Global Executives 2013

Our new index shows the link between a university’s reputation and successful business careers. Fiona Salvage reports

September 5, 2013

Where a person went to university has long played a significant part in his or her career. Oxbridge was the favoured hunting ground for recruiting British spies (and civil servants), while a Harvard MBA on a CV won’t have turned many corporate headhunters off a candidate.

Whether it was an inspirational lecturer, an industry placement that got a foot in the door or the network of friends and contemporaries, for the vast majority of these CEOs, university was where it began. Of course, innumerable factors contribute to any career path, and particularly to those leading to a really big job. But to a greater or lesser degree, university will have played a role in many a rise to the top of the corporate ladder.

To create the Alma Mater Index: Global Executives we examined the education history of the CEOs as per the Fortune Global 500 2013. We counted how many degrees institutions had awarded to these CEOs and ranked them primarily on this number. Then we looked at how many CEOs had graduated (a considerable number had spent their entire higher education at one institution), and ranked the institutions by those who had educated the most individuals. Then we considered how much money these individuals’ companies were responsible for, using their revenue as our measure.

Some universities in the Alma Mater Index are as big a brand as the companies in the Fortune Global 500; indeed, some are even better known. The growth of brands in the university sector has been phenomenal, with monikers such as ‘Russell Group’ no longer being used only by academics, but also by potential students, their parents and in almost every speech regarding pupil aspiration and student/teacher recruitment from the UK Secretary of State for Education.

Universities have always been about developing independent learners, teaching the value of scholarship, creativity and free thinking. Many also aim to create future leaders

Universities have always been about developing independent learners, teaching the value of scholarship, creativity and free thinking. Many also aim to create future leaders – and can claim to have educated many already.

So why look at where the CEOs of the 500 companies in this year’s Fortune Global 500 attended university? First and foremost, because it is inherently interesting. Leave two people together long enough and one will ask the other where (if) they went. It is more than likely that they will make assumptions based on the answer. About intelligence, background, social connections and whether they could be a useful person to know.

There is a clear leader in the number of CEOs produced. And it’s unlikely to surprise anyone. But the rest just might. As you’d expect, the Northern Hemisphere dominates the table, but the split between East and West is much more balanced – perhaps a reflection of the geography of the 500 companies. However, the number of countries represented by universities is much lower than the countries represented by companies, demonstrating an international degree experience is a commonality on many executive CVs, with the majority including a spell in the US.

Including the THE World University Rankings alongside the Index gives another perspective – a good WUR position does not seem to guarantee corporate success for its graduates. Of course, many institutions in the Alma Mater Index are not eligible for the WUR as they are post-graduate institutions or do not conduct research. But the Index is considering only those people who are running the 500 largest corporations.

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