When lists come out of the rich and famous, it is often assumed that these individuals were raised in an elite environment filled with private schooling and tutors to guide them on their path to success. However, many of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies today came from much more humble beginnings – through the public school systems in their neighborhoods. If there was ever a doubt about how public school can launch students on the road to prosperity, these 15 individuals are living examples to dispel those doubts.
1. Michael T. Duke – Wal-Mart Stores
Michael Duke is currently serving as the fourth Chief Executive Officer for Wal-Mart. Duke joined the company in 1995 and quickly developed a broad base of experience as he led the Logistics, Distribution and Administration Divisions, and more recently, the U.S. Operations. From 2005 to 2009, Duke served as vice-chairman of the company, taking the reins as CEO in February, 2009, according to a bio at the Wall Street Journal.
Duke has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. After college, he held positions with a number of retail companies before heading to Wal-Mart, including Federated Department Stores, May Department Stores and Venture Stores. Before his college career, Michael Duke was a student at Fayette County High School, located in Fayetteville, Georgia, according to Wikipedia.
2. Rex W. Tillerson – Exxon Mobil
Rex W. Tillerson is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Exxon Mobil. According to the company website, Tillerson began working with Exxon in 1975 as a production engineer, after earning his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and the University of Texas at Austin. Tillerson slowly worked his way up the corporate ladder during his decades with the company, becoming General Manager of EUSA’s Central Production Division in 1989. In 1992, he assumed the role as Production Advisor to Exxon and three years later, he became president of Exxon Yemen Inc and Esso Exploration and Production Khorat Inc.
At the end of 1999, Tillerson became Executive Vice President of ExxonMobil, and then Senior Vice President two years later. After taking on the role as President in 2004, he became CEO in 2006. Before his college years and illustrious career at Exxon, Tillerson attended Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Texas, where he graduated in 1970.
3. Jeffrey R. Immelt – General Electric
Jeffrey Immelt takes his place as the ninth CEO of General Electric, where he has served since September, 2001. According to the company website, Immelt had ample experience in the global marketplace before coming to GE, including his leadership roles in GE’s Plastics, Appliance and Healthcare businesses. Immelt has been named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” by Barron’s and serves as the chair for President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Jeffrey Immelt holds a B.A. degree in Applied Mathematics from Dartmouth College and an M.B.A. from Harvard. Before his college and professional careers, Immelt attended Finneytown High School in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he played on the school football team.
4. Warren E. Buffett – Berkshire Hathaway
Few CEOs are known like Warrant Buffet, the financial wizard who is recognized globally as one of the most successful investors today. Buffett has served as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate based in Omaha, Nebraska, since 1970. He has simultaneously provided his financial expertise and leadership skills to other companies along the way, including Burlington Northern Santa Fe, LLC, Salomon Inc., Buffett-Falk and Co., and Graham-Newman Corp.
According to a bio at Bloomberg Business, Buffett currently serves as trustee for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is a Life Trustee of the Urban Institute. Buffett earned his B.S. from the University of Nebraska in 1950 and an M.S. in economics from Columbia University one year later. Before his college years, Buffett attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C.
5. David B. Dillon – Kroger
David B. Dillon is the current CEO of Kroger, a company that boasts more than 300,000 employees and 3,600 grocery stores, convenience stores and jewelers nationwide. According to a bio on Dillon at his alma mater, Kansas University, Dillon has served a variety of roles within the food industry since joining Dillon Companies with King Soopers in 1976. After working in the role of president with Dillon Companies, Dillon became vice president of Kroger in 1990 before being elected president and CEO of the company in 1995.
Dillon earned a B.S. in business from the University of Kansas and spent some time at Southern Methodist University. Before his college years and experience as a grocery store mogul, David Dillon graduated from Hutchinson High School, in Hutchinson, Kansas.
6. James D. Sinegal – Costco Wholesale
The CEO of Costco Wholesale is also a public school graduate who has made a big impact in the business world. Before he took over as head of the warehouse chain, Sinegal spent many years in the retail industry. Sinegal started out as a bagger for FedMart in 1954, where he worked his way all the way up the ladder to vice president of the company. According to a bio at Forbes, Sinegal was the co-founder of Costco, and served as director since its inception. He is currently CEO and was also the company’s president until 2010.
James Sinegal earned an associate degree from San Diego Junior College, after graduating from Helix High School in La Mesa, California. He also attended San Diego State University.
7. Steven P. Jobs – Apple
Probably one of the most famous CEOs of this generation, the late Steven P. Jobs made a name for himself as well as his technology at Apple. Jobs got his first taste of the electronics scene working at Atari in 1974. Two years later, Jobs and his partner, Steve Wozniak, started up Apple in the Jobs family garage. According to Biography.com, Jobs sold his Volkswagen bus and Wozniak sold his scientific calculator to fund their venture.
