Kid Engineer

How to Become a CEO: Study Engineering

by May 20, 2020Leadership

If your kid is interested in going into business someday, here’s why an engineering degree may be their best option.

There is an ongoing conversation about what kind of education someone needs to become a CEO or entrepreneur in the future. Part of the reason for the debate is that when you look at the world’s greatest CEOs, they run the gamut in terms of their education–some have dropped out of college while others have specialized PhDs. For a while, there was a common view that liberal arts degrees were preferred to develop a well-rounded understanding of things. The truth is you can get there with any level or type of education.

While the path to becoming a doctor or lawyer is reasonably clear, becoming a CEO doesn’t have the same mileposts to follow. That complicates things, then, when it comes to working with your child if they have dreams of becoming a CEO.

When I read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill at 12 years old, it was a sign to my parents where I wanted to head and they supported me. One way you can support your child is by encouraging them to pursue a degree in business. This is indeed viable, but it is the second-best choice.

Perhaps in what will come as a surprise to some, I think the best degree for your child to pursue if they want to become a CEO one day is anything related to STEM–short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. In fact, when you look at the CEOs from the Fortune 500 as one data set, nearly half of them have an engineering degree. As I have mentioned in a prior article, these leaders might not have been straight-A students.

But why would studying engineering help someone lead a business one day?

Frankly, part of the answer is that studying engineering is hard. It takes some innate smarts and a good deal of discipline. Engineering students are most likely not going to be able to party or drink as much beer as their friends if they want to excel in their classes.

Of course, they probably will not apply everything they learn in school to running a business someday. I speak from experience; I graduated with a chemical engineering degree, but I have not done anything with that specific knowledge outside of my kitchen or a home improvement plumbing project for a very long time.

However, as an engineer, you learn a structured methodology for solving problems, which is often the key to running any successful business. Seeing to the core of a problem is half the battle in solving it. Additionally, learning to think systematically to create processes can often be the difference in whether a business can successfully scale or not.

The good news is that if they build a base of knowledge like that, it becomes easier to add an advanced degree in business like an MBA on top of that.

But there is another interesting wrinkle to explore here as well– your kids do not have to go to an expensive Ivy League school to build the skills they will need to run a company one day.

According to a study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University and San Diego State University, which looked at how financially successful students were a decade after they had graduated, pursuing an engineering degree at a state school is actually the more profitable path to take. While the study found that it still made sense to go to, say, Harvard, to pursue an undergraduate business degree, kids who pursued STEM degrees benefited just as much from attending a great state engineering university like the University of Illinois as going to Princeton, at a fraction of the cost.

So, when it comes to charting a path for future business success with your child, don’t just assume that spending big money on a business degree is the only, or even the best choice, to reach that goal.

Rather, consider the benefits of your child learning the discipline and systems thinking that comes from a field like engineering, at a good state school– which is a degree your kids can pursue without breaking the bank to pay for Ivy League tuition.