You have likely heard of wealthy, successful people who never finished college, but there are also successful people who did finish one or multiple college degrees. Some are even billionaires. In fact, many working executives are amongst the wealthiest Americans. Here is a list of 15 universities and colleges that serve as alma maters to 18 of the highest-paid American CEOs.
- Lists current/ recent CEOs of American companies who completed their bachelor's degree at an American institution of higher education.
- CEO candidates listed here appeared in the top 20 of one of the "top CEOs/ execs" lists, including AFL-CIO, Equilar/ NY Times, and FindTheCompany.com
- We chose 2013 as that is the most recent year for which comprehensive compensation data was available for the CEOs on this list, as well as other CEOs in the top 50. We used data available as of Dec 2014.
- Approximate total compensation is from the top end of the range and includes salary, bonuses, stock options and other forms of compensation for 2013.
- For simplicity, only those CEOs for whom educational and compensation information is readily available have been listed.
- Graduation years for each degree are given when readily available.
- Schools are listed in reverse order based on the 2013 compensation of a top-paid CEO who graduated from a bachelor's program there, starting. A school's ranking is based on the ranking of the highest paid CEO(s) that received a bachelor's degree there. As there were three schools in this list that had two top-18 CEOs as alumni, there are 15 schools representing 18 CEOs.
- Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corp, was most recently the 5th richest person in the world (3rd in the US) according to Forbes' 2014 list. However, he dropped out of both UIUC (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and University of Chicago and so is not included here.
- Satya Nadella, recently appointed CEO of Microsoft after Steve Ballmer stepped down, has an MS and MBA from two American universities, but his alma mater is in India and so he is not included here. Other top-30 CEOs are excluded here for similar reasons.
- Several of the CEOs ranking here in the top 10 have previously held the title of highest-paid U.S. CEO in recent years.
The University of Southern California (aka USC), located in Los Angeles, CA, was founded in 1880. It is a private non-profit research institution – the oldest in California. Aside from non-academic achievements, the school has earned nearly 290 Olympic medals as of 2012.
USC has many famous alumni from several walks of life, and most especially arts and entertainment (George Lucas, John Wayne, Will Ferrell, Neil Armstrong, Judd Apatow). It is also the alma mater of well-known businessmen, including Marc Benioff Russell, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Salesforce.com Inc, headquartered in San Francisco, CA. He received a BS in Business Administration from USC. He ranked #18 in our list, gaining about $31.33M in total compensation.
Benioff has been Chairman of Salesforce.com since co-founded the company in Feb 1999. His role as CEO started in Nov 2001. Prior to this, he was at Oracle. Currently, he serves on the Board for Cisco Systems and is a trustee at his alma mater, USC.
Binghamton University, SUNY (aka SUNY-BU or BU), located in Vestal, New York, was founded in 1946 is a public institution. BU, which started as the liberal arts-focused, bachelor-level Harpur College, now offers bachelor-, master- and doctoral-level programs. The Greenes' Guide considers BU to be a "Public Ivy" institution and it is ranked by USA Today as a top-10 best-value college for 2014, as well as being designated as a "high research activity" university.
SUNY-BU is the alma mater of David M. Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery Communications Class Inc., which is headquartered in Silver Spring, MD. Zaslav completed a BS degree at SUNY-BU, as well as a JD (Juris Doctor) in 1985 at Boston Universityâs School of Law. He made #15 on our list, pulling in about $33.35M in total compensation.
Zaslav has served as CEO and President of Discovery Channel since Sept 2008, and served in executive positions at other media and entertainment companies including NBC Universal Inc. He is a board member of Univision Communications and Sirius XM Radio Inc. (whose predecessor company Sirius Satellite Radio was founded by Martine Rothblatt, and who ranked #11 in our list of top-paid American CEOs.)
Ithaca College, located in Ithaca, NY, was founded in 1892, originally as a music conservatory. It is a private college with a long-standing top-10 ranking as a master's institution (US News) and general top college (Princeton Review).
Ithaca is the alma mater of numerous celebrities and power-brokers, including Robert A. Iger, CEO and Chairman of Walt Disney Co, headquartered in Burbank, CA. He earned a BS in 1973 from Ithaca's Roy H. Park School of Communication — a school highly ranked for media and film as well as journalism. Iger ranked #14 in our list, pulling in about $34.32M in total compensation.
