Chalk this up as another one of those facts about the heartland that may go underappreciated on the coasts: The No. 1 university in America for turning out current CEOs of Fortune 500 companies is not Harvard, not Stanford, not Notre Dame.
It’s the University of Wisconsin, with 14 of those Fortune 500 CEOs, as of the late-2018 tabulation of a survey by Kittleman Research. Harvard University was No. 2, with 12 chiefs.
“Not coming from a Harvard or a Stanford, I think that [Wisconsin alumni in business] sometimes have the feeling that 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,” said Gerhart, who called Wisconsin’s top ranking “a wonderful distinction.”
Interestingly, the top and runner-up rankings of Wisconsin and Harvard are echoed in an overall tough competition between the Big Ten Conference and the Ivy League up and down Kittleman’s list of the 30 top U.S. schools for Fortune 500 CEOs.
Cornell University was No. 3, with 10 chiefs, while the University of Michigan ranked No. 4, with eight current Fortune 500 CEOs. Overall, seven Big Ten schools placed, out of the 14 schools that now populate the Midwest-based conference.
And while six of the seven Ivy League schools were in the top 30 (all except Brown University), Kittleman said that Big Ten schools placed the largest percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs, at 12.4 percent.
Gerhart said that Wisconsin’s business school has long enjoyed “a good combination of scholarship and academic rigor.”
The rankings gave Gerhart an opportunity to extol other benefits of his school, which he said include a high ranking in worldwide research institutions, the most students who go into the Peace Corps, and the sixth ranking among universities globally in the number of patents held.
He also noted strong athletic programs, and the beautiful University of Wisconsin campus on an isthmus in the state capital of Madison.
“The business school is where we’re in the middle of all that,” Gerhart said. “I’m not sure you can find that kind of combination anywhere else, especially in a six-million-person state.”
Of this year’s March Madness field, here are the top five schools, according to the Kittleman list:
1. Wisconsin – 14
2. University of Michigan – 8
3. Purdue University – 6
4. Michigan State – 5
5. Yale – 5