonesboro, Arkansas, McMillan began his career at Walmart as a summer associate in the company’s distribution center. He was also an assistant manager and purchasing trainee. Before taking over the reins as the company’s CEO WalmartMcMillon led the company’s Sam’s Club division and then Walmart International. McMillon is also a member of the Business Roundtable and serves on several boards, including the US-China Trade Council.
Darren Woods: Chairman and CEO
- Company: ExxonMobil (XOM)
- Bachelor’s degree: BS Electrical Engineering, Texas A&M University
- Graduate degree: MBA, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Mgmt.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, Darren Woods has a long history with ExxonMobil. Woods joined the company in 1992 and has worked domestically and internationally in positions for Exxon Company International, ExxonMobil Chemical Company and ExxonMobil Refining and Supply Company. He was elected president of ExxonMobil and a member board of directors in January 2016. In January 2017, he succeeded Rex Tillerson (who left to join the Trump administration) as chairman and CEO.
Although there are a few exceptions, formal education is the norm for the highest levels of the business world.
Warren Buffett: Chairman and CEO
- Company: Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A)
- Bachelor’s degree: BS Business Administration, University of Nebraska
- Graduate degree: MA Economics, Columbia University
Almost everyone has heard of Warren Buffett, the man behind Berkshire Hathaway. Investing is a family trait that Buffett inherited from his father in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. broker and US Congressman. At age 11, Buffett made his first investment, and by age 13, he was selling horse racing tips and running a paper delivery service. Buffett has a long history of operating success and an incredible investment history that has made him one of the best value investors of all time.
Tim Cook: CEO
- Company: Apple (AAPL)
- Bachelor’s degree: BS Industrial Engineering, Auburn University
- Graduate degree: M.B.A., Duke University
Tim Cook was born in Mobile, Alabama and took the reins at the helm of Apple in August 2011. Prior to joining the company, he served as North American Director of Fulfillment at IBM (IBM) and as chief operating officer (COO) at Intelligent Electronics. He was also vice president of corporate materials at Compaq Computer Corporation.
Andrew Witty: CEO
- Company:UnitedHealth Group (UNH)
- Degree: BA Economics, University of Nottingham
Andrew Witty is another member of the company who entered the healthcare industry in 1985 with the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. Witty previously served as executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group before becoming CEO in February 2021. He also serves as CEO of UnitedHealth Group subsidiary Optum.
Brian S. Tyler: CEO
- Company: McKesson (MCK)
- Bachelor’s degree: BA Economics, University of California Santa Cruz
- Graduate and postgraduate degrees: Masters and Ph.D. Economics, University of Chicago
Brian Tyler has over twenty years of experience with McKesson, serving in numerous leadership roles. Tyler became CEO in 2019 after leading several large businesses within McKesson. He was also COO, overseeing the company’s global business operations, CEO of McKesson Europe, as well as president of McKesson Specialty Health.
Karen S. Lynch: President and CEO
- Company: CVS Health (CVS)
- Bachelor’s degree: BS Accounting, Boston College
- Graduate degree: MBA, Boston University
Born and raised in Ware, Massachusetts, Karen Lynch has worked in the healthcare industry for over three decades. Before becoming the president and CEO of the company CVS as of February 2021, Lynch has held various leadership positions at the company and its subsidiary, health insurer Aetna. Lynch also holds an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Becker College.
Andy Jassy: President and CEO
- Company: Amazon (AMZN)
- Bachelor’s degree: BA Government, Harvard University
- Graduate degree: MBA, Harvard Business School
Born in Scarsdale, New York, Andy Jassy joined Amazon in its early stages in 1997, starting as the company’s marketing manager. He has held many senior positions at Amazon’s cloud computing subsidiary, Amazon Web Services, including CEO. Jassy became CEO of Amazon on July 5, 2021, succeeding the founder Jeff Bezos resigned from the role.
John T. Stankey: CEO
- Company: AT&T (T)
- Bachelor’s degree: BBA Finance, Loyola Marymount University
- Graduate degree: MBA, University of California, Los Angeles
John Stankey has been with AT&T since 1985. He has served as CEO of several AT&T subsidiaries, including WarnerMedia, AT&T Entertainment Group and AT&T Business Solutions, among other leadership positions. He was president and chief operating officer AT&T before becoming CEO of the telecommunications giant in July 2020.
Mary Barra: Chairman and CEO
- Company: General Motors (GM)
- Bachelor’s degree: BS Electrical Engineering, Kettering University
- Graduate degree: MBA, Stanford University
Mary Barra was born in Waterford, Michigan, and her first job at GM was as a co-op student in the Pontiac Motor Division. She was also senior vice president (SVP) and executive vice president (EVP) of global product development, vice president of global Human Resourcesand vice president of the company’s global manufacturing engineering division.
Sundar Pichai: CEO
- Company: alphabet (GOOG)
- Bachelor’s degree: BS Metallurgical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur
- Graduate Degrees: Master’s Material Sciences and Engineering, Stanford University and MBA, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Pichai was born in Chennai, India and took over as CEO of parent company Google Alphabet in 2019 following co-founder Larry Page’s decision to step down from the role. Pichai was also the CEO of the company Google since 2015.
With his education and early work experience at Applied Materials, Pichai joined Google in 2004 as head of product management and development. Pichai became a project manager leading initiatives in Google Chrome, Chrome OS and Google Drive. He oversaw product development for Gmail and Google Maps, and the 2011 launch of Chrome OS and Chromebook.
Who is the highest paid CEO?
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors (TSLA) and SpaceX was the highest-paid CEO in 2021, earning a whopping $23.5 billion. Musk earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania.
Which CEOs dropped out of college?
Besides Bill Gates (former CEO of Microsoft) and Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook/Meta), several other CEOs have dropped out of college. These include, among others, Larry Page (co-founder of Google), Larry Ellison (CEO of Oracle), Michael Dell (founder of Dell Computer) and Jack Dorsey (former CEO of Twitter).
Which college has produced the most CEOs?
A recent study shows that the top higher education institutions for producing CEOs were:
- Harvard University (United States of America)
- Ecole Centrale de Paris (France)
- University of Pennsylvania (United States of America)
- Stanford University (United States of America)
- University of California (United States of America)
America’s top CEOs hold titles in several fields. Each leader has a strong academic background that has helped them develop discipline, resourcefulness and analytical skills. Those who have studied for an MBA have increased their business skills while honing their managerial and leadership skills.