Iger has been CEO and President of Walt Disney since Mar 2012, and before that held the same titles at Walt Disney International (2000-2005), and ABC Group (1999-2000). At the international parent, Iger took over as CEO from Michael Eisner. Iger serves as a board member at other organizations, and has been a trustee for his alma mater as well as for American Film Institute.
Cornell University, located in Ithaca, NY, was founded in 1865. It's a private institution with an Ivy League designation. It is one of only a small handful of private universities that have a land grant (MIT is another).
Cornell is the alma mater of Leonard S. Schleifer, CEO, Director and President of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which is headquartered in Tarrytown, NY. He completed a BS from Cornell and later an MD and PHD in Pharmacology from University of Virginia, where he studied under Alfred Gilman (later a Nobel Laureate). He later trained as a neurologist at Cornell's New York Hospital. (Cornell has a medical campus in NYC.) He spent 1984-1988 as an Assistant Professor at Cornell. Schleifer ranked #13 on our list, earning about $36.27M in total compensation, which contributed to his becoming a billionaire in early 2014, after 25 years with Regeneron.
Schleifer is a co-founder of Regeneron and has held his roles since 1988. He held the position of Chairman of the Board from 1990-94. His wife, Harriet, also has multiple degrees (two in education, and a law degree). Before Regeneron changed their strategy, they produced drugs to treat ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease) and obesity – both of which were unsuccessful. More recently, they have been successful with a cholesterol drug and one to control blood vessel problems in the eye.
11. Yale University
Yale University, located in New Haven, CT – roughly 80 miles NE of New York City. It was founded in 1701 as the Collegiate School, and renamed in Yale College in 1718. It became Yale University (private, Ivy League) in 1887 but awarded the first American in 1861. It's the third-oldest higher ed institution in the U.S. and has one of the largest academic libraries.
Yale has numerous notable alumni, including presidents (Clinton, Bush Sr and Jr, Gerald Ford, Taft) and many billionaire alumni, members of congress, heads of state and more. It is also the alma mater of both Phillipe P. Dauman, CEO and President of Viacom Inc., and Jeffrey L. Bewkes, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Time Warner Inc., both of which are headquartered in NYC, NY. Dauman received a bachelor's degree from Yale, and a JD (law) degree in 1978 from Columbia University's Columbia Law School. He placed #12 on our list, pulling in about $37.18M in total compensation. Bewkes received a BA from Yale in 1974, as well as an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. He placed #16, garnering about $32.5M in total compensation.
Dauman was Director of CBS (2005-2006), which was at one point owned by Viacom, after Sumner Redstone (Executive Chairman) launched a hostile takeover of Viacom. The current (post-2005) Viacom was spun off from CBS Corporation. Predecessor companies are the original Viacom, which became CBS Corporation, which then spun off the current Viacom, Gulf+Western (now Paramount Communications, Inc.), and Westinghouse Electric. To get even more confusing, the original Viacom started as CBS Films, Inc., which was a division of CBS the TV network. Dauman has been CEO and President of Viacom Inc. since Sep 2006 and held other CEO and executive positions in other companies, including DND Capital Partners LLC. He co-launched the Get Schooled initiative with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2009, which raises awareness of the public education crisis in the U.S.
Bewkes became CEO of Time Warner in 2006. Time Warner divisions include HBO (Home Box Office, which operates Cinemax), TBS (Turner Broadcasting System), Warner Bros., CNN, Cartoon Network and others. His other activities include being a board member of the Partnership for New York City, an advisory board member of George Washington University Law School, and a Trustee of Yale.
University of California, Los Angeles (aka UCLA), located in Los Angeles, CA, was founded in 1919, with origins dating back to 1882 (as the State Normal School). It is a public research institution and third in the UC system, and one of two flagship campuses along with UC Berkeley.
UCLA is the alma mater of Martine A. Rothblatt, who is Chairman and CEO of United Therapeutics Corp, headquartered in Silver Spring, MD. Rothblatt earned a BA and combined law (JD) and MBA degrees from UCLA, then a PhD from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. She ranked #11 in our list, earning about $38.22M from her roles in United.
