Do you need a degree to become a millionaire or billionaire businessperson? Neither Mark Zuckerberg nor Bill Gates did – although they probably learned a thing or two before they quit school to launch Facebook and Microsoft.
The Facebook boss has earned on average $6m per day of his life – including his pre-school years in short pants! Gates became the youngest ever billionaire at age 31, and has earned a $4m/day if you average his worth out over his entire life.
But while successful business leaders often have a maverick streak about them, more important is a sense of commitment, dedication, and self-betterment. This is reflected in the fact that the vast majority have a bachelor’s degree.
As it happens, the highest-paid CEOs in the US have at least a bachelor’s degree, and two-thirds of them went on to complete a master’s program, too.
The people at Resume.io were intrigued by these statistics, and dug a little further in order to create a wonderful new interactive. It shows at a glance just who those top regional chief executive officers are, and where and what they studied.
They found it was possible to put them into one of six categories: engineering, economics, arts and humanities, sciences, social sciences, and business and finance.
They also found that doing so paints an interesting picture of what might be the best course to follow if you’re hoping to rise to the top.
What The Highest-Paid CEOs in America Studied at College
Business was the number one choice of degree (37%) which is understandable.
Gotta know those numbers! But engineering came a respectable second, reflecting the big bucks involved in engineering industries such as energy, medical devices, and transportation – and the usefulness of knowing not just your business, but the nuts and bolts of your sector, from the inside out.
Around 12% of these leaders majored in economics.
While not a bad showing, it does raise the importance of a distinction between economics (which tends to focus on abstract numbers and transactions) and business (which takes into account personal communication, cultural trends, and ethical concerns.)
The same number took social sciences – mostly political science – with just 9% opting for the arts and humanities (which may explain why our planet is doomed.)
As far as graduate degrees go, three-quarters of those highest-paid CEOs who are the highest paid in their state and who pursued a second degree have a masters in business administration. Law comes in second place, with just 12%.
Intriguingly, enrolment in an Ivy League college does not seem to be a pre-requisite for business success – at least as far as this limited survey goes. Only six of those top-paid CEOs joined the Ivy League. Nearly as many took their higher education abroad, and less than half of all these CEOs attended private schools.
So a business flavor to your study certainly seems to be of help, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all.
Indeed, spicing up your college years with something a bit more esoteric may make you into a more rounded, empathetic, and adaptable leader with the power not just to forge ahead but to branch out.
An in-depth understanding of your industry and your product, from factory line to shop floor to consumer household (or whatever route that product takes) can empower you to make more complex and revolutionary decisions and become one of the highest-paid CEOs.
In today’s parlance, that means to ‘disrupt.’
Let’s take a look at a couple of the top paid CEOs who tried something different.
Kenneth W. Lowe (Scripps Networks Interactive, Tennessee)
Lowe is a rarity among the highest-paid CEOs for having studied the arts.
He took Radio, TV, and Motion Pictures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (they also gave him an honorary doctorate in humane letters in 2017). His understanding of the arts and the media has been priceless as he climbed to a $28.8m income as President and Chief Executive Officer of Scripps.
His break came through the founding of cable channel HGTV in 1994, taking over a small independent production company with investment from Scripps in order to begin creating and broadcasting original TV content.
Originally named the Home, Lawn, and Garden Channel, it may not have been sexy but HGTV’s reliable output and broad appeal finally saw it become the third most watched US channel in 2017.
But Lowe had cut his teeth prior to HGTV with many years in broadcasting management positions. It was his 20+ years of experience plus the ground-level knowledge he’d picked up at school that enabled him to spot and successfully exploit that HGTV-shaped hole in the market.
Douglas Ingram (Sarepta Therapeutics, Massachusetts)
Graduating with a degree in Psychology from Arizona State University, Ingram added a law qualification to his resume with his graduate studies.
He went on to work his way up to positions of substantial authority at a number of pharmaceutical and therapeutic companies, including general counsel roles – advising his employers on the legality of their endeavors.
In fact, his career has been characterized by ethical and legal advisory positions that have earned him the trust of those around him.
Most recently, Ingram was in the news as word spread of Sarepta’s intriguing new gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), although he was customarily cautious about what seemed to be good news: “This is preliminary results. We need to be careful.”
But the sense of responsibility and humanity developed through his psychology degree remains keen.
Sarepta’s technique is promising, but the research is tantalizingly incomplete. “We need to treat more kids,” he told CNBC. “We’re going to treat 12 kids versus 12 placebo kids. And we need to watch them for some time, perhaps a year.
“But we don’t want to wait that long because every single day that we delay, these kids are being damaged. People have been trying to find a solution to this for decades.”
Behind the human story, of course, remains the business story: Sarepta’s announcement caused its shares to surge by more than 50%.
If you’re thinking about how you can brighten up the world and make a buck or two at the same time, it’s well worth thinking about majoring in a degree that isn’t ostensibly about business. Follow the path of the highest-paid CEOs in the US and start creating your money-making ideas later.