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Does a Harvard degree really matter? Tim Cook, Mary Barra's success shows otherwise

Only one CEO from top 20 companies in last year’s Fortune 500 went to an Ivy League school

Mar 14, 2019, 06.16 PM IST
ET's dualpane - 2019-03-14T155404.785
Tim Cook (L) went to Auburn University, and Mary Barra (R) went to Kettering University in Flint.
By Joe Nocera

The No. 1 company in last year’s Fortune 500 was Walmart Inc., with $500 billion in revenue. That would make its chief executive, Douglas McMillon, a pretty important and powerful executive, don’t you think? Can you guess where he went to college? The University of Arkansas. He has an MBA, too. From the University of Tulsa.

Second on the list was Exxon Mobil Corp. Its CEO, Darren Woods, went to Texas A&M. Third was Berkshire Hathaway Inc., run by the man many consider the greatest investor who ever lived: Warren Buffett. He spent three years at the Wharton School before transferring to the University of Nebraska, from which he graduated. He was then rejected by Harvard Business School. (He got his MBA from Columbia Business School, where he famously learned from the great value investor Ben Graham.)

Fourth was Apple Inc., whose chief executive, Tim Cook, is arguably the most important executive in all of tech. He went to a university better known for football than academics: Auburn.
Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Darren Woods (L) and Warren Buffett (R).

Are you sensing a pattern here? General Electric Co.’s Lawrence Culp went to Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Cardinal Health Inc.’s Michael Kaufmann went to Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. AT&T Inc.’s Randall Stephenson went to the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma. General Motors Co.’s Mary Barra went to Kettering University in Flint, Michigan. (Kettering used to be the General Motors Institute before it was spun off from GM in the early 1980s.)

Of the CEOs of the top 20 companies in last year’s Fortune 500, exactly one — Inc.’s Jeff Bezos — went to an Ivy League school (Princeton). And that’s not all. We tend to think of the founders of technology companies as having all gone to Stanford University (or dropping out of Harvard University). And yes, many of them did. But Michael Dell went to the University of Texas. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Marc Andreessen went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. So did Larry Ellison, though he never graduated.

Hurun Rich List: Mukesh Ambani Debuts In Top 10, While 23 Other Indians Join The Club; Bezo...

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Money Talk

27 Feb, 2019
Amazon's Jeff Bezos, whose wealth has been making headlines due to his impending divorce with wife Mackenzie, topped the Hurun Rich list for the second year. The 55-year-old's net worth is a staggering USD 147 billion. He is followed by Bill Gates at USD 96 bn, Warren Buffett at USD 88 bn, Bernard Arnault at USD 86 bn, and Mark Zuckerberg at 80 billion. This year's list also saw RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani make it to the top 10 for the first time. Here's a look at some interesting stats that the list brought out. (Clockwise from left: Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mukesh Ambani, Warren Buffett)

When I see something like the college admissions scandal that broke on Tuesday — with dozens of parents arrested for resorting to bribery to get their kids into a prestigious school like Yale or Georgetown — I shake my head in dismay. Not because of the criminality; I mean, bribing a women’s soccer coach to pretend your kid is an athlete is more comedy than tragedy. And not because of the sheer stupidity, either. Didn’t anybody tell these rich parents that with their wealth all they had to do was make a sizable donation to get their kid into a “good school,” no matter how poor their grades? (Exhibit A: Jared Kushner, who got into Harvard after his father pledged to make a $2.5 million donation.)

No, what dismays me