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.org 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.
In addition to the 2013 Fortune 500 list, we consulted the ‘Alma Mater Index of Global CEOs,’ a ranking created by David Matthews of the Times Higher Education that notes the number of CEOs that attended each school on our list, the number of degrees conferred on all of these CEOs, and the combined gross annual revenue of their companies. Like Mr. Matthews’ list, ours places precedence on the number of CEOs over the other variables. In the event of a tie for number of CEOs, the ranking will be in favor of the schools that awarded the most degrees, and if there is still a tie, then the combined gross annual revenue is the deciding factor.
In addition to the school’s name and geographical location, this is how each data variable is defined:
- Number of Fortune 500 CEOs: This represents the total number of men and women who earned either an undergraduate or graduate-level degree from the school at some point prior to September 2013.
- Number of Degrees: This figure represents the number of degrees conferred to Fortune 500 CEOs prior to September 2013; if this number exceeds the number of CEOs, then it should be assumed that at least one Fortune 500 executive has earned multiple degrees from that college or university.
- Combined Gross Annual Revenue (in billions): This figure represents the total earnings of all Fortune 500 companies represented by CEOs who earned a degree from the given school. The amount is expressed in billions of dollars.
Each entry on our list of 38 is accompanied by a short blurb about the school that includes information from U.S. News & World Report, one of the most authoritative sources of comprehensive college rankings; the site uses a myriad of data points ― including cost of tuition, student outcomes, and student-to-faculty ratio ― to derive its annual ‘best of’ lists. We consulted two USNWR lists in particular for this list: the site’s 2013 rankings of national universities and best business schools in the country.
To ensure our list remains somewhat objective, we have chosen not to list specific company or executive names.
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.