For many captains of industry, a college education is the first rung on the ladder to the top. A look…
For many captains of industry, a college education is the first rung on the ladder to the top.
A look at the education of each CEO in the top 100 of the Fortune 500 companies this year shows a variety of backgrounds. From their days as college students to their ascent to the top of corporate leadership and management, these executives have traveled various paths to reach the same corporate heights. Their resumes include recognizable athletic powerhouses and small liberal arts schools alike.
These alma maters are a mix of public and private, with Ivy League and international schools also appearing on the list. Of the CEOs at the top 10 companies on the Fortune 500 list, one attended an Ivy League school and eight were educated as undergraduates at public colleges, including three internationally.
C. Douglas McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart Inc., the top-ranked company on the Fortune 500 list, is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration. McMillon began working at Walmart in 1984 to pay for college, unloading trucks at a distribution center as a high school student before eventually ascending to the top of the corporate ladder in 2014.
Among the most famous CEOs leading the top 10 companies are Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. Buffett graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and Bezos earned his degree at Princeton University in New Jersey.
Bezos is the only Ivy League undergraduate alum leading a top 10 company, but one of 11 represented in Fortune’s top 100. Among Ivy League schools, the University of Pennsylvania has produced the most CEOs on this list, with four graduates leading top 100 companies.
Three of the top 10 companies are led by graduates of international institutions. Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, graduated from the University of Nottingham in the U.K.; AmerisourceBergen Corp. CEO Steven H. Collis is a product of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa; and Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai earned a degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.
In total, 15 CEOs leading top 100 companies earned undergraduate degrees outside of the U.S.
While no individual school can lay claim to launching the careers of these CEOs, Boston College and Texas A&M University tie with the University of Pennsylvania in producing four CEOs in charge of top 100 companies on the Fortune 500 list, the most of any other colleges. Graduates of Boston College head up CVS Health, American International Group Inc., Abbott and The TJX Companies Inc.; Texas A&M alumni lead Exxon Mobil Corp., Cigna, Phillips 66 and Humana; and University of Pennsylvania grads helm Comcast, Oracle, Travelers and Tesla Inc.
Although this article looks at undergraduate education only, many CEOs earned advanced degrees. The table below — which shows common alma maters of CEOs of the top 100 companies as designated by Fortune based on revenue — does not include college dropouts such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, who attended Harvard University in Massachusetts but did not graduate.
Sources: College websites, company websites, Bloomberg, Boston Business Journal, Britannica, Forbes, Fortune magazine, Horatio Alger Association, LinkedIn
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Update 06/16/21: This article has been updated to reflect changes to the Fortune 500 list and the Best Colleges rankings.
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