CEO School pp 25-36 | Cite as

Class 3: Education—Three Academic Proverbs for Future CEOs

  • Stanislav Shekshnia
  • Kirill Kravchenko
  • Elin Williams


Engineering or economics? Science or humanities? Bachelor of Commerce or top-ranked MBA? Is formal education essential for an effective CEO of the twenty-first century? The answer is more complex than you might expect. Both our experts and quantitative research suggest there is little correlation between area of study and CEO performance. Attending a high-ranked business school helps people to advance faster to the top job and get higher pay, but it doesn’t guarantee superior results.

What our experts agree on—and we second them—is the critical role of formal education in developing such fundamentals for today’s business leaders’ abilities as analytical, critical and systemic thinking (“the CEO mindset”) and lifelong learning capacity. Diego Bolzonello (CEO of Geox, Italy) puts it this way: “School means training to understand.”

For future CEOs most lifelong learning will take place outside the classroom. However, never underestimate the crucial role played by formal education in teaching you to get the most out of your real-world experience. And if you didn’t have the good fortune to acquire your learning in a university lecture theatre, you can still catch up… but you will have to work a lot harder.


Education Formal business education MBA programme Lifelong learning University 

Some Further Reading

  1. Barker, V. L. & Mueller, G. C. (2002) CEO Characteristics and Firm R&D Spending. Management Science, 48 (1).Google Scholar
  2. Bhagat, S., Bolton, B. J., Subramanian, A. (2010). CEO Education, CEO Turnover, and Firm Performance. SSRN Electronic Journal.Google Scholar
  3. Bass B. M. (1985). Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bennis, W. G., & Nanus, B. (1985). Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  5. Byrne, J. A. (2011). Fortune 100 CEOs: When They Were MBA Students. Available at Poets and Quants: (consulted May 2017).
  6. Cameron, K., Lavine, M. (2006). Making the Impossible Possible. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.Google Scholar
  7. Gardner, H. (1995). Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership. New York: Basic.Google Scholar
  8. Gottesman, Aron A. and Morey, Matthew R. (2006) Does a Better Education Make For Better Managers? An Empirical Examination of CEO Educational Quality and Firm Performance Available at SSRN:
  9. Khanna, T. Contextual Intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 2014.
  10. Kotter, J. P. (1988). The Leadership Factor. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  11. Lindorff, M., Prior Jonson, E. (2013). CEO business education and firm financial performance: a case for humility rather than hubris. Education + Training, Vol. 55 Issue: 4/5.Google Scholar
  12. Mayo, A. J., Nohria, N. (2005). In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders Of The Twentieth Century. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  13. Podolny, J. M., Khurana, R., Hill-Popper, M. (2005). Revisiting the Meaning of Leadership. Research in Organizational Behavior, Volume 26, 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. The Best Performing CEOs in the World (2016). Harvard Business Review, November 2016.Google Scholar
  15. Velsor E.V., McCauley C.D., Ruderman M.N. (Eds.) (2010) The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development. 3 Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stanislav Shekshnia
    • 1
  • Kirill Kravchenko
    • 2
  • Elin Williams
    • 3
  1. 1.INSEADFontainebleauFrance
  2. 2.Gubkin Oil and Gas UniversityMoscowRussia
  3. 3.OxfordUK

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