Why Engineers Make Great CEOs is a guest blog by Thomas Anderson, P.E.
Engineering is the most common undergraduate degree of the Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). It has been for some time. Approximately one third of CEOs majored in engineering and only 11% graduated from business school. The Harvard Business Review has a list of the 100 best-performing CEOs on the planet.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos topped the list. Bezos earned a Bachelor of Science in computer science and electrical engineering from Princeton University. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella is an engineer. General Motors’ Mary Barra as well. Carlos Ghosn of Nissan and Dennis Muilenburg of Boeing also have engineering backgrounds. Ursula Burns, the CEO and chairman of Xerox Corporation started her career as an engineering intern. In fact, 24 of the top 100 CEO’s have a Bachelors or Master’s degree in engineering.
Engineers are a little bit different. Sometimes introverted and always good at the math, they build and fix things; complex things. They have a unique ways of looking at the world. The qualities below make engineers exceptionally good at leading companies.
Attention to Detail
Engineers pay attention to details. It’s in their blood. They spend their careers understanding the unique details of a problem, while also understanding how it relates to the big picture. Imagine building the international space station. The tiniest mistake could mean complete failure and the loss of lives and billions of dollars. CEOs demand the same perfection. They think about the end user and must consider the tiniest mistake and its consequences.
Engineers possess strong skills in problem solving, math, risk management and analysis. Whether it’s a problem with a machine, bridge or a business, engineers have the training to fix the problem. They produce successful outcomes by determining cost versus performance. These principles are essential for successful leadership. The high rate of engineers that make it up the corporate ladder suggest that the skills and training that engineers practice is great for business, too.
Engineers Know Other Engineers
Engineers must work in teams to be successful. These teams perform huge tasks and oversee millions if not billions of dollars. Without the right people on the team the entire project could be a total failure. What’s that mean? Engineers are outstanding at picking talent; top talent. Another item great CEOs are responsible for. They attempt to build companies that can attract and sustain top talent. They work with people who “get” it.
To build a great company you must know where technology is going. You don’t have to be an engineer to do this, but most financial CEOs don’t have the experience. To be a great company, you need to have a state of the art product. Who makes those? Engineers.
Engineers love to do things better, faster and cheaper. They love testing out a new widget to find whether it can improve production or productivity. They are obsessed with optimization and efficiency.
Engineers have a hard time blaming others. The quality of an engineer’s work equates directly with his or her reputation. Engineers must leave digital trails as proof of their work. There’s no getting around the fact that if a problem arises, you can find who caused the issue.
Engineers are likely to be in a position that is critical to a large organization. These key roles provide excellent experience for a future management position.
Engineers are constantly up against a wall. They’re told it won’t work, the market is too small, or an idea has been tried before. To succeed within this environment, engineers by nature must be stubborn and enjoy solving problems; difficult problems. Similarly, getting a company off the ground and making headway takes an unbelievable amount of perseverance.
When a problem arises, they must be comfortable with dozens of opinions coming at them at once. Everyone telling you that you have done poorly and how to fix the issue. That can be difficult.
Why do engineers make great Leaders? Is it because engineers are CEO material. They possess the qualities that CEO’s are made of. Do you agree?
About Thomas A. Anderson, P.E:
Thomas is a licensed mechanical engineer from Point Park University. He has 10 years of experience designing equipment and managing projects within the steel industry. Thomas works for Hatch in Pittsburgh, PA and belongs to the Engineer Society of Western Pennsylvania, Association for Iron and Steel Technology, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He is a dedicated Toastmaster and owns his own coaching business called “engineer your career” where he spends his free time helping engineers reach their career goals.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions below that you may have regarding engineers and CEOs.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success