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Is a degree a prerequisite to reach the C-suite?

I get increasingly asked whether a degree qualification should be mandatory on job specs. I think ‘no,’ but companies often resist, believing it’s a selection filter that will access better people.

Consider the success stories of Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Marc Randolph. These visionaries, who didn’t hold a degree, have led Microsoft, Virgin, Facebook, Apple, and Netflix to unparalleled success. Their achievements stand as a testament to the potential that can be overlooked when degrees are made mandatory.

My experience points to companies that are much more focused on a leader’s last 10 – 15 years of demonstrable experience and track record, as opposed to zooming in on a degree they might have taken over 20 years ago. MBAs and postgrads are different matters and have specific professional applications.
Career routes are taking a less linear route to the c-suite, with a proven ability to shape an organisation’s growth, topping the list of requirements. According to LinkedIn data, job postings (at all levels) not requiring a degree have increased 90% in recent years. A growing number of big firms, such as PwC, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Apple, are doing away with degree requirements for graduate hiring to attract a more diverse talent pool.

Ultimately, what matters most is a candidate’s ability to drive business results, lead teams effectively, and navigate complex challenges. These are the skills that truly define success in the C-suite, regardless of whether they hold a formal degree. By prioritising these qualities, organisations can open up opportunities for a wider range of talented individuals.

What are your thoughts?

Is a degree an outdated mandatory filter for C-suite success?

About BartonRock: BartonRock is the executive search partner for high-growth consumer and retail businesses

We manage the careers of executives whose know-how and commercial acumen steer the strategic direction for companies to thrive.

Our assignments search for executives who understand how to operate in dynamic and entrepreneurial environments.

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