Sunday 25 February 2018

How Did The World's Top 100 CEOs Get To The Top?

What Makes a Top CEO?
The Education & Career Steps of The World’s Best CEOs

  •  42% of the world’s top 100 CEOs are between the age of 56 and 60.
  •  98% of the most influential 100 CEOs have a degree, with 36% of them earning a degree in a business-related subject
  • Only 4 of the world’s biggest companies have a female CEO, 96 are male
  • 28% of CEOs have a career background in operations, 25% in finance

What type of person is more likely to make it to the top of a multinational business? New research from Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment suggests that people who people who have a career background in operations or finance are the most likely leaders.

A study into the most influential 100 CEOs in the world has investigated whether there is any trend between your first career steps and how far you progress. The research suggests that it is near impossible to make it to the top of one of the largest businesses without a degree, 98% of the top 100 CEOs are graduates. Of the 98 graduates, the most popular degree type was business (36%) followed by engineering, accounting for 23% of the graduate CEOs.

The breakdown of the top 5 degree types for CEO graduates can be seen below:

Degree Type
Count of CEOs
Accounting & Finance
Computer Science

The research also looks into the age and gender of the largest companies’ CEOs. 96% of these CEOs are male, with only 4 of the largest businesses in the World having a female CEO.

The average ‘Top CEO’ age is 59, with by far the most prominent age group being between 56-60, accounting for 42% of the CEOs reviewed. The top 5 age groups can be seen below, out of 96 CEOs with publicly available information of their age:

Age Range
Count of CEOs

Finally, the study reviews the career backgrounds of the most powerful CEOs, grouping their career backgrounds into concise categories. 54% of the ‘Top CEOs’ have a career background in either finance or operations.

The top 5 career backgrounds can be seen below:

Professional Background
Proportion of CEOs
R & D
Data Analysis

For the full results of the study, please visit:

Rob Scott, Managing Director at Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment said:
“In 2018 we are seeing that it is near impossible to lead a big business without being a graduate and that earning an MBA can be a real advantage to progressing your career. Starting out in an operations or finance related field can give you the mindset and strategic thinking which is necessary to make it to the top.
It’s also unsurprising how many CEOs in our study have worked in a sales role at some point in their career, teaching you the communication skills to manage staff and negotiate large business deals.”


About the research
The study was conducted by Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, researching the CEOs of the world’s largest businesses based upon Forbes data.

Research on the CEOs came from a range of sources, mixing Wikipedia data with reports from publications and outlets to collate the first career moves and education of the world’s most powerful CEOs.

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