Do You Need an MBA to be a Highly Paid CEO?

One of the highest paid CEOs in the world is Fuqua (Duke) MBA Tim Cook. He is the CEO at Apple and his compensation package totals $378 million. This raises the question: do you need an MBA to be one of the highest paid CEOs in the world?

Not exactly.

If you take a look at a list of the globe’s wealthiest people, you’ll find CEOs that have dropped out of school (Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates). You’ll also see many that simply inherited it like the Sam Walton progeny. A large number tinkered and invented their way to the list like Dell, Steve Jobs, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google.

Yes, there are other MBAs on the list beside Cook. Russia’s Alexei Mordashov is the wealthiest MBA (he’s ranked #29). Michael Bloomberg has an MBA from Harvard and ends up at #30.

The wealthiest people in the world probably don’t have an MBA. But that doesn’t mean an MBA is without merit. The MBA is about getting you into that corner office, not putting you on the list of wealthiest people in the world.

But it is important to note that 40 of the 100 best paid CEO’s in America have an MBA.

MBA Salary: It Depends on Your School

Your MBA Salary depends largely on the school you attend. This comes from the “shouldn’t shock anyone department.”

MBA graduates from the best MBA schools make more over the course of their lifetime than those from other schools. Bloomberg Businessweek recently compiled research that indicated those graduating from a program like Harvard or Stanford stand to make $126,000 when starting out. Those with MBAs from lesser programs, however, stand to make much less.

This adds up over the course of your career. Graduates from the top 57 programs made $700,000 more over the course of their lifetime than graduates from the University at Buffalo. The contrast is even starker when compared with graduates from Harvard, whose graduates earn around $3.6 million, almost $2 million more than our University at Buffalo MBA grads.

Based on expected annual MBA salary alone the top schools were:

  1. Harvard University ($3.6 million over a 20 year career)
  2. University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School ($3.34 million over a 20 year career)
  3. Stanford Graduate School of Business ($3.29 million over a 20 year career)

Of course expected pay shouldn’t be the sole arbiter in choosing your school. One should consider the ease of entrance, convenience, and the school’s overall reputation, among others.

Read more on the affect of your school on MBA salary at Bloomberg Businessweek.