Common Myths: US executives in “industrials” education

This essay is a sequel to an earlier one in which we discuss the undergraduate backgrounds of top executives in the largest US banks and insurance companies. Organizations covered in this survey of industrials include among others: Google, Apple, Intel, Proctor and Gamble, GE, Amgen, Accenture, Walt Disney, Edelman and Ketchum. Institutions surveyed span several very different sectors, the objective of this survey being breadth rather than depth.

Although only 21 organizations were surveyed, collectively they employ a mind-boggling 2.3 million people. These are massive organizations led at the top by individuals who had earned their undergraduate degrees at US universities, and indeed this survey excludes executives who obtained their undergraduate training outside the US. Data was collected on individuals identified as top management by the corporations surveyed.

Myth #1 – They are all IVY League graduates – No!

They were not all IVY League undergraduates. Once again I was struck by the variety of educational institutions represented in the undergraduate backgrounds of the 211 executives in my data set. Collectively, these individuals had attended over 120 colleges of all kinds, from IVY League institutions to large state schools and small liberal arts colleges, reflecting considerable variation. IVY League colleges accounted for “only” 11% of the executives.

Myth #2 – There is no room for graduates of liberal arts colleges or graduates with liberal arts degrees – No!

Of my dataset, 20% had attended liberal arts colleges; as before, this is impressive if we assume that enrollment proportions at 4 year institutions of higher learning, have maintained similar orders of magnitude over time (liberal arts colleges currently account for 3.5% of total enrollment in 4 year colleges). However the distribution of these graduates is uneven. In certain organizations such as Exxon Mobil and Fleishmann Hillard, they were not found at all.

We were unable to determine undergraduate majors for each and every executive in our dataset. However, of the 163 majors we were able to identify (double majors count as 2), unexpectedly, 39% were in liberal arts and social sciences, compared with 13% in science and math, 26% in engineering and 21% in business and business-related majors.

Surprising fact – more than half had attended private non-profit colleges

53% of executives in my dataset earned their undergraduate degrees at private institutions.

Survey limitations

As before there are limitations in my data. There may be differences in how the organizations define their “executive team”, and indeed some organizations identify larger executive teams than others. The data set includes individuals in different functional areas so it does not reveal anything about individual functional areas. Finally, the dataset is subject to change as we are constantly refining our work.