Top executive roles dominated by Harvard alumni

Ivy League school Harvard produces more senior execs in leading firms, but INSEAD rising globally, and Australian universities first on female leadership

Conduct a background check of senior executives at listed companies in the US and you are likely to see Harvard University pop up more than just a few times.

Little surprise then that the prestigious Ivy League college, home to the oldest MBA program (1908), is the clear leader (again) when it comes to the number of alumni working as senior executives at listed companies in the US, according to a new report from Altrata.

Harvard’s almost 3,000 alumni represent a substantial 5.9% of senior executives at listed companies in the US, nearly 60% higher than the second-ranked University of Pennsylvania and close to two times that of third-ranked Stanford University.

This is backed up by recent research from Academic Influence which found 41 of Fortune 500 firms in 2021 were led by CEOs who had graduated from Harvard, the highest for any university, with the university of Pennsylvania at 23 and Stanford at 22.

The Ivy League school is the alma mater for some of the world’s leading chief executives, who are currently running some of the world’s leading companies:

Harvard graduates also assume board or corporate leadership roles at US-listed companies more quickly (16.4 years on average) than other alumni, according to Altrata’s report.

Harvard and INSEAD rank highest among senior executive alumni globally

But it’s not just in the US where Harvard alumni reign supreme, both in position and wealth.

The Massachusetts-headquartered university also ranks first – ahead of France’s INSEAD and the UK’s Oxford University – for the number of alumni as senior execs at listed companies across the Global 19 (non-US) major indices with 14.2%. Stanford comes in fourth, ahead of University of Cambridge and LSE.

“It’s a little bit surprising how much of a leader Harvard is,” says Maya Imberg, lead author of the report. “It’s not only a leader in the US, but internationally, in terms of its reputation and the kind of network it provides.”

This is a nod to the global reputation and network reach of these institutions, in particular Harvard, which provide a rigorous grounding to develop the skill sets and expertise required for board and C-suite positions at large publicly traded companies around the world.

Ranking second to Harvard, INSEAD, which is among the world’s most prestigious business schools, leads the non-US universities in churning out top execs (9.5% of global population).

Headquartered in France, but with campuses now in Asia, the US, and the Middle East, INSEAD delivers a highly renowned MBA program and strong international orientation in terms of graduate selection, institutional and research links.

The report finds that Harvard alumni in senior executive roles tend to be older and have a faster career progression than alumni from INSEAD and Oxford. They also have an extremely large professional network of direct connections to senior decision-makers, though not as high as Oxford, and a high share of self-created fortunes (80%).

Australian universities lead in producing female leaders

INSEAD and Harvard rank lower however when it comes to producing top-ranking female senior executives, with Harvard ranking just fifth across the Global 19 with 34.6%.

In fact, the top-ranked institutions with female alumni at listed companies across the Global 19 (35-40%) far outweighs those at US publicly traded companies (29%).

Worldwide, Australian universities lead for share of female leaders, with the University of Melbourne ranked top (40.2%) and University of Sydney second (36.5%). The University of Singapore and London School of Economics also feature in the top five.

The highest proportion of female senior executive alumni at US publicly-traded companies is just 29%, with UCLA, University of California, Berkeley and Tufts churning out the most female US leaders.

Among other takeaways from Altrata’s report:

  • Mumbai university is top globally for fast career progression Senior executive alumni of Mumbai University lead the way in the Global 19 for fastest career progression, taking the shortest time (14.9 years) of professional experience to land their first C-suite or board role – followed by the University of Melbourne, LSE, Stanford, and LSE.
  • Pharma and finance lead Some 40% of senior executive alumni of Johns Hopkin University work in a US-listed company in the pharma and biotech sector, demonstrating the strong industry specialisation of alumni in certain institutions.
  • Self-made fortunes prevalent in Asia Reflecting the UHNW population at large, most ultra-wealthy alumni have created their own fortunes, something particularly prevalent among the UHNW in Asia and other emerging markets – while more traditional wealth markets, particularly in Europe, tend to exhibit a lower share. The top five universities worldwide for self-made ultra-wealthy alumni is dominated by China, including Peking University and Fudan University (#2), while the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad tops the list. The first US university ranks sixth (The California Institute of Technology).

University Alumni Report 2022


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