Fewer CEOs are Ivy League grads

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

While recent discussion in corporate America and The New York Times indicates that the percentage of Ivy League students in corporate executive positions has decreased, Yale officials said these trends do not mirror patterns on campus.

Approximately 23 percent of CEOs at large companies were Ivy League graduates in 1980, while the percentage of Standard & Poor’s 500 CEOs who attended one of the Ancient Eight schools decreased to roughly 10 percent by 2005, the Times reported this week, sparking debate in corporate and academic circles. Meanwhile, the percentage of Ivy League graduates at the top levels of government has increased in recent years, the article said.

But Yale President Richard Levin said the number of Yale graduates entering the business world has stayed stable over the years, though the dynamics within the field have changed.

“The shift is not so much away from business, not so much substituting law or government for business,” Levin said. “It’s within the business sector that the shift has occurred. Over the last 20 years, there has been a decline in the number of students that work for large corporations in manufacturing and service industries, and instead [they] go to consulting firms and investment banks.”

Many students are drawn to these fields because of the high pay they offer, Levin said.

“If industrial companies really want to attract Yale-quality caliber to their companies, they’re going to have to pay more to make their jobs competitive with Goldman Sachs,” Levin said.

But Undergraduate Career Services Director Philip Jones said the trends concerning the makeup of the corporate and political elite could simply be cyclical. In general, students at Yale do not tend to make career choices based on external factors, he said.

“It’s important to us at Yale that we attract the best and the brightest,” Jones said. “Our students don’t tend to follow a particular track — they tend to follow their own track.”

Vice President of Finance and Administration John Pepper, who formerly served as CEO of Procter & Gamble, said he has encouraged Levin to find ways to encourage Yale graduates to pursue careers in manufacturing.

“The main encouragement I’ve provided was to support the commitment to have a School of Management that was up to the standard that we’d expect any Yale professional school to be,” Pepper said.

Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said he has seen a decrease in interest among Ivy Leaguers to pursue careers in the corporate world.

“I think it is true that folks at Ivy League schools have probably been overlooking opportunities in corporations,” Capelli said.

Fred Adair, a partner at the headhunting firm Heidrick & Struggles, said the personal qualities and leadership capabilities of a candidate for a CEO position trump the candidate’s education or background.

“Companies really need a CEO to be an effective leader and effective manager; they need to have drive and will,” he said. “Those qualities absolutely override where you went to college. It is less where you come from — it is how you perform.”

While Adair said he is not aware of any trends in terms of the hiring of Ivy League-educated applicants, he said graduate school education may have more of an effect on who gets hired.

“I don’t know if there are any undergraduate programs that are the ‘right’ schools to go to in order to succeed in business,” he said. “It is generally seen as the task of graduate schools to help form business leaders.”

Steve Canale, a recruiting executive at General Electric, headquartered about 25 miles away from New Haven in Fairfield, Conn., said he believes Ivy League graduates are looking for a challenge, no matter what career they choose.

“Students from Ivy Leagues are looking for a company that will offer them challenging work,” Canale said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily manufacturing, service, high tech. It’s where the students’ core passion lies is the bigger driver to what kind of place they wind up going to.”

It is also a misconception among students that a Yale degree can assure an individual of attaining any job he or she desires, Jones said.

“The fact that one attends a particular institution, whatever it may be, doesn’t guarantee a certain future,” he said. “I would not want a student to make the assumption that one’s education is going to get them something.”

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