Most CEOs on LinkedIn went to Stanford, majored in computer science

Fabric LinkedIn logo
LinkedIn took an in-depth look at CEOs who are members. (Mambembe Arts & Crafts/CC BY 2.0)

Online entities are sounding off about CEOs.

LinkedIn and Glassdoor are out with reports that provide insights about CEOs’ journeys to the top corporate spot and name favorites.

LinkedIn took a deep dive, looking at over 12,000 of its members who hold the CEO title at companies with over 50 employees. It reviewed where the CEOs went to school, what they studied, their first roles and how they came to be chosen for the top position.

Free Webinar | December 5, 2018

Customer Experience Part 2: Stop Treating Your Best Customers Like Criminals

Don't miss this two-part webinar series dedicated to emerging cybercrime trends, their impacts on customer experience, and how one crucial tool can be used to reduce friction while mitigating risk throughout the customer journey.

LinkedIn’s breakdown found that Stanford University was the most attended college by its CEO members, followed by Penn State University. Harvard Business School, the University of California, Berkeley, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology rounded out the top five.

Computer science favorite by far

Computer science was overwhelmingly the most popular field of study for CEOs, with economics, business, banking and finance, and electrical engineering the next most common pursuits. The list includes postgraduate degrees as well as undergraduate education, and just 33% of the CEOs included have a master’s degree or MBA, LinkedIn said.

The most common starting job for CEOs was a consulting one. Software engineer was the next most frequently cited, followed by analyst, sales manager and project manager.

“Seeing consultants at the top of the list makes sense,” the LinkedIn report said. “Tackling complex challenges across multiple businesses and work environments is an ideal practice ground for the problem-solving skills CEOs need to use every day.”

Business development most common function

The functions of CEOs’ first jobs shed additional insights. Business development is by far the most common first job function reported. It’s about twice as common as sales, the second most common function, which is followed by engineering, technology and finance.

As for just before ascending to the top spot, most (72%) had a director-level role or higher immediately before they became a CEO for the first time. And they held that high-level role for 6 years on average.

The LinkedIn report also showed that of the CEOs at the biggest companies—ones with at least 1,000 employees—only 20% said in their profiles they were promoted from within. That means 80% of the LinkedIn CEOs were brought in from an outside company.

RELATED: Outside CEOs make companies more productive than insiders, says HBR study

The LinkedIn report reinforces the fact that there is no single way to become a CEO.

“The most important commonality across CEOs isn’t really any particular school or role—it’s the ability to handle complex problems, inspire others, and prove themselves at every stage of their career path,” the study said.

Who is tops

Glassdoor, in its annual ranking of employees’ favorite CEOs, puts Eric Yuan of Zoom Video Communications at number 1, in part because he earned a 99% approval rating.

The Glassdoor top CEOs were chosen by employees who anonymously submitted a company review that asked them to rate and evaluate their employer. They were asked to provide insights into job and workplace attributes, along with qualitative feedback into the best reasons to work at their employer and what needs improvement.

The top 4 all received 99% employee approval ratings. Michael Mahoney of Boston Scientific came in at number 2, Daniel Springer of DocuSign was number 3 and Lynsi Snyder of In-N-Out Burger was number 4.

Rounding out the top 5 of the 100-member CEO ranking was James Downing, M.D., of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, with a 98% approval ranking.