In 1955, Fortune editor Edgar Smith created a list of the country’s top 500 companies and firms in terms of gross annual revenue. The ranking became an annual signature of the magazine within a few years, and similar lists (such as the Fortune 1000, Fortune Global 2000, and 40 Under 40) have appeared in subsequent issues. Today, the Fortune 500 list is used as a barometer of success throughout the corporate world ― and higher-learning institutions that produce the founders and CEOs of highly ranked companies can use the prestige to recruit new students.
BestColleges.com has created this list of the 38 U.S. colleges and universities that have yielded the most Fortune 500 CEOs. Our goal is to provide a resource that prospective CEOs, financial officers, and other corporate employees can use to weigh their academic options.
Harvard University produces more Fortune 500 CEOs than any other school by a considerable margin (more than double the number of second-ranked Stanford University), and combined revenue for all of the companies these CEOs represent exceeds $1 trillion. Harvard’s placement on our list is not very surprising, as the country’s oldest university is regularly named among the finest higher-learning institutions in the world.
U.S. News & World Report placed Harvard second among all national universities in its latest ranking, and the Harvard Business School fell just below Stanford to nab the second spot on the list of the country’s best business schools.
Situated near Silicon Valley, Stanford produces a high volume of graduates who go on to find success in the technology sector. U.S. News & World Report ranked Stanford fifth among all national universities, and The Stanford Graduate School of Business claims first place on the list of best business schools in the U.S.
University of Pennsylvania
This Ivy League school is home to the Wharton School, which offers an MBA program specifically geared toward future executives. Penn tied for eighth place, among all national universities on the 2013 College Ranking from U.S. News & World Report, and the site ranked Wharton third among all business schools in the country.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Like Stanford, MIT is a major producer of graduates who hold degrees in computer science, information technology, and other fields prized in online business. MIT is seventh in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of national universities, while the MIT Sloan School of Management claimed fifth place in the list of best U.S. business schools.
The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University offers one- and two-year MBA programs, as well as MBAs geared toward executives and students who hope to make a living in the technology sector. U.S. News & World Report ranked Cornell 15th among all national universities, while the Samuel Curtis Johnson GSM placed 16th among all business schools in the country.
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago Booth School of Business offers several opportunities for MBA students; in addition to standard, full-time enrollment, evening and weekend programs are available, as is the school’s prestigious ‘Summer Business Scholars’ program.
The University of Chicago tied with Stanford for fifth place on U.S. News & World Report’s national university ranking, while the Booth School of Business placed sixth among the country’s business schools.
In addition to standard and Executive MBA programs, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management offers a doctoral program and Master of Science in Management Studies.
Northwestern tied with Johns Hopkins University for 12th place on the U.S. News & World Report 2013 national university ranking, while Kellogg tied with MIT’s Sloan for fourth place among all business schools.
Columbia University in the City of New York
Although Columbia placed eighth for the number of Fortune 500 CEOs, the New York school ranked third in terms of combined gross annual revenue for the companies of these CEOs (after Harvard and Southern Methodist). Columbia took the fourth-place spot in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of all national universities, while Columbia Business School placed eighth among all b-schools.
In addition to standard, full-time MBA and Executive MBA programs, Yale School of Management also offers a Master of Advanced Management degree and allows students to enroll in the ‘Global Pre-MBA Leadership Program.’ Yale took third place in U.S News & World Report’s most recent ranking of national universities, while the Yale School of Management placed 13th among all business schools.
Southern Methodist University
The companies led by Southern Methodist grads combine for more gross annual revenue than any other school on our list. That’s particularly amazing because SMU actually boasts fewer than five Fortune 500 CEO graduates total ― although its placement in U.S. News & World Report rankings has remained relatively low.
How to Interpret the Data
Bearing in mind that any company on the 2013 Fortune 500 list is performing reasonably well, readers can use our ranking to determine how consistently a given school produces successful CEOs. While the list primarily emphasizes the number of CEOs and degrees, it should be noted that gross revenue can also be used to evaluate the academic strengths of a particular college or university. A school that produces four Fortune 500 CEOs whose companies combined for a gross annual revenue of $500 million, for instance, might warrant more consideration than a school that produced twice as many CEOs representing companies that earned the same amount.
Another important consideration is college major. Most Fortune 500 companies are concentrated in specific niche fields, such as information technology, retail sales, and corporate investments. Students who hope to major in business management, marketing, or computer science will likely gain a lot of insight from this list, but readers who plan to study fields like psychology, social work, or education probably won’t derive much useful information from it.
Additionally, there are notable differences between the Alma Mater Index of Global CEOs and the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Princeton University, for instance, placed 14th among U.S. schools on the former list, but took the top spot in USNWR’s 2013 ranking of all national universities. Disparities between the two rankings should indicate that the number of Fortune 500 CEOs is not necessarily an indicator of overall quality at a given college or university, but rather the school’s rate of consistency for producing CEOs of top companies in years past.
Finally, please note that the Alma Mater Index of Global CEOs ― as the name implies ― features colleges and universities across the globe. Our list, on the other hand, exclusively features U.S. higher-learning institutions that have produced at least two Fortune 500 CEOs.