According to a recent ranking by Business Week of CEOs of the top 1,000 publicly held US companies, more chief executive officers majored in engineering – not marketing, not finance, and not law – than any other discipline.
I have noticed a recent trend that the majority of senior-level marketing executives that I have worked with don’t have an MBA or an undergraduate degree in marketing. They were engineers. While it may seem odd that engineering folks would be the most likely group to climb the marketing ladder, it actually makes perfect sense. In most cases, engineers are the people most intimately involved in the product development process. They’re the ones who are translating customer requirements into products that meet specific demands in the marketplace. Over time, they pick up on the various other aspects of the business, but they will always have an advantage over people with a general business background in that they have a much deeper understanding of the technical aspects of the business. In any product-driven business, that is crucial.
I graduated in 2002 with an undergraduate marketing degree, and although I feel that I received an exceptional undergraduate education, I didn’t leave school with a skill set that could immediately be applied in the workforce. Just nine years later, I could claim that my degree is horribly out of date – the term ‘social networking’ didn’t even exist when I was in college. Engineers, accountants, and programmers, however, were all highly sought after following graduation because they had a tangible skill set that could be applied immediately in a professional setting.
I’m certainly not saying that all engineers will be better candidates for senior marketing positions than other folks with an MBA or other non-technical degree. There are many, many talented executives with degrees in the liberal arts and some with no degree at all. However, if my kids ever seek my advice on a college major, I’ll try to steer them towards a technical degree that will give them a valuable skill set and enable them to learn the other aspects of leading a business over time. But let’s be honest, what 18-year old seeks and actually takes advice from their parents?