Want to run a Fortune 50 company? Start with an engineering degree.

August 7, 2013

If your goal is to become the wealthy CEO of a Fortune 500 company, having an undergraduate degree in engineering is a good start. In fact, this year 7 of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies are run by engineers.

We know engineers are no strangers to the boardroom, but when we researched the CEOs of each Fortune 50 company – even we were surprised by how many of them are engineers. In order, they are…


Mike Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart

Mike Duke Walmart CEO Engineer

Duke holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech.

“Duke likes to tell the story that it was his high school physics teacher, Mr. McDaniel, who determined his life’s path. “Go to Georgia Tech,” the teacher advised him. “Study industrial engineering. And then go into the service industry. That’s the future of opportunity in this country.” Already a diehard Georgia Tech sports fan — his dad bought him a Tech yellow and black Chevy Chevelle Super Sport after graduation — Duke dutifully complied with the first two pieces of advice.”

from Meet the CEO of the biggest company on earth

  • Degree: Industrial Engineering
  • Alma Mater: Georgia Tech
  • Title: Chief Executive Officer, President, Director, Chairman of Global Compensation Committee and Chairman of Executive Committee, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
  • Company Position on Fortune 500 list (2013): 1
  • Total Compensation (FY 2012): $20,693,545 (source)
  • Age: 63
  • EngineeringJobs at Wal-Mart
Image credit:


Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil

Rex Tillerson Exxon CEO Engineer

A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Rex Tillerson earned a bachelor of science degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin before joining Exxon Company, U.S.A. in 1975 as a Production Engineer.

Image credit:


Greg C. Garland, CEO of Phillips 66

Greg Garland Phillips 66 CEO Engineer

After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1980, Garland began his career with Phillips in 1980 as a project engineer for the Plastics Technical Center.

Image credit: Phillips 66


Tim Cook, CEO of Apple


“Computers were not a part of high school or college life in Cook’s day, coming out of Robertsdale, which he described as “a red light stop on the way to the beach.” But he was an enthusiast for algebra, geometry and trigonometry: “I liked the analytical stuff. I was always taking the courses that other people hated.”

His academic concentration at Auburn put him on course to his career rise. “I enjoyed the business classes, and I thought my industrial engineering degree would bridge engineering and business,” Cook said. “The way I saw it, I was going to have the best of both worlds.”

from Alabama native and Apple interim CEO Tim Cook shares his career history

Image credit: San Francisco CBS Local


Daniel Akerson, CEO of General Motors

Daniel Akerson CEO Engineer

Mr. Akerson graduated from the Naval Academy with a B.S. in Engineering, then served as an officer in the Navy for five years before joining the corporate world.

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William Klesse, CEO of Valero Energy

William Klesse Valero CEO Engineer

Mr. Klesse graduated from the University of Dayton with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. He began his 40-year career in refining as an engineering trainee with Diamond Shamrock before accepting a position as a Junior Process Engineer at the McKee Refinery.

Image credit: Bloomberg Businessweek


Alan R. Mulally, CEO Ford Motor Company

Alan Mulally CEO Ford Engineer

Q. Tell me about the first time you started managing somebody.

A. “I was an engineer at Boeing, and I was promoted to supervise other engineers. I had my thoughts about what that supervisory job should be. The engineer assigned to me would prepare his work, and I had to approve it. So I thought that it was really important that it reflect my standards of quality. And 14 drafts later, he walked in and he quit. I said, “Why are you quitting?” He said, “Well, I think you’re a great engineer and I think you’ll be a good supervisor someday, but right now, this is just too much for me to be supervised this tightly.”

It was a gem, because I really thought about why it happened. I realized very early that what I was really being asked to do was to help connect a set of talented people to a bigger goal, a bigger program and help them move forward to even bigger contributions. That was a different role than what was expected of me as an engineer. That experience stayed with me forever on what it really means to manage and lead.”

from Planes, Cars and Cathedrals

Image credit: FoxBusiness


Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T

Ralph de la Vega CEO ATT Engineer

Mr. de la Vega has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.


Lowell McAdam, CEO of Verizon

Lowell McAdams CEO Verizon Engineer

After graduating from Cornell with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, McAdam became a licensed professional engineer and spent six years in the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps (SEABEEs).

 Image credit: Bloomberg


Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM

Ginni Rometty CEO IBM Engineering

Virginia Marie “Ginni” Rometty graduated from Northwestern in 1979, earning dual degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with high honors.

Image credit: YouTube


Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson

Alex Gorsky CEO Johnson & Johnson engineer

Alex Gorsky graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s of science from the U.S. Military Academy at Westpoint, New York. He spent six years in the United States Army, finishing his career with the rank of captain and earning the Ranger tab and Airborne wings.

Image credit: Bloomberg


Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips

Ryan Lance CEO ConocoPhillips Engineer

Mr. Lance received a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering from Montana Tech of the University of Montana in Butte, Montana.

“His parents, Montana State graduates who live in Billings, thought he would go to Bozeman to pursue an engineering degree because of his proclivity for math and science. But one visit to the Butte campus and a little research changed their minds.

“The reputation out of Butte was that was where you went to get a job,” Lance said.

So he moved down Interstate 15 and enrolled as a Petroleum Engineer (at Montana Tech). One summer break he rough necked on an oil rig run by Tech alumni, which unearthed a passion for the profession.

He returned to campus inspired to learn more. With the help of professors like Gus Stoltz and Gil Cady, Lance was introduced to all aspects of the business — and to a number of industry leaders. He created and then led the Montana Tech golf club. He took more summer internships and by graduation in the spring of 1984, Lance had plenty of prospects.

He accepted one in Alaska with the Atlantic Richfield Co., spending about 18 years with that company in the production side on the North Slope. From there it was on to the stripper wells in California and the deposits in Texas.

“I got a lot of varied experience,” said Lance, which he said helped him later on the climb up the corporate ladder.”

from ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance a graduate of Great Falls High, Montana Tech

Image Credit: Billings Gazette


Ian Read, CEO of Pfizer

Ian Read CEO Pfizer Engineer

Ian Read received his BSc. degree in Chemical Engineering from London University Imperial College in 1974. Thereafter, he earned the Chartered Accountants Certification from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales in 1978. He began at Pfizer in 1978 as an auditor.

  • Degree: Chemical Engineering
  • Alma Mater: Imperial College London
  • Title: Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Executive Committee, Pfizer Inc.
  • Company Position on Fortune 500 list (2013): 48
  • Total Compensation (FY 2012): $25,634,136 (source)
  • Age: 59
  • Engineering jobs at Pfizer
Image source: Yahoo 


Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon


By the numbers

  • 14 Fortune 50 CEOs are Engineers (28%).
  • 7 of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies are run by Engineers.
  • 3 of the Engineers running Fortune 50 companies are former military officers; 2 are service academy graduates.
  • 3 Fortune 50 companies CEOs are Chemical Engineers.
  • 3 Fortune 50 companies CEOs are Mechanical Engineers.
  • 2 Fortune 50 companies CEOs are Electrical Engineers.
  • 2 Fortune 50 companies CEOs are Industrial Engineers.