The MBAs On Fortune’s Most Powerful Women List

by John A. Byrne on

Fortune has yet again chosen the 50 most powerful women in business—and guess which graduate degree is the credential of choice?

Of course, it’s the MBA. Some 18 out of Fortune’s 50 have MBA degrees. The next most popular advanced degree after the MBA? Not surprisingly, it’s the law degree, which is owned by three of the top 50.

Harvard Business School leads the pack with five of Fortune’s most powerful women, from newly installed Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The only other business school that can claim more than a single MBA on the Fortune list? The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which has just two: Gina Drosos, a group vice president at Procter & Gamble, and Phebe Novakovic, an executive vice president at General Dynamics. The rest of the MBAs picked up their degrees from a wide variety of schools, from the University of South Africa to Rutgers University in New Jersey.

The three highest ranked MBAs in the group, however, didn’t get their degrees from either Harvard or Wharton. The most powerful woman on the list is No. 1 ranked Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods, who received her MBA from the Johnson School at Cornell University in 1975. No. 2 Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, got her MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1980. No. 4 Ellen Kullman, chairman and CEO of DuPont, earned her MBA in 1983 from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

All told, this is a highly educated bunch. There are 39 women out of the 50 with advanced degrees: There’s Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who has a master’s in mechanical engineering from Columbia, and there’s Walt Disney’s Anne Sweeney who has a master’s in education from Harvard. There’s Bonnie Hammer, chairman of Comcast’s NBS Universal Cable Entertainment, who has a master’s degree in media and new technology from Boston University. And there’s Marissa Mayer, a Google vice president, who has a master’s in computer science from Stanford University.

Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld

1. Irene Rosenfeld
Chairman & CEO
Kraft Foods
Johnson School at Cornell MBA, 1975

Ranked first on Fortune’s list, Rosenfeld proves the theory that education is the key to social and corporate climbing. She not only an MBA degree, which she picked up in 1975 from the Johnson School at Cornell, but also a Ph.D in marketing and statistics that she earned five years later from Cornell. She’s something of a veteran on the Fortune list, too, having been chairman and CEO of Frito-Lay before taking on the top job at Kraft Foods.

Prior to joining Frito-Lay in 2004, Rosenfeld spent more than 20 years with Kraft and General Foods. She held a number of key management positions in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, culminating in her appointment as president of Kraft’s North American business. Among her many accomplishments at Kraft, Rosenfeld led the highly successful integration of the $19 billion Nabisco acquisition as well as the restructuring and turnaround of a number of key businesses.

Indra K. Nooyi

When PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was an MBA student at Yale's School of Management she was "totally and completely broke."

2. Indra Nooyi
Chairman & CEO
PepsiCo
Yale School of Management MBA, 1980

Ranked second on the Fortune list, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, who graduated from Yale’s School of Management in 1980, recalls seeing a magazine advertisement for the school while still living in India. She liked the fact that the school’s dean was not an academic but had an industry background. She applied, was accepted with financial aid, but was surprised that her parents agreed to allow her to go. “It was unheard of for a good, conservative, south Indian Brahmin girl to do this,” she once told the Financial Times. “It would make her an absolutely unmarriageable commodity after that.”

It was a difficult experience. In an interview last year at Yale with dean Sharon Oster, Nooyi recalled how she was virtually broke in her first year as an MBA student. “Those were very tough times.,” she said.  “At the end of the month, if I saved $5. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was totally and complete broke. I had no money to buy clothes. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I worked the front desk of Hadley Hall from midnight to 5 a.m. at $3.35 an hour, the minimum wage. That money was the grocery money for the week.”

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  • Abhilash

    Hello John,

    I found a mistake in your article. Indira Nooyi did her MBA from IIM(Indian Institute of Management) Calcutta and not Yale. She then went on to do her Masters in Public and Private Management from Yale.

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