5 of The Greatest CEOs You Didn’t Know Had an MBA

Todd Sampson, MBA degree

It’s one of the most popular professional degrees – according to the Harvard Business Review, six of the top 10 best-performing CEOs in the world have one – but most people would be hard pressed to name a CEO with an MBA degree.

It makes sense – we know them for their business acumen rather than their academic accomplishments. Here are the greatest chief execs you never knew had MBAs.

Tim Cook, Apple

Being CEO of the world’s largest tech company are big shoes to fill – made even bigger when they were previously filled by a megastar personality like Steve Jobs. Tim Cook took the reigns of Apple in 2011 after Jobs stepped down and he has more than proved himself since.

Under Cook, Apple has seen some of its strongest gains to date. He has overseen the release of Apple Watch, the company’s expansion in China and Apple’s largest acquisition to date, purchasing Beats By Dre and Beats Electronics for $3 billion.

Cook studied a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in the early 80s before going on to complete his MBA. After 12 years at IBM, three years at Intelligent Electronics and six months at Compaq, Cook went to work for Apple. In 2012, Cook was the highest paid CEO among large publicly traded companies, earning $378 million in total compensation.

Todd Sampson, Leo Burnett Australia

He’s conquered Everest, but the advertising guru is better known for his novelty T-shirts. Todd Sampson rocketed into the national spotlight in 2008 as a regular on ABC’s The Gruen Transfer.

Born and raised in Canada, as a 12-year-old he was regularly picked up by police for being drunk. He studied economics and biology before completing his MBA in South Africa, where a guest lecture by the creative director at an advertising agency convinced him that he wanted to be an adman.

Sampson joined ad agency Leo Burnett Australia in 2002 before becoming CEO in 2008, one of the few chief execs with a background in strategy. With Sampson at the helm, the company won 12 Agency of the Year awards and was ranked the 7th most creative agency on the planet.

He is the co-creator of Earth Hour, a worldwide environmental movement reaching more than 1.4 billion people. Earlier this year, he stepped down as CEO of Leo Burnett Australia to become Non-Executive Chairman. He currently sits on the boards of Qantas and Fairfax Media.

John Donahoe, eBay

At 18, the future CEO of one of the world’s biggest e-commerce companies worked for a beer distributor, where he unloaded delivery trucks and drank beer at 7am. In a strange way, John Donahoe says this job informed his leadership style.

He’s a champion of work flexibility, boardroom diversity and the sabbatical. After studying economics and an MBA, he went to work at a management consulting firm.

When his wife was offered her dream job, he decided to quit management consulting to stay home and look after their kids. Upon handing in his resignation, his boss offered to assign him to a locally-based client. When Donahoe reminded him they had none, his boss said, “I’ll get one.”

He worked flexible hours so he could take his kids to school each morning. A year later he was promoted to partner, becoming the firm’s CEO in 1999. In 2008 he became president and CEO of eBay with an aim of advancing more women executives within the company.

Earlier this year, he stepped down as eBay CEO and currently hold positions on the boards of Nike and Intel as well as serving as chairman of PayPal.

Gail Kelly, Westpac

Highest paid woman in Australia? Tick. First female head of one of Australia’s 15 largest public companies? Tick. First female CEO of one of Australia’s major banks? Tick. No wonder they call Gail Kelly the most powerful woman in finance…

Born in South Africa, she began her career as a teller at Nedcor Bank. In 1986, she completed her MBA while pregnant with her first child and relocated to Australia in 1997, working for the Commonwealth Bank before moving to St George Bank in 2002 as chief executive and managing director.

The financier became CEO of Westpac in 2008, at the front end of the GFC, and in the same year engineered a bold $19 billion takeover of St George. With a focus on innovation, sustainability and diversity, Kelly implemented targets to substantially increase the representation of women in leadership roles.

After seven years at Westpac, Kelly stepped down as CEO. She was recently appointed non-executive director on the board of South African company Woolworths Holdings.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft

While Bill Gates is infamous for being a college dropout, this is definitely not the case for Microsoft’s new CEO – in fact, he has three degrees. Satya Nadella studied a bachelor of engineering and communications before moving to the US, where he completed a master’s degree in computer science and then an MBA.

Growing up in India, Nadella developed his passions for poetry and cricket, but it is the latter which he maintains taught him about teamwork and leadership.

His career in Silicon Valley began as a technologist with Sun Microsystems before joining Microsoft in 1992. In recent years he has been instrumental in developing the company’s cloud technology and played a major role in the rollout of Office 365, growing Microsoft’s cloud revenue from $16.6 billion to $20.3 billion in three years.

After Steve Ballmer announced his intention to retire in 2014, Nadella was named CEO, only the third in the company’s history.

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