The article concerns the question – How to become a CEO: What degrees can help you? Becoming a CEO can happen in two different ways. You can start your own company and name yourself the CEO, or you can apply to be the Chief Executive Officer of an existing company. Typically, those who rise through ranks must show the determination, business acumen, and sacrificial dedication to being the leader. And if you have your eye set on the helm, there are a few university degrees that can help you get there.
Indeed, it is not a requisite of all companies that their CEOs be endowed with a degree. In fact, there are many examples of excellent leaders who rose to the top solely by experience, in other words “the school of hard knocks”. Further, for entrepreneurs who run their own corporations, as long as they own the companies, they can get to the CEO positions anyway they see fit.
But in today’s era of many applicants and few positions, in addition to experience, it is probably beneficial to hold at least one or two degrees. But what programs would be best?
In the past it was almost mandatory to hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA). And if the graduate level degree came Stanford or Harvard, that was even better when boards screened out potential CEO candidates. Along the same lines, if choosing between a candidate with an undergraduate degree from Yale or Princeton against someone with no university degree, the Ivy League applicant almost always won the position.
And while the MBA still has merit, there are other degrees that are just as important or even more important in terms of the company itself. For example, if the company specializes in technology, having an IT degree will be beneficial. But the degree that is most interesting is the Engineering Degree which several different polls have indicated is held by the highest number of CEOs. The MBA was second. (please see footnote)
Still, there is one more degree that is becoming more prevalent among chief executive officers and that is a Law Degree. In a way, this should be no surprise because today’s America is such a litigious society that one would assume boards and shareholders would prefer their CEOs to act accordingly. Further, with all the scandals surrounding past companies, boards of directors want to ensure the existence of the organizations. Much of this attitude comes from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. And more than one poll has indicated that a law degree is in third place among CEOs with degrees.
In addition to formal education, there are common personality traits among CEOs. They are usually extroverted and have no problem interacting in a public setting. They tend to work longer than normal hours and are not held back by details. They focus on the bigger picture and have the vision to move many people to that end result. CEOs must quickly and easily react to trends and shifts in consumer opinion. Typically a CEO is older, unless of course he/she starts his/her own company.
Lastly, many boards are looking for CEOs who have international or military experience. Both types of experience are somewhat obvious in today’s business world. Those trained in the military are normally quite focused and have the ability to get things done. And in regards to international training, as we move toward a more global way of doing business, understanding the subtleties of other cultures and being able to identify opportunities outside of America is certainly beneficial.