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Worlds’ Top Business Leaders’ Have Academic Backgrounds From Foreign Institutions

According to a recent study, only about one-third of the world’s top CEOs have completed some type of study abroad program, and this estimate is growing steadily over the years. CEOs from Africa lead the pack in terms of international experience.

A German-based European study choice portal has published a report on the educational backgrounds of some of the world’s renowned CEOs. The survey included 283 CEOs and was analyzed at the largest major corporations in each continent using the Forbes Global 2000 business ranking system.

“Living in a different country shifts perspectives and enables graduates to thrive in the context of globalized, intertwined economics,” said Gerrit Blöss, founder and CEO of “Also, international students tend to make friends from all over the world, and later on in life, such global professional networks are immensely valuable for corporate positions.”

Over a quarter of the CEOs studied now work in a country other than their home country, with the majority of those working in Europe and Australia, where the majority of foreign CEOs are “from the UK or New Zealand”.

The regional divide among CEOs who studied abroad is quite stark. A substantial 68 per cent of African CEOs attended university abroad, with Latin America not far behind, with 54 per cent of CEOs from the region studying in a foreign country.

“Top management decisions need to be challenged from various angles – actual diversity is a great way to get there,” Blöss said. “International study and work experience may be the next best thing. And that’s true not just for the boardroom, but for all levels across a corporation.”

The region with the fewest CEOs with study abroad experience in the United States, but that number, which has risen from 11 per cent to 13 per cent, is expected to rise further, as per the study. The percentage of the youngest third of the CEOs who studied abroad rises to 41%, with nearly half having studied in another country.

“We’ll see more CEOs who studied abroad, and probably more foreign nationals in the CEO role,” Blöss predicted.

Europe has a solid 20% of CEOs studying abroad, with Asia being at 31% and Australia at 45%, supporting Blöss' estimation that attending university abroad will become more popular overall. 

Affordability, on the other hand, is a major impediment to the process. “Studying abroad is still a privilege,” Blöss said, “but the situation has improved significantly over the last one or two decades. Mobility schemes such as Erasmus+ as well as institutional partnerships have played a major role,” Blöss continued.

“There are now also more virtual mobility options available – they will never replace the real experience of actually studying abroad, but they can whet the appetite for the real thing”.

One worrisome trend found in the report is the lack of women in top positions around the world. The figure remains at a “mere” 4.6 per cent, up by 2 per cent from the previous survey; nearly half of that percentage works for US companies.

On the other hand, Blöss remains optimistic that more women will begin to rise to the top jobs more frequently, as the aforementioned diversity will go “hand in hand” with stable company performance. The report also discussed how much education the CEOs had received – 66 per cent of those studied have a master’s or doctorate degree, but a significant 2 per cent decided not to attend university at all.

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