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Paul Buchheit
'Any College Will Do' - -
'Any College Will Do' -
"The college diplomas of the nation's top executives tell an intriguing story: Getting to the corner office has more to do with leadership talent and a drive for success than it does with having an undergraduate degree from a prestigious university. Most CEOs of the biggest corporations didn't attend Ivy League or other highly selective colleges. They went to state universities, big and small, or to less-known private colleges." - Paul Buchheit from Bookmarklet
"companies seeking to fill CEO and other senior jobs rarely consider candidates' degrees. "It's what you've accomplished that matters," says Mr. Neff, "not what you were doing at 21." - Clare Dibble
Seems like another one of these cases that makes odd conclusions about correlation and causality. I suspect one could also conclude the best way to become a Fortune 500 CEO is to be a white male, be 60-70yrs old, have started off in an entry level position with no graduate education and then work 20+ years for the same company, and be lucky. - Ken Sheppardson
...oh, and be born in the 30s from Depression-era parents who instill in you a good work ethic and be the first person in your family to go to college. - Ken Sheppardson
The Ivy League buys you connections (and maybe a foot in the door) more than anything else, I think. - Gabe
"Some 10% of CEOs currently heading the top 500 companies received undergraduate degrees from Ivy League colleges, according to a survey by executive recruiter Spencer Stuart. But more received their undergraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin than from Harvard, the most represented Ivy school." UW:10, Harvard: 9 -- how is that not on Wisconsin's brochure this year? - Bryan Power
The 50 largest US companies by revenues is a very odd group of companies to consider (small, and heavily weighted to a few industries.) - Dave Bacon
I think State schools are a much better value than private college educations. - Thomas Hawk
I know VA has amazing state schools. - Shevonne
My son is a student at CSUN on scholarship for jazz studies. He chose that over the other two great schools for jazz (both out of state, both state universities). It has been a terrific fit for him. The snobbery over private universities is silly. Public universities have opportunities that just aren't available in the private arena. - Karoli
+1 @Ken ...all the people cited and quoted in this article are male and white. tell a woman, or a Black person, "Hey, it doesn't matter where you're educated... just have leadership qualities and you'll make it to the top." obama had a steller education and amazing leadership qualities, yet all we heard about him was how little experience he had. this article is complete and utter BS! - .LAG liked that
LAG makes a great point. - Anika
+1 .LAG game, set, and match. in other news WSJ discovers "Any Skin Color Will Do" for CEO as long as it's white. ;-) - Karim
I disagree with LAG. Since only 4% of the CEOs went to Ivy League schools, it makes sense that it doesn't matter if you went to such a school. - Gabe
Gabe: You can't say "it doesn't matter", all you can say is it *didn't* matter 30-40 years ago when these men went to college. And even then, since I doubt 4% of the general population went to an Ivy League school, I'll bet you'd find that Ivy League school alumni are disproportionately represented, meaning that it DID, in fact, matter. - Ken Sheppardson
Fewer than 1% of CEOs have been black and most of them did attend Ivy League schools. White females were little over 16% of CEOs and most of them either attended Ivy Leagues or high-profile private schools, too. - Anika
This conversation is getting muddied by the inclusion of seemingly related arguments that, in actuality, have nothing to do with what the article is saying. The article isn't saying that socioeconomic status doesn't make it easier for some and more difficult for others or that we have reached a place of equality that provides parity of opportunity for all races, genders and classes - it simply saying the CW that going to a top school is gen. a prereq for making it to the top is not supported by the data - Marco(aureliusmaximus)
Ken, you're making an absurd argument. Since 25% of the US population is 18 or under, do you expect 125 of the Fortune 500 CEOs to be 18 years old or younger? What if I said "Age doesn't matter", would you say that age obviously does matter because there are no infant CEOs? - Gabe
Marco is dead on. A top-tier education is neither necessary nor sufficient for becoming a BigCo CEO. There are so many other factors that get one to CEO. And there are so many possible outcomes of going to various kinds of institutions. A certain kind of degree or school may open doors or get you an entry into a certain network, but 10 years later, not to mention 20 or more, it won't matter much. - Tinfoil 2.0
Gabe: I understand that trying to apply concepts like statistical significance might sound absurd because the MSM like to just throw out pie charts and say "See?", but let me take a different angle: If you want to say it doesn't matter what kind of school you went to, you can't just look at the numbers and say since the % who went to ivy league is small it doesn't matter. You need to compare the statistics of the population you're looking at to those of the general population... - Ken Sheppardson
...It's some of the same principles they apply when they look at drug effectiveness by comparing how many people saw a positive effect from taking the drug vs. taking a placebo. If you control for all other factors like age, race, socio-economic status, you need to look at % of CEOs with Ivy League education vs. % of general pop with Ivy League education, and even then you can't infer causality. [I realize I'm misusing the term "general population" to mean something like 'control sample'. Sorry about that.] - Ken Sheppardson