Steven Jobs never showed a tremendous interest in his schooling. He attended Homestead High School in Cupertino, California, where he met Wozniak and another electronics guru, Bill Fernandez. However, he spent more of his time at Hewlett-Packard, attending after-school lectures. After high school, Jobs attended Reed College, but dropped out after six months.
8. W. James McNerney Jr. – Boeing
W. James McNerney Jr. is the CEO, president and chairman of the board for The Boeing Company. Before coming onboard Boeing in 2005, McNerney served in leadership positions, including CEO, at 3M and General Electric. Prior to his prestigious positions at these large companies, McNerney also worked for Proctor and Gamble and McKinsey & Co., Inc., according to the Boeing website.
W. James McNerney earned a B.A. degree from Yale University and an M.B.A. from Harvard. Prior to his time in the Ivy League, McNerney graduated from New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.
9. Edward B. Rust Jr. – State Farm Insurance Cos.
Edward B. Rust Jr. serves as chairman of the board and CEO for State Farm Mutual and its principal affiliates, according to the State Farm website. Rust joined State Farm in 1975 and became president and chief executive one decade later. During his long and illustrious career with State Farm, Rust has also served on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the Financial Services Roundtable.
Rust earned his undergraduate degree at Illinois Wesleyan, and went on to earn a juris doctorate and master’s degree from Southern Methodist University. Before his many college years and his time at State Farm, Rust attended Bloomington High School in Bloomington, Illinois.
10. Michael S. Dell – Dell
Michael Dell is the founder and CEO of Dell, a company he created at the age of 19 with just $1000. According to the Dell website, Dell became the youngest CEO ever to earn a ranking on the Fortune 500 list in 1992. Dell also formed MSD Capital in 1998 and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation with his wife in 1999. The foundation offers philanthropic support to a number of global causes today.
Michael Dell enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin, but dropped out before completing his degree. Prior to his brief college stint, Dell graduated from Memorial High School in Houston, Texas.
11. Steven A. Kandarian – MetLife
The CEO, president and chairman of the board at MetLife, Steven A. Kandarian brings a wealth of experience in the insurance industry to the table. Kandarian began his career as an investment banker, but has also worked for Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation before moving to MetLife. Kandarian came to MetLife in 2005, when he was named chief investment officer and executive vice president of the company. Kandarian became president and CEO of the company in 2011, according to the MetLife website.
Steven Kandarian earned a B.A. from Clark University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He also holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. Before his illustrious academic and professional career began, Kandarian attended William H. Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut.
12. Irene B. Rosenfeld – Kraft Foods
Irene B. Rosenfeld has served as CEO of Kraft Foods since 2006. Prior to that time, Rosenfeld spent 30 years with the company, serving in a number of positions, including President of North American Business, President Kraft Canada and Executive Vice President and General Manager of Desserts, according to the Kraft website.
Rosenfeld holds a PhD in marketing and statistics, a master’s degree in business and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Before her many years in higher education, Rosenfeld attended W.T. Clarke High School in Westbury, New York.
13. Lloyd C. Blankfein – Goldman Sachs Group
Lloyd C. Blankfein is the current CEO of Goldman Sachs Group, and has held this position since 2006. He began with the company in 1994, in the position of co-president of commodities division, according to a bio at nndb. In 2002, Blankfein was named vice chairman of the company, and in 2004, he took the position of president and COO. Two years later, he was named CEO.
Blankfein holds a B.A. from Harvard University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Prior to his successful financial career, Blankfein attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, New York, where he was named class valedictorian.
14. Jeffrey P. Bezos - Amazon
Jeffrey P. Bezos is CEO and chairman of the board for Amazon, one of the most successful online retailers today. Bezos spent some time working in the computer field on Wall Street after college, before founding Amazon in 1994. According to a bio at Academy of Achievement, Bezos and his wife Mackenzie started their mail order book business in a two-bedroom house in Seattle. The company grew to become one of the top retail companies on the Internet.
Jeffrey Bezos holds a B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University. Before that, Bezos attended high school at Miami Palmetto Senior High School in Miami, Florida.
15. Daniel R. Hesse – Sprint Nextel
Daniel R. Hesse has been serving as the CEO of Sprint Nextel since December, 2007, according to a bio at the Wall Street Journal. Prior to working with his current company, Hesse had the appointment of CEO and chairman of the board for Embarq Corporation. Hesse also worked briefly at Terabeam Corporation, after spending the first 23 years of his professional life with AT&T. In 1997 he was appointed president and CEO of AT&T’s Wireless Services; a position he held for the next three years.
Before he launched his successful career in the world of telecommunications, Hesse earned a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, an M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.B.A. from Cornell University. Hesse graduated from Stuttgart American High School, a high school for children from military families in Stuttgart.
Clearly, a public school education can be a powerful stepping stone to a successful career in business!