Choosing your major in college seems like one of the toughest decisions in the world at the time. You want to make sure it’s something that you’re interested in, yet will also lead you down a secure career path. With so many different programs to choose from and having to decide at such a young age, the right choice isn’t always made. But with the following list of successful CEOs who aren’t working in their area of study, you’ll see that your major really isn’t as much of a game-changer as you may think.
Major: Computer Science, Harvard University
CEO of: Zappos.com, an online shoe and clothing store
Computer science and creating an online store have a little bit in common, but it’s far more likely for someone with his degree to work behind the scenes as opposed to in retail. And calling Hsieh successful is a bit of an understatement: he sold Zappos.com to Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion.
Major: 20th Century Philosophy, Stanford University
CEO of: PayPal
For anyone who’s ever bought something online, you’ve no doubt come across PayPal at least once. This escrow-type service allows you to securely send and receive money with minimal fees, although their exchange rate could be improved. Thiel’s living proof that no matter what you study in college, you still have the potential to helm a company that can bring in $5.6 billion in revenue the way he did in 2012.
Major: Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, Madras Christian College
CEO of: PepsiCo
Overseeing one of the world’s biggest companies would usually require a strong business pedigree, but Nooyi got her start in completely the other direction. And though she got her MBA equivalent (Post Graduate Diploma in Management) two years after her bachelor’s, it was at Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, not exactly a business school in most Americans’ top 10 (although it is one of the top in India and the Asia-Pacific area).
Major: Symbolic Systems, Stanford University
CEO of: Yahoo!
In contrast to Nooyi, Mayer not only didn’t get an MBA, but specialized in artificial intelligence for both her bachelor’s and masters degrees (computer science). And yet, she translated her intelligence and world-savvy into becoming top dog at one of the oldest and most prominent web companies ever, as well as being ranked the eighth most powerful businesswoman by Forbes last year.
Major: Government, Harvard University
CEO of: Goldman Sachs
This 145-year-old company is that old for a reason: it’s employed smart people who know how to continually look to the future for success. And yet, on paper, installing Blankfein as CEO doesn’t make a lot of sense. He didn’t major in anything bank-related at college, didn’t write an honor’s thesis, and opted for a JD from Harvard instead of an MBA. But his total income of $21 million in 2012 makes him the world’s best-paid banker.
Major: History and Political Science double major, Wellesley College
CEO of: Gannett Company
There are those who believe a journalism degree is necessary for just cracking into media, let alone rising to the top — and then there is Martore. She’s consistently ranked as one of the most powerful women or executives in the world, taking Forbes’ top honor in 2011, and receiving similar accolades from The Washington Post, Virginia Business, Institutional Investor, and Washingtonian Magazine.
Major: Political Science, Wellesley College
CEO of: Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc.
Her salary last year was almost $5 million, which is more than the nominal GDP of the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Switzerland combined. And she didn’t take the traditional route, either, choosing to get her graduate degree in law from Northwestern instead of an MBA.
If you’re worried your college major won’t set you up in the position you want to work in, don’t sweat it. These seven CEOs, plus dozens more, used college as an opportunity to learn and network, not to get locked into a specific area of work.
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