What Did the CEOs Study?

What Did the CEOs Study?

Your college major doesn’t say everything about you, but it certainly says something. College is your first real chance to choose what you actually want to learn about. So it’s interesting to take a look at what, and where, the top business leaders of today chose to study.

Of course, not all of them stayed in school all the way through. Bill Gates left Harvard early to start Microsoft. Steve Jobs of Apple left Reed College after just one semester–long enough for a calligraphy class to spark a fascination with fonts. And media executive Barry Diller dropped out after his first year at UCLA, and famously worked his way up from the mailroom (of the William Morris Agency) straight to the top.

So the message is clear, right? Drop out of school! Well, no. For most of us ordinary people, and for most of even the most extraordinary business leaders as well, college is a first step on the long journey of career and life.

The names are familiar, but you may be surprised to see that they are not all ivy league M.B.A.s–there’s a huge variety of schools and majors on this list: 

Jeff Bezos, president, CEO, and chairman of the board, Amazon.com. Bachelor’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering, Princeton University (1986). Bezos took an unusual career path, going straight from a technical education to Wall Street, where he worked as a financial analyst.

Warren Buffett, investor, financier, and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway; ranked by Forbes magazine as the second richest person in the world. Bachelor’s degree in business, University of Nebraska (1950); master’s degree in economics, Columbia School of Business (1951). Buffett was deeply influenced by one Columbia professor, economist Benjamin Graham, whose teachings formed the core of Buffett’s highly successful investment strategies.

George W. Bush, president of the United States; former CEO of Spectrum 7. Bachelor’s degree in history, Yale (1968); Master of Business Administration, Harvard (1975). Bush is the first "M.B.A. president," and some assert that he has brought a corporate style of management and communications to the White House.

Michael Eisner, CEO of The Walt Disney Company from 1984 to 2005. Bachelor’s degree in English literature and theater, Denison University (1964). After graduating, Eisner began his career as a clerk at the National Broadcasting Company, and from there worked his way through the ranks to become one of the most powerful figures in the entertainment industry.

Phil Knight, cofounder, chairman, and former CEO, Nike Corporation. Bachelor’s degree in accounting, University of Oregon (1959), M.B.A., Stanford (1962). Knight was a track athlete at the University of Oregon, and founded Nike together with his college coach, William Bowerman. Knight combined his training in business fundamentals with Bowerman’s innovative product design concepts for shoes, and the rest is history.

Martha Stewart, founder and former CEO, Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Bachelor’s degrees, history and architectural history, Barnard College (1963). Stewart worked as a model to help pay for her Barnard tuition, and after graduation worked on Wall Street. But her career really took off when she combined her business savvy with her keen sense for the "good things" in life.

Anne Sweeney, president, Disney-ABC Television Group. Bachelor’s degree in education, College of New Rochelle; master’s degree in education from Harvard University (1981).
Sweeney originally planned to follow in her parents’ footsteps as a teacher, but an internship at the ABC network sparked her interest in television. She leveraged her understanding of childhood learning and television toward highly successful stints at Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel.

Donald Trump, founder and CEO of the Trump Organization. Bachelor’s degree in economics, Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania (1968). Trump considered going to film school, but decided to pursue the family business–his father, Fred Trump, was also a real estate developer.

Meg Whitman, president and CEO, eBay. Bachelor’s degree in economics, Princeton (1977); M.B.A., Harvard Business School (1979). Whitman built her early career in brand management, and to the fledgling eBay, brought deep "traditional" business experience from corporations including Procter & Gamble, The Walt Disney Company, and Hasbro.

Oprah Winfrey, entrepreneur, media executive, and talk-show host. Bachelor’s degree in speech and performing arts, Tennessee State University (1976). Winfrey began her television career while still in college, as a local anchor on a Nashville television station.

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