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More than 35% of CEOs have studied abroad

Just over one-third of the world’s top CEOs have completed a study abroad program of some kind, and this figure is also increasing over time, a new report indicates. African CEOs lead the pack for internationalised experience.

Study.eu has released a new report looking into the academic backgrounds of some of the world’s top CEOs. Photo: iStock

Living in a different country shifts perspectives and enables graduates to thrive in the context of globalised, intertwined economics

Study.eu, a European study choice portal based in Germany has released the report looking into the academic backgrounds of some of the world’s top CEOs.

283 CEOs took part in the survey, which looked at the largest public companies on each continent, using the Forbes Global 2000 company ranking system.

“Living in a different country shifts perspectives and enables graduates to thrive in the context of globalised, intertwined economics,” founder and CEO of Study.eu, Gerrit Blöss, told The PIE News.

“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.”

The region with the lowest amount of CEOs with study abroad experience is the US

Over a quarter of the CEOs analysed now work in a country other than their origin – the largest share of those is in Europe and Australia – where most foreign CEOs are “from the UK or New Zealand”.

Out of those CEOs who did study abroad, the split between regions is quite stark.

A sizeable 68% of CEOs who are from Africa studied abroad, with Latin America not far behind with 54% of CEOs from the region having found study somewhere other than their home country.

The question is how study abroad ends up contributing to the academic background in such a way that the person eventually takes up a management role. 

“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 lowest amount of CEOs with study abroad experience is the US – however, that number, which has grown from 11% of CEOs to 13%, is still set to grow according to the report.

When only focusing on the youngest third of the CEOs analysed, the number who studied abroad jumps to 41% – almost half having had experience studying in another country.

Of the youngest third of the CEOs, the number who studied abroad jumps to 41%

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

“The numbers suggest that diversity in top management goes hand in hand with higher, more stable performance – in other words, it’s in the best financial interest of both managers and investors to promote diversity.”

Europe’s percentage of CEOs studying abroad stands at a sturdy 30%, with Asia already at 31% and Australia at 45%, supporting Blöss’ prediction that studying abroad will become more comment in general.

One thing that does stall the process, however, is affordability. “Studying abroad is still a privilege, but the situation has improved a lot over the last one or two decades,” said Blöss.

“Mobility schemes such as Erasmus+ as well as institutional partnerships have played a major role,” Blöss continued.

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

One trend also found in report that is concerning is the lack of women in top posts around the globe.

Studying abroad is still a privilege, but the situation has improved a lot

The figure still remains at a “mere” 4.6%, which while up by 2% from the previous survey; almost half of that percentage are at US companies.

Blöss however remains optimistic that more women will start to rise up to the top jobs more often, as the previously mentioned diversity will come “hand in hand” with stable performance at companies.

Also mentioned in the report was the split between how much education the CEOs had undertaken – 66% of those analysed have a master’s or doctorate degree, but a notable 2% didn’t attend university at all.

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