Rothblatt is considered the highest paid female/transgender executive in the U.S., but was actually born a man (Martin Rothblatt), undergoing gender reassignment surgery in 1994. She founded or co-founded several companies, including GeoStar and Sirius Radio. The latter she sold to fund United Therapeutics Corp, which she founded in order to find a cure for her ailing daughter. She also founded a religion, the Terasem Movement, which in a nutshell, is an almagamation of Judaism, yoga and technology.
Claremont McKenna College (CMC), located in Claremont, CA, was founded in 1946 as the Claremont Men's College. It is a private coed liberal arts college that U.S. News and World Report has ranked highly. It is also ranked #2 for happiest students by Princeton Review.
CMC, which is part of Claremont Colleges, is the alma mater of both Henry Kravis and George R. Roberts. Roberts received a BA Economics from Claremont in 1966 and a JD (Juris Doctor) from University of California Hastings College of Law in 1969. Kravis received a BA in 1967 from Claremont and an MBA from Columbia University Business School.
Kravis and Roberts are two of three founding members of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and are both Co-CEO and Co-Chairman. Kravis is #9 on our list, taking home about $44.2M in total compensation, followed by Roberts at #10, who earned $44.1M.
KKR – also co-founded byJerome Kohlberg, Jr. – is a financial services, investment banking, and private equity firm with a history of buyouts. One of their big leveraged buyouts was of RJR Nabisco — which was written about in the book "Barbarians at the Gate," which was also a television movie.
The University of Pennsylvania (aka UPenn), located in Philadelphia, PA, was founded in 1740. Ben Franklin, a statue of who is displayed on campus, is considered to be the founder of UPenn. UPenn is one of the nine "Colonial Colleges" created before the United States of America was formed. It is also a founding member institution of the Association of American Universities. UPenn has been the home to the first American school of medicine and first college-level business school.
UPenn is the alma mater of both Jeffrey Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn Corp (headquartered in Mountain View, CA), and Brian L. Roberts, CEO, President and Chairman of the Board of Comcast Corp (headquartered in Philadelphia, PA). Weiner received a BS in Economics at UPenn's Wharton School in 1992 and placed #8 on our list, with a total compensation package of about $49.07M. Roberts received a BS from Wharton and placed #17 on our list, with his compensation running about $31.37M.
Weiner has held the position of LinkedIn CEO since Jun 2009 and the Director position since Jul 2009, and previously was an interim President. He is also a Director of Intuit and has held executive positions in other companies including Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Yahoo!
Roberts has been Comcast CEO since Nov 2002, the position of President since Feb 1990, and the position of Chairman since May 2004. He holds a Director position at National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA). Roberts' father, Ralph J. Roberts, co-founded Comcast.
The University of Minnesota (aka U of M), located in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN, was founded in 1851 and is the oldest campus of the U of M system — and has one of the largest student populations in the U.S. It is a public research university with several campuses besides the Twin Cities.
U of M is the alma mater of John H. Hammergren, CEO of McKesson Corp, headquartered in San Francisco, CA. Hammergren earned a BBA in 1981 from U of M, and an MBA in 1987 from Xavier Universityâs Williams College of Business. He ranked #7 on our list with a total compensation package of about $51.74M.
Hammergren was the the highest paid U.S. CEO in 2011, accordion to The Guardian in Dec of that year – with a total of over $145M pay and mostly stock options. Hammergren has held the position of CEO of McKesson since Apr 2001, and was a Director of Hewlett-Packard from 2005-2013.
Mississippi State University (aka MSU), located in Starkville, MS, was founded in 1878. It is a public institution with a"very high research activity" designation, especially for doctoral research, and has a strong focus on agriculture and applied science, and a number of campuses throughout the state.
Drexel has the Richard C. Adkerson School of Accountancy, named after the CEO, Director, President, and Vice Chairman of the Board at Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold (headquartered in Phoenix, AZ). MSU is Adkerson's alma mater, where he earned a Bachelor's in Accounting (and an honorary doctorate), and later completed a management program at Harvard University. Adkerson ranked #6 on our list, taking in about $55.26M in total compensation.
Adkerson has been CEO of Freeport-McMoRan since Dec 2003 and held executive roles in previous incarnations of the company as well as at other companies.
Drexel University, located in Philadelphia, PA, was founded in 1891, originally as the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry by philanthropist financier Anthony Drexel. It is a top-ranking private research university with a co-op program that gives participating students more than a year of work experience.
