There are many definitions of success, and that is a good thing. And today, more people are defining success in their own ways.

But for the purposes of this post, let’s define success in a once-common way, even though a growing number of people might no longer see it as valid . . .

Success means becoming the leader of a large corporation

We don’t believe that definition is valid for everyone, or even for a majority of people. But let’s ask, if that is your definition of success, do you have to attend an Ivy League institution to reach it?

Only One of these Corporate Leaders Attended an Ivy League School as an Undergrad

“America’s Top CEOs and their College Degrees,” an article that Terri Williams wrote for on April 19, 2019, provides a list of where some of America’s most successful corporate leaders went to college. If this list is accurate – and we believe it is – it shows something that is very interesting indeed: of the 10 executives she lists, only one holds an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League institution. (Note that the Ivies are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale.)

Ms. Williams’s list shows that for their undergraduate studies:

  • Doug McMillian, President and CEO of Walmart, went to the University of Arkansas
  • Darren Woods, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, went to Texas A&M
  • Warren Buffet, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, went to the University of Nebraska
  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, went to Auburn University
  • Dave Wichmann, CEO of United Healthgroup, went to Illinois State University
  • John Hammergren, Chairman, President and CEO of McKesson, went to the University of Minnesota
  • Larry Merlo, President and CEO of CVS, went to the University of Pittsburgh
  • Randall L. Stephenson, Chairman and CEO of AT&T, went to the University of Central Oklahoma
  • Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, went to Kettering University
  • Larry Page, co-founder and CEO of Alphabet, went to the University of Michigan

And the only Ivy-League Exec on Ms. Williams’s List Is . . .

  • Jeff Bezos, Founder, CEO and Chairman of Amazon, went to Princeton University

What about Mark Zuckerberg, You Ask?

It is true that Mr. Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, got into Harvard University and started studying there. But he dropped out and never graduated. Note that Harvard gave him an honorary degree a few years ago.

If You’re an Educator, How Can You Use this Information?

One way would be to remind students (and their parents) that failing to get admitted into an Ivy League institution will probably not be the end of the world. It might, in fact, be the first step on the road to success.

To Learn More about College & Career Planning

We invite all students to explore their college & career options by participating in our career and college research studies. Students who complete the free career test for high school students will receive information on college and career opportunities which match their interests.