Secrets to fast success: The education of the youngest CEOs in the world

youngest CEOS
Mark Zuckerberg is not only one of the most successful CEOs, he is also the youngest CEO in the world, amongst those that head Fortune 500 companies. Source: Kevin Dietsch/AFP

When we think of CEOs, we usually imagine someone who is older, wiser and has years of experience. But that isn’t necessarily the case anymore.

The youngest CEOs in the world today prove that age is just a number when it comes to claiming this top position.

When you find yourself feeling demotivated, draw inspiration from these youngest CEOs who have defied the odds.

Despite their humble beginnings, these young entrepreneurs transformed their fortunes by harnessing a potent blend of intellect, ambition, tenacity, and unwavering resolve.

The youngest CEOs in the world vs the oldest CEOs in the world

On the other extreme end of the spectrum are the corporate leaders who are choosing to work into old age rather than retire.

It’s another list that Warren Buffett can say he tops. At the age of 92, he still remains the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

For many major US corporations, the retirement age for executives has remained at 65 for several decades, except in cases where the executive is also the company’s founder.

Merely four decades ago, 65 was commonly regarded as old, especially considering that the average life expectancy in 1950 was a mere 68 years.

In 2017, the average age of chief executives was 58, compared to 55 a decade ago. About 10% are 65 or older.

This makes many of the 10 youngest CEOs on our list nearly half their age — and that means they only have half the years of experience of an average CEO today.

Is this a limitation or an asset today?

How to become a CEO at a young age

Like becoming parents, there’s no right age to become a CEO. Instead, experts believe a great leader is someone who possesses these traits:

  1. Introverted: They are slightly more likely to outperform the expectations of their boards and investors compared to charismatic extroverts
  2. Made mistakes: And big ones — a 10-year study of 2,000 CEOs found that 45% blew up their career at least once or made mistakes that were extremely costly to the business
  3. Can decide fast and with conviction
  4. Know how to balance keen insight into their stakeholders’ priorities with strong focus on getting results
  5. Reliable: Delivers steady, predictable results, instead of producing “miracles.”

Another study found that rookie CEOs, i.e. those without prior experience in this role, consistently do better than the old-timers in the medium to long term.

The study of 855 S&P 500 CEOs appointed over a 20-year period found that 70% rookie CEOs perform better the first time and in their second companies, 60% failed to keep up with the overall stock market.

The secret to their success? Mindset.

“In many ways, these results are not surprising,” Cathy Anterasian, who coleads Spencer Stuart’s North American CEO Succession Services group, told Harvard Business Review.

First-time CEOs more than make up for their lack of experience, resources and connections with being flexible. They’re hungry — and the study suggests that may be worth more than experience

“We’ve been talking with boards over the past decade about the importance of curiosity, adaptability, flexibility, and the ability to confront problems with fresh eyes rather than with rules of thumb.”

There’s another element to consider: their education

The most successful, youngest CEOs in the world today went to more modern schools, colleges and universities.

10 youngest CEOs in the world and where they studied

1. Advait Thakur 

Advait Thakur may just be 20 years old and still pursuing his engineering education at the KJ Somaiya College of Engineering, Vidyavihar, in Mumbai, but he’s also already an expert in artificial intelligence (AI), a software engineer, and the CEO of Apex Infosys India, one of the biggest software exporters in the nation. 

Since building his first website when he was just nine years old, Thakur has come a long way to now helm Apex Infosys, a global technology and innovation company with a focus on Internet of Things (IoT) services and goods.

According to The Startup India and India Today, he is among the “Top 10 Young Entrepreneurs In India 2018” and one of the “Young Entrepreneurs of 2019.” 

how to become a billionaire

OYO founder Ritesh Agarwal combined his passion for the hotel industry and tech — an important lesson for anyone who wants to learn how to become a billionaire. Source: AFP

2. Ritesh Agarwal 

You may have heard of OYO Rooms or OYO Hotels & Homes, but did you know that it was founded by one of the youngest CEOs in the world? 

And it all started with Ritesh Agarwal’s first job at 13 years old selling SIM cards. Finding the entrepreneur in him then, he would later go on to start OYO in 2012.

After it was accepted into Venture Nursery’s accelerator programme in September 2012, it won a US$100,000 grant as one of the 2013 Thiel Fellowship programme’s winners.

Today, it’s now a multinational hospitality chain of leased and franchised hotels, homes and living spaces.

This success has made Agrawal the second youngest billionaire in Asia, with a net worth of US$1.1 billion, according to the Forbes Under 30 list released in February 2022.

He joined the University of London’s International Programme which was provided by the Indian School of Business and Finance.

youngest CEOs

Ben Kaufman was only 18 years old when he began his entrepreneurial journey. Source: Larry Busacca/AFP

3. Ben Kaufman 

CAMP, a nationwide network of family-focused stores, was founded in 2018 and is currently headed by Ben Kaufman.