Drexel is the alma mater of Walter Nicholas Howley, CEO Director and Chairman of the Board of Transdigm Group Inc., headquartered in Cleveland, OH. Howley completed a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1975 at Drexel, and an MBA in 1979 from Harvard University. Howley ranked #5 in our list, pulling in about $64.21M in total compensation.
Howley founded Transdigm, which is in the aerospace industry. He has had the role of either or both of President or CEO of Transdigm since it was founded in Dec 1998. He has had executive roles in other companies, and was a trustee of Case-Western Reserve University.
Bucknell University, located in Lewisburg, PA, was founded in 1846 as University at Lewisburg. It is a private institution with Baptist origins and a focus on liberal arts – which includes schools /colleges in Arts and Sciences, Management and Engineering. Undergrad student population is about 3,600, and student-teacher ratio is very low at a 9:1 ratio.
Bucknell is the alma mater of Leslie "Les" Moonves, CEO and President of CBS Corp, which is headquartered in NYC, NY. Moonves, a former actor and once president of Warner Bros. Television, received a bachelor's degree from Bucknell. He ranked #4 on our list, pulling in about $65.59M in total compensation.
Moonves switched his study major from pre-med to Spanish and found an interest in acting after graduation. He is highly regarded as a content programmer of network television, and during his time at CBS he has catered to mobile device content consumers with short video clips. He has held his roles of President and CEO of CBS Corp since Jan 2006. CBS has gone through various ownerships, including Westinghouse Electric and the original Viacom.
3. UC Davis
The University of California, Davis (aka UC Davis, UCD), located in Davis, CA (near Sacramento), was founded in 1905 as University Farm and underwent a number of name changes before becoming part of the UC system. US News places it in the top 10 public universities in their 2015 list, and amongst the best in the UC system. It is a member of the Association of American Universities, and is designated as a "very-high research activity" institution under the Carnegie Classification system, as well as a "Public Ivy" school.
UC Davis is the alma mater of Jay N. Levine, CEO and President of Springleaf Financial, headquartered in Evansville, IN. Levine completed a BA in Economics at Davis. (UC Davis' Economics department has a top-10 ranking.) He placed #3 in our list, pulling in about $78.7M in total compensation.
Levine took up the position of CEO (and President and Director) in Oct 2011. Previously, he held similar positions at Capmark Financial Group Inc., Royal Bank of Scotland Global Banking and Markets and RBS Greenwich Capital — all of which are in the financial services industry.
2. Fordham U
Fordham University, located in New York City, NY, was founded in 1841 originally as St. John's College by New York's Catholic Archdiocese. It is a private research university with a Jesuit tradition, and has both grad and postgrad colleges. Bachelor's programs include BA, BS and BFA (Fine Arts) degrees. Grad programs include master's and doctoral degrees.
Fordham is the alma mater of Mario Joseph Gabelli, CEO, Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of GAMCO Investors Inc. (formerly GAMCO), which is headquartered in Rye, NY. Gabelli received a BA from Fordham, and later an MBA from Columbia Business School. Gabelli placed #2 on our list with total compensation of about $85.05M. However, all of that amount comes from "other compensation," none from salary, bonuses, stock, options, pension or non-equity incentives.
Gabelli, who founded GAMCO (Gabelli Asset Management Company), has been a billionaire since about 2011. He has donated to numerous universities/ business schools, including University of Nevada, Reno; Columbia Business School, Fordham University (alma mater, ); Boston College; Roger Williams University – Mario J. Gabelli School of Business; and the University of Miami School of Business Administration. Bill Gates owns 1.3% of GAMCO via Cascade, LLC, his investment company.
Colgate University, located in Hamilton Village, Hamilton, New York, was founded in 1819 by the Baptist Education Society. It is a private liberal arts college with several dozen undergrad programs that lead to a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Colgate is the alma mater of Charif Souki, who is Chairman, President and CEO, and Director of Cheniere Energy Inc, headquartered in Houston, TX. Souki also completed an MBA at Columbia University. For his many roles at Cheniere Energy, Souki took home nearly $142M ($141.95M) in compensation, making it to the top of our list of highest-paid American CEOs.
Souki gained his CEO position in Dec 2002, and has been President on and off since then. He has several decades of investment banking experience in the oil and gas industry, with a focus on financing small-cap companies in that industry.
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