Marco, respectfully, the article is NOT just saying "a top school is not a prerequisite;" it is ALSO saying that the important thing is, quote, "leadership talent and a drive for success," and "a person's capacity to seize opportunities." In other words, it's spinning some happy-ass fantasy about how all you need is moxie, kid, ya know, The Right Stuff -- while completely ignoring all the inequality and discrimination that PREVENTS women and minorities from becoming CEOs. - Karim
So what population makes up the control sample, Ken? - Gabe
Wow, I think people are reading way more into the article than I did. I saw it simply as evidence that fancy Ivy degrees aren't necessary, which is a nice counter to these crazy parents who need their kids to get into the right pre-school so that they can get into Harvard. - Paul Buchheit
@karim i appreciate your perspective but those issues are entirely different and altogether separate from the thrust of the article which, i believe, is summed up here: "This information should help allay the anxieties of many parents and their college-bound children who believe admission to a top-ranked school with a powerful alumni network is a prerequisite to success in the upper echelons of business management." - i think Paul is dead on in his last comment - Marco(aureliusmaximus)
I guess by definition you can't reason with crazy parents, Bindu :) - Paul Buchheit
There's also another side to this -- business as such is really looked down on, i think, at most ivies. Finance, law, or academia are all considered elevated and worthwhile, but business is both institutionally (ie Harvard's obsessive anti-vocationalism) and socially disparaged constantly. - david hammer
Marco, the main point of the article was that "any college will do," but that is not all the article said. Quote, "Getting to the corner office has more to do with leadership talent and a drive for success..." Quote, "What counts most, CEOs say, is a person's capacity to seize opportunities." Quote, "It's what you've accomplished that matters..." This is not "reading into the article," this is QUOTING the article. - Karim
The article tells you one thing you DON'T need (an Ivy League degree), and several things you DO need ("leadership talent," "drive," "capacity to seize opportunities") to be a CEO. It is a classic example of "The Elephant in the Room" ( because the job of CEO is one dominated by white males, despite the fact that they don't have a monopoly on "leadership talent," "drive," or "capacity to seize opportunities." - Karim
Most of my Harvard friends who were on business fast-tracks were quite satisfied before the Fortune 500 level (e.g. $1-100 million businesses) and moved onto a "slower" career track. Echo'ing David - Business is probably only a career track for <5% of Harvard grads. Medicine and law are most popular. Of the billionaires, I believe Fortune 500 said the non-college-graduates were worth 25% more. - Mitchell Tsai
Harvard Business School has an interesting blog post here: quote: "A great deal of psychology research shows that people in positions of power tend to promote folks who are like themselves. Since corporate America is still the domain of white men, African-Americans and other minorities are discriminated against either consciously or unconsciously." - Karim
So while the WSJ is providing a happy fantasy that for blacks "any college will do," all you need is "leadership talent" and "drive for success," Harvard Business School is telling black people that the CEO job is still predominately a job for white males. Wow. How'd the Wall Street Journal miss out on that one? - Karim
BTW Gabe, it's not 4% who went to Ivy League schools, but *four* people total, out of the top 50 (i.e. 8%). The other survey they cited said *10%* of of the Fortune 500 CEOs went to one of the 8 Ivy League schools. No, THAT shouldn't raise any eyebrows -- keep telling yourself "any college will do..." - Karim
Having heard Bill Green speak on this very topic, what I take away is that for an elite few who are very self-motivated life long learners, school doesn't matter. I.e nature far outweighs nurture. For most normal folks I imagine the nurture of a smaller school or societal expectations that come with an Ivy degree are a welcome nudge. - Sarah Brinkerhoff
Karim, you are saying that blacks are discriminated against because they're not white, and that 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs didn't go to Ivy League schools. How is that inconsistent with "any college will do"? - Gabe
Gabe, first off, it's a senior editor of Harvard Business Review who is saying that blacks are discriminated against in corporate America. Ok? I'm *quoting.* Second, while the fact of discrimination isn't *directly* inconsistent with "any college will do," THAT IS NOT THE ONLY SENTENCE IN THE ARTICLE. The article describes several things that ARE important for CEOs to have, such as "leadership talent," a "capacity to seize opportunities," the "drive to succeed," etc. - Karim
By listing these character traits, and then failing to mention that, "Oh by the way, if you're a woman, or a minority, NONE of this matters, the deck is hopelessly stacked against you," the article misleads the non-white/non-male reader. It doesn't mention the elephant in the room, which is, "any college will do" only applies to *white males.* - Karim
