Emory Goizueta | Mr. Multimedia
GRE 308, GPA 3.4
Yale | Mr. Ukrainian Biz Man
GRE 310, GPA 4.75 out of 5
Darden | Mr. Former Scientist
GMAT 680, GPA 3.65
Kellogg | Mr. Real Estate Finance
GMAT 710, GPA 3.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Sustainable Business
GRE 331, GPA 3.86
Wharton | Mr. Microsoft Consultant
GMAT N/A, GPA 2.31
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Poet At Heart
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
Yale | Ms. Impact Investing
GRE 323, GPA 3.8
Cornell Johnson | Ms. Food Waste Warrior
GMAT Not written yet (around 680), GPA 3.27
Stanford GSB | Ms. Future Tech Exec
GMAT 750, GPA 3.4
Georgetown McDonough | Ms. Air Force
GMAT 610, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Healthcare Fanatic
GMAT 770, GPA 3.46
Kellogg | Mr. Finance To Education
GMAT 730, GPA 3.4
Rice Jones | Mr. Back To School
GRE 315, GPA 3.0
Columbia | Mr. Aussie Military Man
GMAT 710, GPA 3.0 (rough conversion from Weighted Average Mark)
Harvard | Mr. Hopeful Philanthropist
GMAT 710, GPA 3.74
Stanford GSB | Mr. FinTech
GMAT Not Taken Yet, GPA 3.5
UCLA Anderson | Mr. Analytics Man
GMAT 740, GPA 3.1
Cornell Johnson | Mr. FinTech Startup
GMAT 570, GPA 3.4
Harvard | Mr. MacGruber
GRE 313, GPA 3.7
Darden | Ms. Teaching-To-Tech
GRE 326, GPA 3.47
Chicago Booth | Mr. Future Angel Investor
GMAT 620, GPA 3.1
Wharton | Ms. Software Engineer
GMAT 760, GPA 3.84
Harvard | Mr. PE Strategist
GRE 326, GPA 3.6
Harvard | Mr. FBI To MBB
GMAT 710, GPA 3.85
Harvard | Mr. MBB Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.9
Chicago Booth | Mr. Cal Poly
GRE 317, GPA 3.2

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.