CEOs: Early Signs of a Business Career

Boone, Louise E.; Kurtz, David L.; Fleenor, C. Patrick
September 1988
Business Horizons;Sep/Oct88, Vol. 31 Issue 5, p20
Academic Journal
Can individuals who possess the ability, drive, and perseverance needed to reach the top of the corporate hierarchy be identified at an early age? We conducted a comprehensive analysis of factors that may have influenced the careers of chief executive officers of the nation's 800 largest industrial corporations and service firms. A total of 243 of these CEOs, including such well-known senior executives as David Roderick of USX Corporation, J. Peter Grace of W. R. Grace, Roy Anderson of Lockheed, Rand Araskog of ITT, Robert Galvin of Motorola, and T. Boone Pickens of Mesa Petroleum, participated. Their cooperation made possible the creation of an extensive data bank on CEO characteristics and detailed descriptions of their formative years. Their input produced significant insights into the traits and activities that helped distinguish them from their fellow students during their college years. Out of every 100 CEOs, 99 attended college--and 91 graduated. By comparison, only about one-third of the U.S. adult population has completed at least one year of college, and about half that segment actually graduated. Almost half the CEOs heading major U.S. corporations majored in business. The next most popular major among these senior executives was engineering, followed by liberal arts. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of college majors. In addition, 47 percent of these CEOs have earned advanced degrees. An MBA is the most common, followed by a law degree. Chief executive officers in the medical-products, service, transportation, and utilities industries are most likely to have earned advanced degrees; heads of banking and manufacturing firms are least likely. Figure 2 shows considerable variation in the percentage of CEOs in different industries who hold advanced degrees. Of the 9 percent of today's CEOs who did not earn a college degree, a few are college dropouts, such as William B. Hilton of the hotel chain and William H. Millard, formerly of Computerland. Domino'...


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