A Third Of World’s Best Performing CEOs Have MBAs

Best Performing CEOs with MBA degrees include Stanford’s Carlos Brito of Anheuser-Busch InBev (top left), UCLA’s Laurence Fink of Blackrock, Harvard’s Jaime Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, HEC’s Francois-Henri Pinault of Kering, IESE’s Luis Maroto Amadeus IT (bottom left), Berkeley’s Shantanu Narayen of Adobe Systems & Columbia’s Nancy McKinstry of Wolters Kluwer

People go to business school to get answers about their future, but it all begins with a bunch of questions.

  • Do I really need an MBA?
  • Does it matter if I go to a top-ranked school?
  • Should I study in my home country or abroad?

There are all sorts of questions (just check Quora) so it’s hardly surprising that prospective students are swimming in an infinity pool of information.

You could conceivably spend more time reviewing school websites, reading media articles, and scrolling through discussion threads in a chatroom than you would actually dedicate to the application process itself.

And just when you think you can’t possibly be more overwhelmed, there is one new data point to add to the mix. Harvard Business Review has published a list of “The Best-Performing CEOs in the World 2018.” The study calculates the financial returns of a CEO’s entire tenure, and the following paragraph, in particular, caught my attention:

Twenty of the CEOs lead companies based outside their countries of birth. 32 have an MBA, up from 29 last year. 34 have an engineering degree, up from 32 last year. On average, they became CEO at age 44 and have been in office 16 years. 3 are women, up from 2 last year. 87 are insiders, up from 81 last year.


This made me wonder. Who are the 32 CEOs who have an MBA? Where did they go to school? How many attended top-tier programs? And, most importantly, what can business prospective students learn from this study?

So I rolled up my sleeves and did some research. Here’s what I discovered.

Only 32 of the 100 top-performing CEOs have an MBA. That’s, of course, 32% so the odds are that you don’t need an MBA to be achieve significant business success. (Here’s looking at you, Jeff Bezos.)

On the other hand, you don’t have to go very far down the list to find a CEO with an MBA. Francois-Henri Pinault of Kering is the highest-ranked CEO with an MBA. The HEC alumnus is 4th on the list.

Shantanu Narayen (#12) of Adobe Systems, Brad Smith (#16) of Intuit, and Hamid Moghadam (#17) of Prologis also make the top 20 with graduate management degrees from Berkeley Haas, Aquinas, and Stanford, respectively.


This is where it gets interesting.

I analyzed the number of CEOs who went to top-ranked programs based on the 2017 Poets&Quants Ranking for U.S. schools and the 2017 Bloomberg Businessweek Best International Business Schools for programs outside the United States. (Poets&Quants was selected because its composite ranking of the five most influential business school rankings so it is the most authoritative. I used the most recent Bloomberg Businessweek ranking for non-U.S. MBA programs.)

Of the 32 CEOs who have an MBA, 41% attended a top 10 ranked business school in the U.S. (Haas, Stanford, HBS, Columbia, Booth, or Wharton).

Not surprisingly, more CEOs attended HBS than any other business school yet a Stanford alumnus (Hamid Moghadam, CEO of Prologis) claimed a higher position (#17) than Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase who is the top-ranked HBS alumnus (#22). In fact, only three business schools have more than a single CEO on the list: Harvard (4), Stanford (3), and Columbia Business School (2).

That number goes up to 47% if you expand the analysis to the top 20, which includes Laurence Fink (#34) of Blackrock, a graduate of UCLA Anderson, and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolina (#42) who is an alumnus of Cornell Johnson.


Incidentally, another way to measure selectivity is identifying CEOs who went to M7 schools. 38% percent are graduates of “Magnificent 7” B-schools (Booth, MIT, Kellogg, Columbia, HBS, Stanford or Wharton. There isn’t that much of a difference between a top 10 or M7 b-school (41% vs. 38%). That’s good news for Haas. (The Bay Area school also happens to have an alumnus, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe Systems (#12) who ranks higher on the HBR list than any other graduate of a top 10 school in the US.)

Meanwhile, three CEOs are graduates of top 10 ranked programs outside the United States: HEC alumnus Francois-Henri Pinault, Paul Desmarais Jr. (#90), the CEO of Power Corporation of Canada who is a graduate of INSEAD, and Luis Maroto (#82), an IESE alumnus who is the CEO of Amadeus IT in Spain.


The vast majority (78%) of CEOs with an MBA attended business school in the U.S. while only 7 of the 32 CEOs, or 22%, went to an MBA program abroad.

Five are graduates of European programs – two in France (HEC & INSEAD), two in Spain (IESE and ICADE), and one in Denmark (Scandinavian International Management Institute).

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne (#21) has a Canadian MBA (the University of Windsor) while Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga (#26) is a graduate of the Indian Inst of Management Ahmedabad.

While many work in the same country where they received their MBA, there are exceptions. For instance, Anjay Banga went to b-school in India but is now based in the U.S. Sergio Marchionne is applying his Canadian MBA to his top job in Italy.

Carlos Brito (#33) of Anheuser-Busch InBev works at the company’s headquarters in Belgium and earned an MBA from Stanford.

Nancy McKinstry (#76), a Columbia alumna who happens to be the ONLY woman with an MBA that makes the list, is CEO of Wolters Kluwer in The Netherlands.

Erik Engstrom (#57) is a HBS alumnus who is the CEO of Relx in London. Ditto for AON CEO Gregory Case (#66), another HBS alumnus in London.

And Hongchoy “George” Kwok Lung, (#80) CEO of Link Reit in Hong Kong, is a graduate of Wharton.


The average age of CEOs without an MBA is 61.2 compared to 58.8 for the men (and woman) who are the world’s top-performing CEOs. So, if you’re worried about taking one or two years out of the workplace, the study may suggest that it pays off in the long run when the stakes are even higher.

The majority of CEOs with an MBA (8 out of 32) are working in the IT sector followed by financial services (6 out of 32) and healthcare (6 out of 32). CEOs without an MBA are mostly working in IT (14 out of 68), Industrials (9 out of 68) and Retail (8 out of 68).

There aren’t any MBAs who make the list that work in Industrials, Retail, Telecoms, and Transportation compared to their non-MBA counterparts. What does that say, if anything, about preferred post-MBA industries?

Of course, this just scratches the surface but hopefully provides some small answers to those big questions.

(See following page for the full list and each CEO’s business school)

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