What’s the best MBA school? These schools produce the most Fortune 1000 c-suite executives

There are quite literally hundreds of universities around the country that offer one of the most coveted degrees and experiences for aspiring business leaders: the master’s in business administration (MBA). 

While it is true that many global business leaders, such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, do not hold the degree, for many students, it is still considered a rite of passage toward leading a successful company. Popular executives like Tim Cook, Satya Nadella, and Jamie Dimon are examples of those who do have an MBA (from Duke, UChicago, and Harvard, respectively). 


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It may come as a shock that the latter group of leaders is actually in the minority when it comes to top business leaders with MBAs. Recent analysis by Fortune’s education team of all Fortune 1000 companies and their c-suite executives’ educational background found that only about 46% of CEOs, CFOs, and relevant technology leads (CIO, CTO, or CISO) have the graduate management degree. But for those Fortune 1000 leaders with an MBA, Harvard Business School (HBS), University of Chicago (Booth), and Northwestern University (Kellogg) are the schools producing the most.

When it comes to chief executives in particular, Harvard is the clear leader; nearly 6% of all Fortune 1000 CEOs are alumni from HBS’s MBA program. For financial leaders, UChicago leads; about 4% of all Fortune 1000 CFOs have an MBA from the Booth School of Business.

According to Matt Weinzierl, senior associate dean and chair of the HBS MBA program, one of the reasons the school remains one of the most coveted programs is because students are always wrestling with learning through challenging real world problems, together.

“In an era of pervasive distraction, the immersive HBS case method—which has been at the heart of what we do for over a century—teaches something it’s otherwise very hard to get: what we call higher order skills,” Weinzierl tells Fortune.

Are the M7 still dominant in the business education world?

It is no question that one of the biggest factors in the MBA space is prestige. Graduating from one of the “Magnificent 7” or M7 business schools has historically brought along a sense of clout because of their notoriously rigorous curriculum, expert professors, and competitive admissions process. 

However, the University of Michigan, for example, has more alumni as Fortune 1000 leaders than both Stanford and MIT, and several other schools outscore MIT. 

Many of the same students that apply to schools like Michigan are also applying for the traditional M7 schools, but as Sharon Matusik, dean of University of Michigan Ross School of Business says, students’ ultimate choice comes down to where they think they can best achieve their goals.

“We win some, we lose some,” she says—adding that Michigan emphasizes four key areas in its program: excellence, action, impact, and community, which touches on everything from faculty expertise and learning-by-doing to balancing economic and social impact as well as school spirit.

Michigan is just one example that counters the myth that M7 institutes are the be-all and end-all of graduate business education. In fact, of those executives with the degree, 69% of them got it at an institute other than an M7. 

When looking at the top 20 programs, ranked in accordance with Fortune’s list of the best MBA programs, that number drops to 46.30%. This still means over half of the top executives at Fortune 1000 companies are MBA alumni of programs outside the 20 best.

However, there are some notable outliers, such as Washington University in St. Louis (Fortune ranked No. 39), Indian Institute of Management (unranked), Vanderbilt University (No. 26), University of Minnesota (No. 30), and Michigan State University (No. 31), all of which are in the top 20 in terms of number of MBA alumni leading a top company. On the flip side, Yale University, which is ranked No. 4 in Fortune’s ranking, is tied for having only the 43rd most MBA alumni. 

Is an expensive, private school MBA worth it?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are slightly more public higher education programs than private nonprofit ones (1,892 versus 1,754 in 2020-2021).

However, historically, many of the schools with the highest academic prestige are private institutions. Case in point, all of the Ivy League and M7 universities are private. 

But as anyone who graduates from a private school will tell you, it is not cheap—whatsoever, especially for a business management education. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of an MBA is $56,850. At Harvard, the initiative predicts the entire cost of a 2-year degree program is $231,276. 

Whether it be prestige, alumni networks, faculty, curriculum, or other factors to credit, private institutions do tend to produce more Fortune 1000 executives with MBAs. In fact, alumni from private schools outpace public schools by double. 

This is not to say an expensive MBA is a requirement to become a business leader; the private school alumni still only make up 1 in 3 of the executives. Moreover, according to data collected by the Wall Street Journal, some of the private institutions, like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT are seeing a growing number of job-seeking graduates who are unable to find roles directly after their program.

What region dominates business school education?

Along with the university itself, one major factor of consideration when picking an MBA program is location. For current Fortune 1000 executives with the degree, an overwhelming majority of them decided to learn on the East Coast. 

Boston, Chicago, and New York are three areas with a large concentration of successful students, which makes sense considering the locations are home to multiple top institutions. However, in many parts of the country, there is clearly a business school education drought. While cities like Austin, St. Louis, and Minneapolis are hubs for business students, cities like Denver, Seattle, and Miami are lacking.

What makes a business school great?

Ultimately, many business school programs have similar offerings: an innovative curriculum, top-notch faculty, immersive learning opportunities, network building, lifelong connections. But, for students, what truly can make their education more impactful than the next is how much effort they put into their learning experience. 

“We talk a lot about what it takes to convert potential into impact, and the short version is ‘hard work, with humility, for humanity.’ Knowing that you always have more to learn and being willing to put in the work to learn it—especially by listening to others—is at the core of what we do at HBS to help our students achieve their goals and make a difference in the world,” explains Weinzierl.

An MBA experience is all about which classes you spend a little extra time studying for, who you seek out to build connections with, and the ideas you take away and apply to your future goals. By and large, Fortune 1000 executives do not become leaders overnight nor do they just get their role handed to them on a silver platter. Hard work pays off.

Thousands of successful business leaders carve their own journeys in the business world. The data speaks for itself. While it may feel like otherwise, obtaining an MBA from an M7 school is the path taken by a relatively low percentage.

The age-old question: Is an MBA worth it?

The short answer is that it all depends on what you want to do and what your goals are. Many executives will tell you that while a graduate-level business education certainly may have helped get them to their current role—it definitely was not the sole reason. However, the universities, at least for one, hope that an MBA will be part of your experience—not only to help you understand and solve some of the most pressing challenges of today, but also so you can later come back and teach the next generation of students the lessons you learned along the way.

“At the end, for prospective students who are looking to make an impact, business, I think, is a really powerful tool that maybe is not obvious to everyone. So hopefully, they’ll consider business education in the future,” Matusik says.

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