Do CEO’s Need to be Academics?

By | April 10, 2008

I was reading an article on USA Today’s website about American Express’ CEO, and I read an interesting comment that I just had to respond to. The comment read:

trips wrote:
wow, a bachelors degree in history. that amex ceo, along with all the others, sure are academics. they need to get real college educations, not some easy degree like that. goes to show you become ceo by just graduating college with any degree, even simple ones, and you trample on everyone else and kiss butt. there are harder working people in the u.s. who are paid way less for their work—-that is ashamed.

I just had to respond. My response was:

The fact is that you do not have to be an academic to be a leader of any kind. In fact, most colleges and universities actually teach you how to work for someone else, rather than be a leader. Even most MBA’s do not teach you how to be a leader. They give you great knowledge on how to work for someone else though.

If you wanted, you (yes, you!) could be a CEO. But you would have to do what CEO’s do, which is create a vision, develop or organize a team around that vision, and implement. That has nothing to do with academics; that has to do with implementation & leadership. And a college degree does not guarantee that you can implement large visions and strategies. Why do you think the dean of your college is the dean? Most likely it is because of vision, leadership and implementation.

A college degree is a useful tool, and leaders who have one will have an advantage, but a degree by itself is worthless if the degree-holder cannot implement what he learned. You also forget the role of a CEO (or even the Dean of your school). He does not need to know how to do everything, he just has to know how to find resources, and use those resources to fulfill his mission. And maybe without these people who you seem to despise, you would have no company to work for (after all, if there was no one creating a vision, building a team around that vision, and implementing that vision, there would be no company). And that goes for your university as well. Someone had to organize that who had a big vision. In the business world he would have been called a CEO.

Instead of being so bitter about it, why don’t you do what many of people are starting to do, and that is create a company of your own (with you as CEO), where your company helps people and helps the community. Build a company that makes a positive difference in the world. Complaining about it and doing nothing does not help anything. Create something that empowers yourself and the people around you, and you too can be a CEO (and find out what CEO’s really do, which is create something bigger than themselves).

Anyone can be CEO. There are good ones and bad ones. Brown nosing and trampling on people will only get you so far. Those people eventually get a knife in their back. There are good CEO’s out there (believe it or not), and we need more good people who have a vision that is positive for everyone (win-win-win). Negativity will get you nowhere.


Scott M. Stolz

Entrepreneur, Educator, Author.
Helping people embrace life's opportunities.™