Tuck | Mr. Liberal Arts Military
GMAT 680, GPA 2.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Social Entrepreneur
GRE 328, GPA 3.0
MIT Sloan | Mr. AI & Robotics
GMAT 750, GPA 3.7
Wharton | Mr. Industry Switch
GMAT 760, GPA 3.95
Stanford GSB | Mr. Irish Consultant
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Marine Executive Officer
GRE 322, GPA 3.28
Harvard | Ms. Developing Markets
GMAT 780, GPA 3.63
Harvard | Mr. Policy Player
GMAT 750, GPA 3.4
Wharton | Mr. Future Non-Profit
GMAT 720, GPA 8/10
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Tough Guy
GMAT 680, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Mr. CPPIB Strategy
GRE 329 (Q169 V160), GPA 3.6
Harvard | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Chicago Booth | Mr. Unilever To MBB
GRE 308, GPA 3.8
Chicago Booth | Mr. Bank AVP
GRE 322, GPA 3.22
Kellogg | Mr. Double Whammy
GMAT 730, GPA 7.1/10
Stanford GSB | Mr. Infantry Officer
GRE 320, GPA 3.7
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Ernst & Young
GMAT 600 (hopeful estimate), GPA 3.86
Kellogg | Mr. Engineer Volunteer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
Kellogg | Mr. Operations Analyst
GMAT Waived, GPA 3.3
Kellogg | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 760, GPA 3.15
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Indian Dreamer
GRE 331, GPA 8.5/10
Kellogg | Mr. Innovator
GRE 300, GPA 3.75
London Business School | Ms. Private Equity Angel
GMAT 660, GPA 3.4
Chicago Booth | Ms. Indian Banker
GMAT 740, GPA 9.18/10
Yale | Ms. Biotech
GMAT 740, GPA 3.29
Stanford GSB | Ms. Global Empowerment
GMAT 740, GPA 3.66
Harvard | Mr. Renewables Athlete
GMAT 710 (1st take), GPA 3.63

Fortune 100 CEOs: When They Were MBA Students

General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt says his Harvard MBA years sometimes made him feel like a dummy.

General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt says his Harvard MBA years sometimes made him feel like a dummy.

They may be Masters of the Universe now, leaders of Fortune 100 companies, commanding tens of thousands of employees and pulling down multi-million-dollar pay packages every year. But when these Fortune chief executives were mere MBA students, they felt as overwhelmed, as intimidated, as dumb, and, in some cases, as completely broke as many of today’s MBA candidates.

Most of them earned their degrees before the big boom in MBA education, when business schools pumped out fewer numbers of MBAs and it was, frankly, easier to get into even a Harvard or a Stanford than it is today. Did the degree make a difference? Several Fortune 100 chieftains say that it was the MBA that opened the door to opportunities that otherwise may have been closed to them. But it was no cake walk.

“Business school,” recalled GE’s Immelt in a recent CNBC interview, “Is one of the most intense times of your life. There are times you do feel overwhelmed from the standpoint that it’s midnight, I have another case to read, I don’t really understand the subject material, and you say, ‘Gosh, what am I going to do?’

“And then, sometimes you are sitting there in the middle of a discussion and someone says something so smart that you hadn’t thought of and you think, ‘I am a dummy. I’m an idiot. This guy is so much smarter than I am.’ So you do feel inferior at times. You do feel overwhelmed at times.”

One of Immelt’s classmates in Harvard’s Class of 1982, Jamie Dimon, now CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, said he never came to class unprepared. Recalled Dimon: “The professor would call on someone and it was completely obvious to everyone that the person hadn’t read the case at all. They were trying to weave a whole story from that first page.” When the CNBC interviewer told Dimon “that must be a little uncomfortable,” the J.P. Morgan chief made clear it was never him who had come to class unprepared.

Jim McNerney, a 1975 Harvard Business School grad, recalls that case study presentations were “not a kumbaya exercise.”

Jim McNerney, CEO of Boeing and another Harvard MBA (who was an HBS classmate of George W. Bush), remembers the sense of competition in class. “There was a competitive spirit in the classroom that simulates the way business is,” he recently told an interviewer from Harvard’s alumni magazine. “The WAC [Written Analysis of Cases] was not a kumbaya exercise, it was about getting it done by Friday at midnight. You do come away feeling prepared for a business environment, which is often more about optimization than coming up with the right answer.”

“I think since my time the focus has been more on teamwork, which makes sense,” he added. “Effective leaders are people who work with others and through others to make others better. I visited an engineering school the other day and was most impressed with the students who had completed a field project, who had built something as a team. It was more of a leadership exercise. Any way you can foster that kind of teamwork is important, particularly in business.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.