15 Engineers Who Became CEOs

Engineers tend to be hard-working, detail-oriented and practical, making them good candidates for a corner office.
  • Earning an engineering degree may not necessarily make you a CEO, but it’s a good start.

    Many of the biggest and wealthiest companies in the world are headed by engineers. Apple, Amazon and Google, for example, are all led by individuals educated in engineering. So are Boeing, IBM, Microsoft, Shell, General Motors and Dow Chemical.

    Those few powerhouses, however, are just the tip of the executive iceberg. A 2011 study by the consulting firm Stuart Spencer concluded that approximately one-third of top executives in S&P 500 companies were educated as engineers.

    The reasons are many. Having earned what Time magazine once called “the toughest degree in the U.S. educational establishment,” engineers tend to be hard-working. They’re also detail-oriented and practical. They know what works, what’s efficient and what’s safe. And, having had a dose of engineering economics in their formative years, they tend to know how to weigh costs against benefits.

    Here, we’ve collected photos and engineering background information on CEOs at some of the world’s top companies. From Apple and Amazon to Alphabet and Analog Devices, we present 15 of the best and brightest.

  • IBM CEO and chairwoman, Virginia Rometty, is the first female to head the giant multinational company. She joined IBM as a systems engineer in 1981 and is credited with spearheading its move to cloud computing. She’s been named by Bloomberg as one of the “50 Most Influential People in the World” and by Fortune as one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” for 10 consecutive years. Rometty graduated from Northwestern University in 1979 with a BS in computer science and electrical engineering.

    (Image source: Wikipedia)

  • Google, Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai has served as product chief for some of the most recognizable brands in the world, including Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, and Android. A native of India, Pichai earned his BS in metallurgical engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, then went on to get an MS in material science from Stanford University and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He was selected as Google’s CEO in August, 2015, succeeding founder Larry Page.

     

    (Image source: Wikipedia, by Maurizio Pesce from Milan, Italy)

  • As chairman, president and CEO of Boeing, Inc., Dennis Muilenburg oversees a $94.6 billion aerospace powerhouse with employees in 65 countries. He has served in numerous engineering posts since joining Boeing in 1985, on such projects as the Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft, the F-22, the High Speed Civil Transport and the Condor reconnaissance aircraft. He holds a BS in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University and an MS in aeronautics and astronautics from the University of Washington.

    (Image source: Boeing, Inc.)

  • Jeff Bezos was an engineer long before he gained fame as founder and CEO of Amazon.com. He is said to have tried to dismantle his crib as a toddler, and he laid pipe and fixed windmills while still in elementary school. He earned a BS in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University, where he was also president of the local chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

    (Image source: Wikipedia)

  • As CEO and president of LG Chem Power, Inc,. Denise Gray heads the company that designs the lithium-ion battery for the well-known Chevy Bolt electric car. Although she’s now part of one of the world’s largest chemical conglomerates, Gray also knows the auto industry well, having served in the design of electro-mechanical systems, powertrain software, transmission controls and battery systems engineering with General Motors. She holds a BS in electrical engineering from Kettering University and an MS in engineering management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

    (Image source: LG Chem Power, Inc.)

  • The first female CEO of a major auto company, Mary Barra launched her General Motors career as a co-op student in 1980, and subsequently held a variety of engineering and administrative positions before being named to her current post in 2013. Barra has automotive bloodlines, having grown up with a father who worked as a die maker at Pontiac for 39 years. In addition to being GM’s first female CEO, Barra’s promotion to the top was unusual in that she’s an electrical engineer, a position that for many years was not considered a good path to a corner office in the automotive world. She is a EE graduate of General Motors Institute, now known as Kettering University. 

    (Image source: General Motors)

  • As chairman, president and CEO of Texas Instruments since 2004, Richard Templeton has spearheaded the company’s drive to become a global leader in analog ICs, embedded systems and digital signal processing. He started in sales in the company’s semiconductor business, eventually becoming president of that unit in 1996. Templeton holds a BS in electrical engineering from Union College in New York.

    (Image source: Texas Instruments)

  • Alex Molinaroli, chairman and CEO of Johnson Controls, is the force behind his company’s effort to develop better lithium-ion batteries. He joined Johnson Controls in 1983 and served as president of its Power Solutions business from 2007 to 2013. He is also a founding member of the Electrification Coalition. Molinaroli, who now heads up a company of 170,000 employees, holds a BS in electrical and computer engineering from the University of South Carolina and an MBA from Northwestern University.

    (Image source: Johnson Controls)

  • Even among the many engineer-CEOs, Lowell McAdam is one of the few who can say he’s a licensed professional engineer. The chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications, McAdam holds a BS in engineering from Cornell University. He also spent six years in the US Navy Civil Engineer Corps.

    (Image source: Verizon Communications)

  • Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Co., has made his mark on the world of technology in numerous ways. He has been named to the President’s Export Council by Barack Obama, to the co-chair position of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, and to the leadership position of the American Manufacturing Council by Donald Trump. He also authored a book, Make It in America: The Case for Re-Inventing the Economy, in which he argued that the manufacturing sector is essential to creating jobs. Liveris holds a BS in chemical engineering from the University of Queensland.

    (Image source: Wikipedia, by the World Economic Forum)

  • In his 30-plus years at Royal Dutch Shell plc, Ben van Beurden has exhibited two qualities that are critical to reaching the CEO’s office – an ability to understand different business units and a willingness to move. He has served in a range of Shell businesses, including chemicals and liquefied natural gases, which has taken him from his native Netherlands to Malaysia to the United Kingdom and to the US. He has also served on the International Council of Chemical Associations and the European Chemical Industry Council. van Beurden earned an MS in chemical engineering from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

    (Image source: Wikipedia, by José Cruz/Agência Câmara)

  • Vincent Roche joined Analog Devices, Inc. as a marketing engineer in Limerick, Ireland in 1988 and worked his way to president and CEO of the company 25 years later, in 2013. In the interim, he worked with disk drive electronics, interfaces, optical systems, and power management technology. Roche holds a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Limerick.

    (Image source: Analog Devices, Inc.)

  • 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, WA 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.”

    (Image source: Microsoft Corp.)

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook rose to prominence after first serving with IBM, Intelligent Electronics and Compaq. He joined Apple in 1998 and was named CEO in 2011, succeeding Steve Jobs. Cook is an industrial engineering graduate of Auburn University and holds an MBA from Duke University.

    (Image source: Wikipedia)

  • Larry Page probably never dreamed that he would one day attempt to re-make the world, but that’s essentially what he’s trying to do in his role as CEO of Alphabet, Inc. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has a breathtakingly ambitious list of projects it’s overseeing, including the creation of artificial intelligence, the study of aging, the development of home automation systems and engineering of self-driving cars, among many others. Page, co-founder of Google and inventor of its search-ranking algorithms, is probably one of the few individuals on the planet with the vision for that job, having been exposed to cutting-edge technology since his childhood. His father is regarded as a pioneer in artificial intelligence and his mother was a computer science instructor at Michigan State University. Page was the first student in his elementary school to use a word processor to turn in an assignment and once created an inkjet printer out of Lego bricks. He went on to earn a BS in computer engineering from the University of Michigan, where he was a member of the school’s Solar Car team. He also earned an MS in computer science from Stanford University.

    (Image source: Wikipedia, by Stansfield PL)

 

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

 

WozSpeaking of engineers who have held C-Level roles, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, will speak at the East Coast's largest annual Design & Manufacturing Event in New York this June. Register today for this can't miss oppertunity to hear Wozniak's thoughts on Apple, robotics, IoT, and more.

 

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