Academic journal article Business Renaissance Quarterly

The Educational Footprint of Corporate Executives

Academic journal article Business Renaissance Quarterly

The Educational Footprint of Corporate Executives

Article excerpt


Unlike other professions, there has never been a regulatory body mandating a common education for business executives. Despite a robust body of research describing the educational attributes of executives, there is very little literature highlighting characteristics from a predictive-odds perspective. It would not seem unusual to learn that business is the major of greatest prevalence; yet, considering there are many more business majors each year than English majors is it truly the degree of choice for executives? What about choosing an elite private institution over a public university? This article explores the educational profile of over 1000 business executives from Fortune 250 companies to assess the educational footprint of our nation's top business leaders. It serves not only as a longitudinal comparison with previous executive profiles but more importantly it adjusts for population effects to show the attributes with the greatest relative representation. Among the findings, degrees in business, engineering, economics, and mathematics are overrepresented at the undergraduate level, while business and law dwarf all others at the graduate level. Other majors have adequate representation but are more likely to be coupled with an advanced degree. Lastly, there is a higher relative representation of elite schools over public schools.


For those hoping to become doctors and lawyers the educational pathways to licensure are rather clear. For aspiring business professionals the choices are not so clear. Regardless of the undergraduate school or major chosen the most obvious long-term option is pursuing an MBA. However, there are plenty of skeptics that shun the notion of an MBA being the educational key for business success both in scholarly journals and in the popular press. In fact, highly regarded Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina Fong (2002) called upon business schools to do some inner soul searching about the relevance of their programs. Their article pointed out likely pathways for MBAs such as consulting actually show underrepresentation with less than half of consultants from McKinsey 6t Company having MBAs. Another study conducted by Business Week (2006) reported what they viewed as "startling numbers, that only 146 of the 500 highest paid executives at S&P100companies have MBAs. -A surprising number considering the hundreds of thousands of B school alumni with enough experience to qualify them for top jobs." (Lavelle, 2006: 78) Throw in the countless variety of programs and majors all claiming to build the leaders of tomorrow and it can be quite confusing. How can aspiring business professionals assess the odds when deciding on a college, when picking an undergraduate degree, when deciding on a graduate degree or graduate school for that matter? Although the past does not always prove to be a good predictor of the future there have been several attempts to define the educational predictors that facilitate the pathway to the corner office. Yet, beyond providing scant percentages there are very few studies that attempt to quantify the odds for educational choices.

Study Background

In taking a closer look at the odds, the author describes first and foremost what is hereafter referred to as the educational footprint of top executives from the largest U.S. companies using the following data elements collected: undergraduate school, undergraduate degree, graduate school, graduate degree, age, and non-traditional education obtained. It is important not to draw conclusions by looking at educational data elements in isolation. The educational pathways chiosen by executives at the graduate level and beyond depend heavily on the pathways chosen at the undergraduate level. Also, it is important to determine a meaningful basis for comparison. To simply state that business is the most prevalent degree obtained by executives would be re-stating the obvious. …

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