Chief Executive Officers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

In high school, take classes in business, accounting, economics, mathematics, and computer science. Chief executive officers (CEOs) must have excellent communication skills, so you should take English and speech courses, too. Since many companies sell their goods or services in foreign countries, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a foreign language such as Spanish, French, or Mandarin.

Postsecondary Education

Many CEOs have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business administration or in an area related to their field of work. For example, a CEO who helms an engineering firm would have an engineering degree. Top executives at government agencies often have a degree in business administration, law, public administration, or the liberal arts.

There’s a common stereotype that aspiring CEOs need a master of business administration (MBA), but studies show that this is untrue. In 2019, only about one-third of CEOs from the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 had an MBA, according to US News & World Report. Some of the top CEOs who do not have MBAs include Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Lawrence Ellison (Oracle), and Michael Dell (Dell).

Another misconception is that you have to attend an Ivy League college to become a CEO. This is also untrue. For example, General Electric Co.’s Lawrence Culp attended Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland; AT&T Inc.’s Randall Stephenson went to the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma; and Cardinal Health Inc.’s Michael Kaufmann attended Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. 

Other Education or Training

Many professional associations provide continuing education opportunities. For example, the American Management Association offers workshops and seminars that help participants develop their analytical, business analysis, business writing, communication, human resource management, information technology, interpersonal, and management skills. Financial Executives International provides webcasts, conferences, and self-study programs on topics such as general management practices, taxation, and personal development. The National Management Association, Association of Financial Professionals, and associations at the state and local levels also provide continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.

Additionally, many large companies offer management training programs that help develop workers who are viewed as “management material.” 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Chief executive officers do not need to be certified, but some become certified during their long “apprenticeship” in lower level management positions. The Institute of Certified Professional Managers offers the certified manager credential, which requires the completion of an educational program and passing an examination. The Association of Financial Professionals also provides certification.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience in lower level management positions of increasing responsibility (such as department manager, controller, chief information officer, chief operating officer, vice president, etc.) is required to become a financial officer.

Each year, Chief Executive surveys business leaders at top companies to determine the top skills for effective leadership. In a recent survey, 60 percent of respondents cited “adaptability to change” as the key skill of effective leaders. Other important skills include strategic thinking (cited by 55 percent of respondents), integrity (48 percent), very good communicator (40 percent), being trustworthy and open (38 percent), vision (35 percent), the ability to develop and foster diverse teams (33 percent), good delegator (28 percent), a positive mind-set (26 percent), and high self-awareness (26 percent). Other important traits for CEOs include organizational ability, a detail-oriented personality, an understanding of technology and how to leverage it to improve the company’s bottom line, decisiveness, leadership ability, creativity, honesty, loyalty, a sense of responsibility, and planning abilities.