He started his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 18 with his first venture called Mophie, which specialises in offering iPod batteries, cases, cables, and other accessories, and Quirky, an online marketplace for sharing and developing ideas.

Prior to founding CAMP and becoming one of the youngest CEOs in the world, Kaufman was the Chief Marketing Officer at BuzzFeed, where he oversaw the company’s growing commerce division and marketing team.

Kaufman has a degree in Interactive Telecommunications from NYU Tisch.

youngest CEOs

Evan Spiegel was first laughed at for his idea of Snapchat, but today it is one of the most popular social media platforms. Source: Frederic J. Brown/AFP

4. Evan Spiegel 

Born in Los Angeles, California, Evan Spiegel is the co-founder and CEO of Snap Inc, the parent company of Snapchat, making him one of the youngest CEOs in the world.

He collaborated with former fraternity member Bobby Murphy to develop the widely recognised photo and video-sharing application while studying at Stanford University.

Spiegel’s passion for design began at a young age as he took design classes at the Otis College of Art and Design while still in high school.

While at Stanford, he pursued a Bachelor in Product Design. When Snapchat became so popular, he decided to drop out despite being only a few classes short of getting his degree

He eventually returned in 2018 to complete his course.

In 2015, at just 26 years old, he became the world’s youngest billionaire, with a net worth of US$2.1 billion.

Did you know that Spiegel was initially made fun of by his peers for his idea? Today he has the last laugh as the seemingly silly concept of Snapchat is one of the most popular social networking platforms.

5. Jared Hecht 

Jared Hecht, 36, is the CEO at Fundera, an online marketplace that connects entrepreneurs with suitable lenders.

Before this, he co-founded GroupMe, a group chat service that lets users to form private groups for text messaging and conference calls. It was later acquired by Skype and subsequently by Microsoft in August 2011.

In 2009, Hecht completed his studies in political science at Columbia University. Today, he contributes as a member of the advisory board for the Columbia University Entrepreneurship Organisation.

During his time at Columbia, he also held the roles of executive director and book editor for a student-written handbook called Inside New York.

youngest CEOs

David Karp began his entrepreneurial journey when he was just 21 years old. Source: AFP

6. David Karp 

David Karp, an American online entrepreneur, has amassed a fortune of US$200 million. He is famously known as one of the co-founders of the popular blogging platform Tumblr, which he established alongside his colleague Marco Arment.

Within a mere two weeks, Tumblr managed to attract 75,000 members, and today it hosts over 100 million active blogs.

Karp’s passion for technology and programming started at an early age, with him learning HTML at the age of 11. When he was 15, he made the choice to leave his school, Bronx High School of Science and began homeschooling alongside his mother.

This decision was driven by his desire to apply for an internship with Frederator Studios, which is best known for producing Adventure Time, The Fairly OddParents, and Castlevania.

He then went on to university, where he gained a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Washington.

7. Suhas Gopinath

Suhas Gopinath is the founder, CEO, and chairman of Global Inc. He took on the role of CEO at the age of 17, three years after the company’s establishment, making him one of the youngest CEOs in history.

Born in Karnataka, Gopinath created his debut website,, at the age of 14. In the same year, 2000, he also founded Globals Inc from a cyber café in Bangalore.

From a small home office, it is now a multinational offering solutions in web, e-commerce, and mobile.

Such success didn’t stop him from delaying or stopping his education.

He pursued a Bachelor of Engineering (BE) degree at Ramaiah Institute of Technology, before majoring in Economics, Public Leadership, and Policy at Harvard University.

anshuman jain

Parag Agrawal now serves as the CEO of Twitter, Inc. Source: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/AFP

8. Parag Agrawal

Parag Agrawal, an Indian-American software engineer, now serves as the CEO of Twitter, Inc where he’s making full use of the important lessons from his childhood in India and from his B Tech degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay (IIT Bombay).

He previously held the position of Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at Twitter.

At the age of 38, Prag Agrawal became one of the youngest CEOs to lead a Fortune 500 company, with an annual income and benefits exceeding US$1 million.

Before joining Twitter, the Maharashtra native worked as a research intern at AT&T Labs, Yahoo! Research, and Microsoft Research.

youngest CEOs

Mark Zuckerberg was named the youngest self-made billionaire in history back in 2007. Source: Chip Somodevilla/AFP

9. Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg is not only one of the youngest CEOs in the world today, but also the richest.

At just 23 years old in 2007, Zuckerberg became the youngest self-made billionaire in history.

The co-founder of the social media platform Facebook and the chairman, CEO, and major stakeholder of Meta Platforms is said to have a net worth of US$62.7 billion,  according to Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires.

He attended Philips Exeter Academy, then went on to join (and later dropped out of) Harvard.

10. Matthew Meloy

Last but not least on the list of youngest CEOs in the world is Matthew Meloy.

Meloy is the CEO of Targa Resources Corp, one of the largest providers of natural gas and natural gas liquids infrastructure in the US.

His education at the University of Texas at Austin prepared him with the necessary skills to rise to the top.