Let's say there is a club called the "CEO Club" and they admit anyone, of any sex, race, creed, or color -- except they don't allow people named "Gabe." And then the WSJ came out with some article "proving" that the CEO Club didn't discriminate based on what school you went to. Wouldn't you be sitting there, a little pissed off, knowing that the newspaper failed to mention that they don't admit anyone named "Gabe?" - Karim
"Oh yes," I would say, in moronic indignation, "but how is discriminating against people named 'Gabe' inconsistent with 'any college will do?'" And you would no doubt feel the description of the CEO Club as non-discriminatory, whose membership was ostensibly based on character traits such as "leadership potential," was dishonest for not mentioning their name discrimination. - Karim
The article said nothing about other requirements of being a CEO, like wearing a suit or playing golf, but I'm not complaining that I'm discriminated against because I don't own a suit or set of golf clubs. - Gabe
As for the 90% of CEOs *not* going to Ivy League schools -- you can look at it that way, or you can look at it as you being wrong by 250%. ;-) Another way to look at it: there are roughly 2,500 4-year colleges & universities in the country. If "any college will do," I don't know why 1 out of 10 CEOs would limit themselves to the same 8 out of 2,500 schools. - Karim
Sorry, Karim, but I can't tell whether you're joking, or you would really think that there is state-based discrimination because more of the CEOs are from California than from Montana. The actual explanation is that top students go to top schools. Since top students are more likely to become top CEOs, the top schools (like Ivy Leagues) are over-represented in the sample. - Gabe
Gabe, a suit and a set of golf clubs is something people can *acquire.* :-D Change of race and/or addition of Y chromosome, not so much. - Karim
Karim, I consider myself physically incapable of wearing a suit every day or becoming good enough at golf to be able to play with the members of a firm's board. - Gabe
Gabe, if you're a top student, and "any college will do," why would you waste the money on an Ivy League education? Or if 10 minutes of research proves that "any college will do," I'm not sure what kind of "top student" you are... ;-) - Karim
Seriously, should I complain that the NBA is discriminating against me because I'm white, Jewish, under 6', and in my 30's? No, because the NBA only cares that I can't play basketball. And despite the fact that I will never, with any amount of practice, be able to play basketball well-enough that the NBA would consider me, I do not feel unjustly discriminated against. - Gabe
Gabe, is your point now that, as *you personally* suck at basketball, that women and minorities *as a group* suck at running companies? - Karim
Karim, are you implying that everybody who is not one of the top 450 basketball players in the country sucks at basketball, and thus anybody who is not a CEO of one of the top 500 companies must suck at running companies? My point was that just as short people, white people, and Jews are all welcome in the NBA if they can play basketball *better* than one of the other 450 top players in the country, women and minorities are welcome as Fortune 500 CEOs if they can run a company *better* than the one of the other 500 qualified people. - Gabe
Gabe, I'm not implying anything, I'm just *wondering* what *you* meant. You said your not being in the NBA wasn't discrimination because you suck at basketball. Are you saying there is no discrimination in corporate America, that there's no dearth of minority executives? Please explain your basketball analogy. - Karim
Karim, there is a big difference between not being in the top 500 in the country (which I said) and sucking (which I did not say). I have a client who is a minority executive recruiter, so I know a little about the business. There are plenty of companies hiring minority (and women) executives, but most of them aren't for Fortune 500 CEO jobs. - Gabe
I see you've edited and elaborated on the previous post. You know, with basketball, you can attribute failure to mostly physical attributes: you are either shorter than the competition, or not as fast, or not as agile, or not as strong. Yes, there is a reason why you don't see Stephen Hawking doing a fast break. But Gabe, what do you think that those (mostly white, mostly male) CEOs have, that women and minorities don't? - Karim
Gabe, it really doesn't matter how you slice it, whether it's Fortune 500 CEOs, CEOs in general, or executive positions: women and minorities are underrepresented. EDIT: Your friend, who is a "minority executive recruiter" -- I guess having to *specialize* in recruiting minority executives proves the point about being underrepresented.... - Karim
Nobody said minorities weren't under-represented, Karim. The question is why. You seem to think it's because of discrimination against them. Yet the existence of companies that specialize in minority recruiting signifies to me that there is a great demand for them that regular recruiters are insufficient. - Gabe
Your argument goes, a) minorities are hard to find but b) it's not discrimination because c) there are companies dealing with the fact that minorities are hard to find. That's not exactly Aristotelian rigor in your logic, Gabe. Is that what you're saying? It's either that or b) it's not discrimination because they suck at basketball and thus don't deserve to be CEO. Or something. - Karim
I was only calling it "discrimination" because that was the word the senior editor of the Harvard Business Review used, DISCRIMINATION. But what the fuck does the Harvard Business Review know about corporate America, anyway. Clearly your twisted, crypto-racist basketball analogies describe the situation more accurately. - Karim