What’s the #1 University for Turning Out CEOs? Not Harvard–It’s Wisconsin.

By Christina Lorey
October 31, 2022

The UW was also the only school in the Big Ten with multiple leaders of national non-profits, too!

The number one university for turning out CEOs of Fortune 500 companies isn’t Harvard. Or Stanford. Or Notre Dame. Or Northwestern. 

The Kittleman study, which used data from 2018, researched where all 500 CEOs earned their undergraduate degrees.

The University of Wisconsin topped the list, with 14 Fortune 500 leaders. Harvard followed with 12, and Cornell (10), Michigan (8), and Stanford (7) rounded out the top five. Five other Big Ten schools also made the list: Purdue (6), Michigan State (5), Illinois (5), Northwestern (4), and Nebraska (3).

“Not coming from a Harvard or a Stanford, I think that Wisconsin alumni sometimes have the feeling they aren’t seen as the high flyers of the future,” Barry Gerhart, interim dean of the Wisconsin School of Business told Chief Executive. “But they knew they were well-trained and were willing to work hard, and they stuck with it and eventually rose to the top.”

“They might not have been the flashiest or gone to the most elite school, but they had a really strong work ethic and good training, and they’re smart,” he added, calling Wisconsin’s top ranking “a wonderful distinction.”

While six of seven Ivy League schools made the top 30 (all except Brown), Big Ten schools grabbed the largest percentage of total Fortune 500 CEOs at 12.4%. Overall, seven Big Ten schools placed, out of the 14 schools currently in the Midwest-based conference.

Gerhart said that Wisconsin’s business school has “a good combination of scholarship and academic rigor.” He also touted a couple of additional rankings: the most students who go into the Peace Corps and the sixth highest in number of patents held.

The Kittleman study also had Wisconsin tied four fourth in “Colleges That Produce the Most Non-Profit Leaders.” No other Big Ten school made the list, and only Yale, Georgetown, and Princeton ranked ahead of the Badgers, with 4, 3, and 3 non-profit leaders, respectively.

A few other interesting findings:

  • 9% of Fortune 500 CEOs did not attend undergrad
  • 4% went to an international school
  • 32% went to a public university
  • 55% attended a private college

Click here for the current Fortune 500 list.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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