Is it worth all the effort - the gauntlet of AP classes, standardized tests, private lessons and community service hours -- to get your techie teen into a highly selective college? Yes, if they are an aspiring tech industry CEO.
We analyzed the educational backgrounds of the 50 highest paid and most powerful CEOs in the U.S. tech industry. What we found is that more than half of the executives who chose a U.S. university or college, chose a highly selective school. In particular, they attended schools that rank in the Top 50 on the U.S. News & World Report of best universities or colleges.
To get into any of these Top 50 schools requires the kind of extreme parenting advocated by Amy Chua, author of last year’s best-seller "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Chua forbid her daughters from TV watching, play dates and sleepovers so they could become musical virtuosos and hone their math skills with extra practice problems. Her strategy worked: Her oldest daughter just finished her freshman year at Harvard and also was accepted to Yale University.
"They all attended very good schools, top tier schools,'' says Professor Jerry Luftman, managing director of the Global Institute for IT Management who holds doctorate in Information Systems from Stevens Institute of Technology. "What that tells you is that these people had something special before they went to college."
Eight of the 50 tech CEOs we researched attended university overseas.
But of the other 42 CEOs who attended college in the United States, 24 of them -- or 57% -- attended highly selective schools as undergraduates. Even more impressive is that 18 of the 42 - or 35% -- attended a college or university ranked in the Top 25 on the U.S. News & World Report rankings. These are the types of schools that accept less than a quarter of applicants and require stratospheric SAT scores, near-perfect GPAs and exemplar extracurriculars.
Tech CEOs are equally picky when it comes to graduate schools. Of the 27 tech CEOs with a master's degree, 15 - or 56% -- attended Top 25 national universities on the U.S. News & World Report list. Four of the seven CEOs with doctorate degrees or an extra post-graduate degree chose Top 25 schools, too.
"These folks tend to be from the best universities, which tells you that even as younger individuals, in the K-12 years, they had some very good skills and talent," Luftman adds. "Once they got in the good schools, they were able to leverage that experience into developing the skills needed by CEOs...It's having the appropriate balance of skills - technical, business, leadership - that helped them move up in their careers."
Overwhelmingly, tech CEOs educated in the U.S. attended private colleges or universities rather than public ones. Of the 42 who attended a U.S. college or university as undergraduates, only 15 -- or 36% -- attended a public school, while the other 64% attended private schools. A similar dynamic is true for graduate school, where only 13 out of 34 degrees - or 38% -- attended public schools, while the other 62% attended private schools.
Jeff Hocking, senior client partner at executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, says most U.S. tech companies don't care which university a CEO candidate attended, but they do prefer candidates with a technical background such as engineering degree and then either an MBA or management experience.
"It's always nice to have a Harvard MBA, but it's more about what you've done with the Harvard MBA," Hocking says. "The bigger companies don't seem to have a big hangup or interest in where candidates went to school. But the [venture capitalists] are very particular about hiring people who went to top-tier schools....The VCs all come from top-tier schools."
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