Only A Third Of World’s CEOs Have An MBA

CEOs are nearly always college-educated — no surprise there. A newly released survey has found that 97% of the leaders at the world’s largest public companies have some kind of college degree. But only about a third of those chief executives have MBAs, the same survey found.

The survey by study choice portal Study.EU of 231 CEOs at the largest companies on each continent found that just 32% of chief executives worldwide have an MBA, though 64% hold a master’s degree or equivalent (including MBAs) and 10% hold a doctorate degree. The CEOs were surveyed based on the Forbes Global 2000 ranking and the results were released December 19.

And there are some striking regional differences. In the United States, for example, 36% of CEOs have an MBA, and 60% have some kind of master’s degree or a doctorate. But world CEOs are far more likely than their U.S. counterparts — or the general higher ed population — to have spent part of their studies abroad, with 32% of global CEOs boasting some study-abroad experience compared to 11% of U.S. CEOs, and 6% of all other students.

“Studying abroad is one of the best ways to get to know foreign cultures and different perspectives,” Study.EU CEO Gerrit Bruno Blöss says. “While international study and work experience can’t replace actual diversity, it enables top management teams to look at strategic challenges from different points of view. Of course, this is true at all hierarchy levels of a company, not just in the boardroom.”


Study.EU’s survey also found that while diversity in the boardroom and across high-level management ranks has repeatedly been shown to increase the profitability of corporations — citing such examples as EY and McKinsey — chief executive posts have stubbornly remained generally male-dominated. Only 3% of CEOs worldwide are women, the survey found, all of them in the U.S. (four total) or India (two).

Meanwhile, 18% of CEOs are foreign nationals: With 43%, Australia has the highest share of foreign CEOs, mostly from New Zealand and the UK, followed by Europe with 36%. The region with the lowest level: Asia, at 2%.

Yet the survey found a growing trend in the direction of greater diversity: When looking only at the youngest third of the sample, the share of CEOs who had studied abroad increases significantly to 41%, and the share of foreign nationals rises to 27% — a trend that is expected to continue in the future, because student mobility in the general population has increased dramatically over the past decades, implying that future generations of CEOs are even more likely to have studied abroad than today’s top managers.

In this regard, U.S. companies may have to do some catching up: Their 11% of CEOs who have studied at university abroad represent the lowest number for any region in the sample — despite the fact that most of the world’s global players are U.S.-based. The region with the highest value of CEOs who have studied abroad? Africa, with 65%.


CEOs are well-educated — that much is clear. But there are notable regional differences in just how educated. Chinese CEOs seem to be the best-educated,with all of them — 100% — possessing at least an undergraduate degree, and 33% holding a doctorate, the highest value worldwide. In Europe, master’s degrees are the norm among top managers, at 76%; meanwhile, 59% of North American CEOs have obtained at least a master’s degree.

Where is someone with no degree at all likeliest to had a company? Australia, where 14% of leaders have no university credentials whatsoever (and only 38% have a master’s or doctorate degree). Australian CEOs were also the youngest, though their average age of 54 was not far below the global average of 57.

Circling back to the MBA: 37% of North American CEOs and 45% of Central/South American CEOs hold MBA degrees, which means that in those two regions, two-thirds of those with any master’s degree hold a Master of Business Administration. That share is significantly lower in Europe, where the number of CEOs with a master’s degree is higher (76%) but only one-third of those went to business school to get an MBA.

“Instead,” reads Study.EU’s report, “technical, scientific, or legal degrees are the norm among European company leaders.”

See the next page for charts breaking down the academic backgrounds of the world’s CEOs.