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Feature: Route to the Top

A fifth of the top executives at America’s biggest companies are engineers. One reason: Their hardnosed problem-solving skills help the bottom line.

By Thomas K. Grose

What do Fred Hassan, George W. Buckley, Michael R. Splinter, and David J. O’Reilly have in common? Well, they all breathe the rarefied air of some of America’s most important executive suites: Each is the chief executive officer of a Standard & Poor’s 500 company. Hassan runs Schering-Plough, Buckley 3M, Splinter Applied Materials, and O’Reilly Chevron. But there’s something more essential that connects this quartet of top execs. Each also has an undergraduate degree in engineering.

And that’s no rarity in corporate America.

According to Spencer Stuart, an executive search company that annually publishes a snapshot of America’s top CEOs, 21 percent of the S&P 500 companies’ 105 of them are headed by executives with undergraduate degrees in engineering. That makes engineering by far the most common undergraduate degree among this select cohort of business people.

This article first appeared in the March, 2008 Prism

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