Harvard University educates the greatest number of global business elite – THE Alma Mater Index 2017

Harvard University educates the greatest number of global business elite - THE Alma Mater Index 2017
Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust and Alpha Conde, President of Guinea attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 19, 2017. Image via Reuters.

The world’s elite is now in Davos, Switzerland discussing global economic matters at the World Economic Forum 2017. Today, they are the movers and shakers of the economy – in this annual pilgrimage, they tackle everything from climate change to saving the middle class.

But before they got to where they are now, they went to university, and Times Higher Education‘s Alma Mater (Global Executives) Index 2017 have identified just which schools had shaped them to become the man or woman they are today.

The index identifies the chief executives of members of Fortune magazine’s Global 500 and finds out which universities they graduated from.

Fortune‘s Global 500 is a ranking of the world’s 500 largest companies by revenue. In 2015, their total earnings were US$27.6 trillion – a figure much higher than the entire gross domestic product of the U.S., which was US$18 trillion in 2015, according to the World Bank.

The methodology includes qualifications from undergraduate degrees up to doctorates and other postgraduate qualifications.

Harvard and the U.S. are tops

Students walk through the Harvard Law School area on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., in this Nov. 19, 2002 file photo. The global economic crisis shrunk the ranks of billion-dollar endowments from 77 to 54 in a year’s time, according to a report Thursday Jan. 28, 2010 that provides the fullest picture yet of endowment performance in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. While the downturn hit all types of universities, elite schools such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford absorbed some of the deepest losses. Image via AP.

Harvard University educated the most CEOs, conferring 29 qualifications to 26 chief executives of companies. The companies’ combined 2015 revenue? US$1.4 trillion.

Stanford University came in at second place, with 14 degrees conferred on 12 CEOs of companies worth a combined US$729 billion, followed by two French grandes écoles : HEC Paris, a business school, and École Polytechnique, a technically-focused university.

Ecole Polytechnique educated only 11 CEOs, but the total revenue generated by them was more than US$840 billion in 2015, about US$100 billion more than Stanford University’s CEO alumni.

Comparing destinations of study, the U.S. easily dominated other countries, with 231 CEO alumni among the Fortune Global 500 chief executives. This was followed by China, whose universities have educated 116 chief executives; France, with 68; Germany, 46; the UK, 40; and Japan, 35.

These six countries also had the most number of Fortune 500 companies, in nearly identical order.

The University of Oxford had the highest number of CEO alumni in the UK, with seven degrees conferred on six chief executives. Together, they make some US$280 billion.

Wuhan University, at seventh place, was the only Asian representative within the top ten universities listed, with nine qualifications conferred on five chief executives. Kyoto University trailed behind at 12th place, with seven degrees conferred on seven CEOs.

Findings and conclusions

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about iMac and Macbook computers during an announcement of new products Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Cupertino, Calif. Apple is one of the companies listed in Fortune Global 500 list. Image via AP.

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about iMac and Macbook computers during an announcement of new products Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Cupertino, Calif. Apple is one of the companies listed in Fortune Global 500 list. Image via AP.

The index provides an interesting snapshot on the academic background of the world’s rich and elite.

To an extent, it could show an institution or a country’s strength in higher education. But the index acknowledges its limitations – its simple methodology could merely reflect a country’s large populations and the number of large companies headquartered there.

Analysing the top 15 nations in the index, the statistical correlation between the number of Fortune Global 500 CEOs their institutions have educated and number of Fortune Global 500 companies based there is 0.95, where 1 is a perfect correlation. Of the 36 U.S. companies in the top 100, 34 have chief executives with undergraduate qualifications from U.S. institutions.

Another conclusion derived from the index was: “If large companies were required to donate even a small proportion of their revenue to the alma mater of their chief executive, a handful of already elite universities around the world would find themselves a great deal richer.”

For Jean-Michel Blanquer, former deputy director of the Cabinet for the French Ministry of National Education, Higher Education, and Research, and dean of Essec Business School, the huge revenues also highlights another point: it shows the central place that higher education plays in a country’s economic prosperity. This is because companies increasingly seek highly-educated talent, and their ability to relocate to countries where the talents are.

“Twenty years ago, you could say that the university was very important in society and you needed good universities to be a good country,” he told Times Higher Education. “Today, [higher education] is much more than that: it’s the heart of the society and the economy. You are in or out in the globalisation [game] because of the quality of your HE sector. Research and higher education are as strategic as military and defense investment for a nation [if it wants to have] sovereignty in the world.”


Rank in Alma Mater Index Position in THE World University Rankings 2016-17 Institution Country Number of qualifications awarded to CEOs Number of CEOs educated Revenue ($bn)
1 6 Harvard University United States 29 26 429.62
2 3 Stanford University United States 14 12 728.84
3 NR HEC Paris France 12 12 516.71
4 116 École Polytechnique France 11 11 841.33
5 19 Cornell University United States 10 7 547.56
6 13 University of Pennsylvania United States 9 8 348.98
7 401-500 Wuhan University China 9 5 439.78
8 10 University of Chicago United States 8 7 444.13
9 5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States 8 6 340.23
10 251-300 Mines ParisTech France 7 7 554.04
 Source : Times Higher Education

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