Engineering a Great Business

CEOIn today’s world more people than ever are forming and running their own businesses.  While an idea for a business can be great, if it is not properly run it will be sure to fail.  Just this past week the Harvard Business Review released a list of the 100 best-performing CEOs in the world.  Topping the list is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.  Bezos attended Princeton University and studied computer science and electrical engineering.  It is weird to see the top rated CEO in the world as an engineer.  How does engineering translate to successfully running a business?  If you thought this was an outlier then you would be wrong.

Per the results, “A full 24 of the 100 best-performing CEOs have a Bachelors or Masters degree in engineering.”  This is a staggering amount.  The 29 CEOs with an MBA barely outnumber their engineering counterparts.  How is it that engineers are just as well represented as those with a traditional business background?

According to Harvard Business School dean Nitin Nohria, who has a degree in chemical engineering himself, “’Studying engineering gives someone a practical, pragmatic orientation’” (Baer 1).  He further explains, ‘”Engineering is about what works, and it breeds in you an ethos of building things that work – whether it’s a machine or a structure or an organization’” (Baer 1).

With this understanding it is no surprise to see engineers representing some of the best CEOs in the world.  This idea of practicality can easily translate into the business world and is seen with how Bezos runs Amazon.  Efficiency is the key concept that Bezos emphasizes with how Amazon is run.  The most extreme emphasis comes with constructing the most customer-centric product possible (Baer 1).

Bezos is just one example of how to successfully utilize an engineering degree in the business world.  This non-traditional route may soon be desired by companies seeking top-level managers.  With this thought in mind, does it de-value the MBA for any business students that are considering pursuing one?  It would be interesting to know what kind of value companies now place on an MBA.  It appears that a degree in engineering may soon become the norm for those seeking entrepreneurship or executive level roles.   In a year’s time we may see engineers taking up an even larger portion of the 100 best-performing CEOs.

Matthew McCready


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