How TIME and Statista Determined the Best Colleges and Companies for Future Leaders
Americans often envision themselves climbing the corporate ladder within one company to rise into leadership. But today, getting to the c-suite is more often a matter of “building your brand” and moving from company to company, says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at The Wharton School. “Companies are not hiring for potential much anymore,” he says. “There’s an awful lot of lateral movement.”
But certain companies still play an outsized role in raising America’s leaders. TIME and data firm Statista analyzed the resumés of 2,000 of the country’s award-winning academics, political figures, and CEOs of the largest companies to determine which private sector companies appear most often on their journeys to the top. The list excludes government, nonprofit, and educational job experience.
Many of the companies atop the list are firms in consulting, tech, and finance. These companies tend to be tough to get hired at—McKinsey & Company, for instance, reportedly received over a million applications last year and hired less than 1% of applicants—but after employees arrive, the organizations have a “very strong learning and development function,” says Bernard Banks, associate dean for Leadership Development and Inclusion at Northwestern Kellogg. “They have cultures that prize growing people’s capacity to lead, and they make investments from a resourcing standpoint, to support that emphasis.”
At these consulting companies, interacting with leaders in a wide range of fields is also part of the job description. This enables employees to get experience on big issues, like learning how to beat the competition—also known as “competitive strategies”—as well as exclusive networking opportunities at top companies, says Michael Useem, an emeritus professor of management at Wharton.
Outside of these fields, other companies high on the list have well-regarded leadership or management training programs, including Procter & Gamble, IBM, and Johnson & Johnson—or at least a strong history of one, like General Electric, number two on our list, which announced the sale of its famed leadership center in 2022. The premise of such programs is that leadership can be taught, including qualities that research shows are most important for running a company, including “thinking strategically, deciding decisively and communicating persuasively,” says Useem. “There’s more to it, to say the obvious, but if you haven’t got those three qualities, you’re probably not going to rise too far at any company, whether Google or GE.”
In combination with TIME’s Best Colleges for Future Leaders list, which shows Harvard creating significantly more leaders than even second place Stanford, the list shows a clear pipeline to becoming a leader in America. Top company McKinsey aggressively recruits from Harvard, and David Deming, a professor of political economy at Harvard Kennedy School, says a combination of “small initial advantages” early in someone’s professional life compounds over time. “People think you’re kind of special from an early age, and that becomes a self-reinforcing dynamic,” says Deming.
But what separates people who make it far in their careers, from those who make it to the very top? An early choice of company might hint that people are willing to be a “big fish in a big pond”—very talented people competing with other very talented people, says Banks. People who take a job at a place like McKinsey, he says, may already want to become a leader, “and they are generally people who like challenges…It requires a high degree of confidence, it requires a high degree of tenacity.” —Tara Law