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Engineers rule the roost in top ASX companies

Engineers and scientists beat out those who studied business at university when it comes to who gets the top CEO jobs, writes LeadingCompany’s Myriam Robin.

More than a third of the corporate titans who head our largest companies are scientists or engineers, a LeadingCompany analysis has found.

Of the CEOs who head ASX100 companies, 35 studied either science or engineering at an undergraduate level at university — 19 of the 100 studied science at an undergraduate level (usually geology or mineralogy) while another 16 are engineers.

Not far behind, commerce and economics were studied by 14 and 11 CEOs respectively as a first degree. On par with economics was arts, while another five studied law. One CEO, Treasury Wine’s David Dearie, studied marketing.

An interesting observation to come from our figures is that our largest mining companies disproportionately promote to the CEO role those with backgrounds in science and engineering — those who’ve typically spent much of their early career working as engineers or geologists. This contrasts with the other industries on the list, where broader degrees in commerce, accounting, economics and arts were most common.

In August, Suncorp catalogued the backgrounds of the CEOs of the ASX50, and found the most common degree was a tie between commerce, engineering and economics (eight CEOs or 16% had studied each). But in our analysis, which was broadened to include the entire ASX100, there is a higher proportion of mining companies than the ASX50, generating a higher percentage of engineers and scientists.

Another takeout is that more than a quarter (28%) of the leaders of the ASX100 studied overseas. On closer inspection this factor reveals the varied nationalities of these leaders, rather than evidence of Australian-born CEOs having gone overseas to study after leaving school. Many of the leaders on the list are American, British, South African or European, and their place of undergraduate study reflects that.

For example, American CEOs such as Boral’s Mike Kane and Boart Longyear’s (soon to depart) Craig Kipp graduated from Southern Illinois University and the University of North Dakota respectively, while Irishman Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas, graduated from Trinity College.

The University of New South Wales can boast the most CEOs — seven graduated from its undergraduate programs. Six graduated from Monash University, while another five went to the University of Western Australia.

When it comes to which universities they studied at, our CEOs tended not to graduate from the “sandstone” variety such as the University of Melbourne or Sydney. Four graduated from Melbourne University while only two got their first degree from the University of Sydney. Both of these hallowed halls were overshadowed by another university in their city — with the University of New South Wales in Sydney and Monash University in Melbourne being the starting place of far more CEOs. The University of Adelaide and Curtin University both graduated two CEOs apiece, the same number as the more prestigious University of Sydney.

The University of Pretoria in South Africa was the only foreign university to graduate more than one ASX100 CEO, courtesy of Westpac’s Gail Kelly and BHP’s Marius Kloppers, who finished degrees there in arts and science respectively.

*Read the full list of CEOs and where they studied at LeadingCompany

5
  • 1
    Benji
    Posted Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how this study would look if Federal and State Parliaments and associated Government Departments were considered. I doubt Engineers or Scientists would figure very highly in those ‘esteemed’ organisations.
    Interesting to consider that engineers usually have double degrees in business or commerce these days.

  • 2
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    UNSW and Monash are both Group of Eigt universities and so normally considered “sandstone”. (Actual materials of construction notwithstanding)

  • 3
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Sorry “Eight” not “Eigt”

  • 4
    John Bennetts
    Posted Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Why the fixation on first degrees? It skews the outcome significantly, because many with engineering or science degrees have second or higher degrees in generalist fields such as an MBA. I am thus labelled for ever as an engineer. Is my management degree irrelevant?

    The reverse is seldom the case. I am aware of no first-degree management graduate who has gone on to acquire either a science or engineering degree. Thus, business grads never get to be trained in the technical side of the businesses which they aspire to manage.

    To concentrate only on first degrees is clearly irrelevant, in part because it underestimates those with formal business management related degrees. I doubt that this hollow discussion means very much at all.

    What matters more is whether the author is fixated on first degrees. Why this is so is for the author to say.

    Myriam, why did you do this?

    Is your purpose to steer technically gifted undergrads away from science and engineering and into generalist non-technical first degrees? To what benefit to the individual?

    Or, perhaps, you are campaigning to steer corporations away from appointing as CEO’s people with science or engineering degrees, regardless of whether the corporation is operating in an area where technical knowledge is relevant. How does favouring non-technical appointments benefit such a corporation?

    Given Matt Hardin’s comment, does Myriam Robin even begin to understand what she is writing about?

  • 5
    John Bennetts
    Posted Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    While I am on the subject of first qualifications…

    before graduating as an engineer, I held qualifications as a taxi driver and as a private enquiry agent.

    Subsequently, I also picked up formal qualifications as a crane driver, a truck driver and an apiarist, each of which was or is evidenced via a piece of paper or plastic.

    Then came a Management Master’s.

    Who gives a hoot which qualification came first and whether via university study or otherwise, or whether some of these former skills are now dormant?

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