For decades, the corporate path to the chief executive's office has often passed through engineering. Automotive, computer, electronics, and oil companies have frequently drawn their leaders from the engineering ranks.
Today, the trend continues, and it reaches beyond technology companies. McDonald's Corp., for example, is now led by an engineer. So is Bank of America. According to a 2011 study conducted by consulting firm Spencer Stuart, approximately one third of the top executives in S&P 500 companies were educated as engineers. The same study revealed that only 11% of CEOs received undergraduate degrees in business administration.
We did a little digging and found engineering background information on CEOs of top companies. From GM and Ford to McDonald's and ExxonMobil, we present a few of the corporate world's highest-ranking engineers.
Click on the photo of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella below to start the slideshow and to see who else made this impressive list.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's most prominent characteristic is his energy. After earning a BS in electrical engineering from the Manipal Institute of Technology in India, he moved to the US, earned an MS in computer science, went to work for Sun Microsystems, and then launched a career with Microsoft Corp. While at Microsoft, Nadella earned an MBA from the University of Chicago by flying from Redmond, Wash., to Chicago every Friday night, taking classes on Saturday, and flying back for the work week. His mantra to Microsoft team members: "Our industry does not respect tradition -- it only respects innovation." (Source: Microsoft Corp.)
McDonald's & Bank-of-America – Hmphhh.Amazingly, high-tech pioneers like Motorola and Nokia were often capped by marketing and accounting majors; which was always frustrating to the thousands of technical savvy engineers in the ranks, often baffled by bonehead business decisions mis-leveraging great technology.
Lee Iococca and John DeLorean – now there were two visionary engineers!
I was surprised to see that usually engineers are leading successfull organisations . One reason that i can figure out is that engineers are usually jack of all and they are multitasker which makes them a good leader and decision maker as well.
That's really interesting, Chuck, and I can see why the backlash against MBAs is happening. I think for awhile it became sort of the obvious thing to do, and people thought it would sort of ensure them a good job out of school. I think because of that, people were actually less than passionate about getting the degree and just wanted to make money, so you ended up with a lot of people who had MBAs but weren't exactly great at business. People who go into engineering tend to be very passionate about it (well, this may be a gross generalization--perhaps I should say those that excel tend to be passionate). So I would imagine they make better visionaries and leaders overall. But this is just one theory!
I think engineers will agree with you and so will many corporations, naperlou. However, the American public seems oblivious to this concept. A recent study by the American Society for Quality showed that just 9% of the public sees engineers as leaders. In the survey, engineers came in behind many other disciplines, including operations, marketing, finance, academia and sales.
Liz, I'm hearing the same thing about MBAs. Increasingly, companies seem to be saying that the proliferation of people with MBAs has caused the degree to lose some of its value. Where I live (in Chicago), I often hear people say that an MBA from Northwestern or the University of Chicago has value, otherwise don't bother. Don't know if there's any truth to that, but it's an idea that seems to be out there today.
I am not surprised to see engineers leading successful corporations. Engineers are decision makers by definition so it follows that it is natural for engineers to assume leadership roles. The US would be better off with more decision makers and fewer lawyers in top leadership roles. Lawyers are trained to focus on the anecdote, to confuse, disguise and mislead.
It's not surprising so many engineers make it to the top of companies, but it is rather interesting to see how some of the most successful companies (MSFT, Google) now have "geeks" at the helm. i think these days it's probably better to have an engineering degree than an MBA if you want to succeed in business! It definitely gives you a perspective on things someone who is all business wouldn't have, and adds that "visionary" aspect to the position.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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