Where do the world’s top CEOs go to university?

Here’s where you should go to college if you want to be big in the business world

January 18 2017
Money exchanging hands

Choosing a university is far from easy – with so many places to go and courses to study, picking the right one is a minefield. But what if you based your decision according to where the CEOs of the world’s most successful companies spent their college days?

Times Higher Education has found out which universities were home to the top business men and women of 2017. The Alma Mater Index 2017 (“alma mater” being Latin for “nourishing mother”) ranks universities according to how many qualifications they have awarded to chief executives of companies that feature in Fortune magazine’s Fortune Global 500. This list is a compilation of the world’s 500 largest companies by revenue, whose earnings in 2015 totalled $27.6 trillion (£22.3 trillion).

From the survey, it appears that having a degree from a world-leading university is the way to go for a stronger chance of a career in a business powerhouse. It also seems that domestically educated chief executives are preferred at the helm of an organisation: almost two-thirds of the companies on the Fortune Global 500 list are run by chief executives who have a degree from the country where the company is based.

Information on the education of chief executives was researched using biographies, company websites, press releases, industry association websites, conference speaker biographies and news sources. Where a chief executive has qualifications from more than one university (including undergraduate and master’s degrees, doctorates and other postgraduate qualifications) the companies’ revenues are attributed to each university that has awarded their chief executive a degree.

The index is limited by the public availability of information, and it was not able to find details on all individuals’ educational history. Nonetheless, the results give an insight into the academic background of the business elite.

Top five universities that have educated the most global business leaders

Harvard University

Harvard Business School in Massachusetts enrolled 936 students on its two-year MBA course in 2016. It has an impressive research department and catalogue of published work, including Why They Do It: Inside the Mind of the White-Collar Criminal, written by Professor Eugene Soltes.

Harvard has awarded 29 qualifications to 26 chief executives of companies with a combined 2015 revenue of more than $1.4 trillion.

Stanford University

In 2015, Stanford had its 125th anniversary. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business offers a two-year MBA programme and a one-year MSx management programme along with several other course options.

Notable alumni in business include the founders of Google (Sergey Brin and Larry Page), the head of Netflix (Reed Hastings) and the co-founder of Nike (Phil Knight).

Stanford awarded 14 degrees to 12 chief executives of companies worth a total of $729 billion.

HEC Paris

HEC Paris is a business school that claims in its mission statement to be “training the global leaders of tomorrow”.

Focused on nurturing close connections to the corporate world, HEC Paris has an impressive alumni network including the CEOs of L’Oréal, EDF and Allianz France. It offers a master’s in management, an MBA and a summer school for recent graduates looking to sharpen their business acumen.

HEC Paris awarded 12 degrees to 12 chief executives running companies with total revenues of $516 billion.

École Polytechnique

École Polytechnique is a science-focused institution, boasting one of the world’s best engineering schools. Renowned for its 20-laboratory-strong research centre, it says that innovation in the sciences and economics is the key to its success.

The university educated 11 chief executives and awarded 11 degrees, but their companies generated more revenue than Stanford’s alumni, with a total 2015 revenue of more than $840 billion.

Cornell University

Situated in New York, Cornell University and its College of Arts and Sciences offers a wide range of undergraduate courses, ranging from medieval studies to game design. 

Cornell awarded 10 degrees to seven chief executives, whose companies had a total revenue of $547 billion.

The Alma Mater Index 2017 top 100 

Rank Rank in THE World University Rankings 2016-17 University Country
1 6 Harvard University United States
2 3 Stanford University United States
3 NR HEC Paris France
4 116 École Polytechnique France
5 19 Cornell University United States
6 13 University of Pennsylvania United States
7 401-500 Wuhan University China
8 10 University of Chicago United States
9 5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
10 251-300 Mines ParisTech France
11 NR ENA, École Nationale d’Administration France
12 91 Kyoto University Japan
13 NR Insead France
14 1 University of Oxford United Kingdom
15 170 University of Cologne Germany
16 39 University of Tokyo Japan
17 201-250 University of Stuttgart Germany
18 32 New York University United States
19 20 Northwestern University United States
20 4 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
21 72 Seoul National University South Korea
22 112 University of Göttingen Germany
23 =36* University of Illinois United States
24 16 Columbia University United States
25 201-250 Polytechnic University of Milan Italy
26 NR China Europe International Business School China
27 NR Shandong University China
28 601-800 Tokyo University of Science Japan
29 8 Imperial College London United Kingdom
30 35 Tsinghua University China
31 NR Nankai University China
32 45* University of Wisconsin United States
33 195 National Taiwan University Taiwan
34 18 Duke University United States
35 601-800 China University of Petroleum (Beijing) China
36 =80* University of Pittsburgh United States
37 601-800 Auburn University United States
38 60 University of Southern California United States
39 NR Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications China
40 56* University of North Carolina United States
41 30 LMU Munich Germany
42 169* Texas A&M University United States
43 33 University of Melbourne Australia
44 351-400 Hanyang University South Korea
45 14 University of California, Los Angeles United States
46 7 Princeton University United States
47 21* University of Michigan United States
48 601-800 Waseda University Japan
49 12 Yale University United States
50 NR Sciences Po France
51 113 University of Bonn Germany
52 78 RWTH Aachen University Germany
53 601-800 Keio University Japan
54 182 University of the Witwatersrand South Africa
55 301-350 University of Kent United Kingdom
56 251-300 University of São Paulo Brazil
57 801+ Southwest Jiaotong University China
58 501-600 Harbin Institute of Technology China
59 NR Harbin Engineering University China
60 9 ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich Switzerland
61 29 Peking University China
61 NR Dongbei University of Finance and Economics China
63 82 Technical University of Berlin Germany
64 NR Babson College United States
65 59 Delft University of Technology Netherlands
66 51 Brown University United States
67 401-500 San Diego State University United States
68 141* Rutgers University United States
69 501-600 Xi’an Jiaotong University China
70 143 University of Notre Dame United States
71 NR Hefei University of Technology China
72 351-400 Iowa State University United States
73 10 University of California, Berkeley United States
74 68 Pennsylvania State University United States
75 351-400 University of Houston United States
76 121 University of Virginia United States
77 251-300 Sapienza University of Rome Italy
78 601-800 University of Science and Technology Beijing China
79 251-300 Osaka University Japan
80 NR École Centrale Paris France
81 70* Purdue University United States
82 198 Tilburg University Netherlands
83 401-500 Huazhong University of Science and Technology China
84 501-600 Complutense University of Madrid Spain
85 NR Bowdoin College United States
86 201-250 University of Cincinnati United States
87 201-250 Shanghai Jiao Tong University China
88 NR Essec Business School France
89 165 University of Auckland New Zealand
90 201-250 Boston College United States
91 401-500 Lehigh University United States
92 42 McGill University Canada
93 173 University of Waterloo Canada
94 NR Pepperdine University United States
95 201-250 University of Iowa United States
96 69 Erasmus University Rotterdam Netherlands
97 NR Hitotsubashi University Japan
98 182 Northeastern University United States
99 601-800 Northwestern Polytechnical University China
100 201-250 Korea University South Korea

NR= not ranked
Access the full table and methodology.

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