More and more we’re hearing about engineers who are now business owners, CEOs, and other high-level executives. From our very own Frank Harshaw and Ingersoll Rand CEO Mike Lamach to the CEOs of Amazon and Microsoft, many started off their education and career in engineering.
A review of the S&P 500 index done by researchers at the consulting firm Spencer Stuart revealed that 33% of S&P CEOs have an undergraduate degree in engineering – three times the amount with undergraduate degrees in business administration.
In a 2014 article from the Harvard Business Review, the writers list their top 100 CEOs in the world. They were ranked by work environment, citizenship, leadership, etc. Twenty-four of those listed are engineers, including three of the top ten.
Nitin Nohria, dean of the Harvard Business School (and an engineering graduate himself) explained why engineers make great CEOs. “Studying engineering gives someone a practical, pragmatic orientation…it teaches you to try to do things efficiently and eloquently, with reliable outcomes, and with a margin of safety. It makes you think about costs versus performance.”
James Citrin, an executive recruiter for Spencer Stuart, echoes these thoughts. He says that engineers are architectural thinkers and logical problem solvers. Characteristics that are valued in the leader of an organization are efficiency and logic – things most engineers have in spades.
Sometimes, it just makes sense for an organization to have a CEO who knows engineering. CEOs need to understand how all the various aspects of a company works – when a company’s core competency involves engineering and innovation, who can better understand the people and processes behind that than someone who has done it?
Whether an engineer becomes a business executive or stays in engineering, they do incredible things. Let’s celebrate engineers and the many paths they take.
Harvard Business Review