There’s one similarity between Amazon and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Alphabet’s
Sundar Pichai, AMD’s Lisa Su, General Motors’ Mary Barra and NVIDIA’s Jensen Huang. These
days, the heads of some of the most successful companies in the world have one thing in common.
They’re engineers. For those who aspire to be CEO of a company one day, getting an MBA – a Master
of Business Administration degree – used to be the way to go. But that’s not so true anymore.
Harvard Business Review used to publish an annual list of the top 100 best-performing CEOs. In 2018,
they found that for a second year in a row, there were more CEOs with an engineering degree than
an MBA. 34 compared to 32. Some had both. Getting an MBA can come with a hefty price tag. Top graduate
schools such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton or Harvard Business School will set you
back over $200,000. Now, some CEOs are telling you to save your money.
Elon Musk went so far as to say, “I think there might be too many MBAs running companies” in an
interview with the Wall Street Journal. He thinks those with business degrees spend too much time
in board meetings pouring over power points and finances when their focus should be on the product.
The thinking being that if the product is good the profits will follow. In the case of Musk that means
building great electric cars at Tesla or great reusable rockets at SpaceX. That’s where being
an engineer is helpful. Engineers can design, build, create, and improve their product because of their
background in math, science, and technology. And they can help solve challenging technical problems that
might otherwise scuttle their dreams. Technically, Musk has a degree in physics and economics not
engineering. He’s a self-taught engineer who read books to learn about rocket science.
When engineering consultant Sandy Munro interviewed him for his YouTube channel
Munro Live, he said it’s Musk’s knowledge that stands out. I was blown away. I’ve seen dozens
of CEOs. I’ve never seen a CEO ever or a president that knew more about the product. That technical
know-how that comes with an engineering background goes a long way toward building better products.
Just ask Satya Nadella, the engineer at Microsoft who rose to become CEO.
When he took over the top job in 2014, he had to figure out a way to make Microsoft relevant as it
faced an onslaught from Apple. We now need to make Microsoft thrive. The software company struggled to
thrive under the leadership of his predecessor Steve Ballmer. Its products were far from
revolutionary. The Surface was a response to the iPad, the Windows phone and answer to the iPhone.
Ballmer has a degree in mathematics and economics from Harvard which helped balance the books but
didn’t do much when it comes to innovation. When Nadella took over, he transformed Microsoft – moving
its software to non-Windows devices. For example, bringing Microsoft Word to the iPad and the iPhone.
He also expanded its cloud business Azure which has become the biggest rival to Amazon’s AWS.
In his first email to employees as CEO, Nadella wrote: “Our industry does not respect tradition – it
only respects innovation.” That innovative spirit of engineering saved Microsoft. But it’s not easy.
It requires risky moves and not accepting failure. As American inventor Thomas Edison famously said:
“I have not failed. I’ve only found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” James Dyson, the British engineer, knows
a thing or two about not giving up. He became frustrated when a vacuum he had at home kept
losing suction. So he decided to build a better vacuum himself. He spent 15 years tinkering with
over 5,000 different prototypes to come up with the perfect bagless design. I’d like to give
you a little demonstration. The payoff for his perseverance was a multi-billion dollar company
that bears his name. In order to be successful, Dyson was invested in the fine details of his
company. Engineers aren’t afraid to get involved in the day-to-day business – especially when it comes
to hiring. Amazon is notorious for tough interviews. Bezos, who has a degree in electrical engineering
and computer science, used to meet every candidate himself during Amazon’s early days. He would ask
quirky questions like: How many gas stations are there in America? He wasn’t after the right answer
but wanted to see whether the candidate had an analytical approach in order to come up with an
informed response. Bezos once said setting the bar high for hiring was the most important factor for
the online retailer’s success. It’s no surprise that engineers make it to the top of the tech industry
which has seen explosive growth over the years. But they’re also doing well at non-tech companies.
Like Jeffrey Sprecher, the CEO of the holding company that owns the New York Stock Exchange.
He has a degree in chemical engineering. I’ve never had a job that had anything to do with chemistry
but the discipline that I went through there taught me about problem-solving and business
is really just that. Engineers are very good at solving problems and that’s the key to doing
everything from building a bridge across a river to designing a rocket to get to Mars.
If you’ve been inspired to become an engineer or simply want to learn more about the world,
a good foundation in math and computer science is crucial. A problem-solving website called Brilliant
can help put you on the path to success. And it’s free to sign up. Whether you want to practice
programming, you’re struggling with calculus, or you’re hoping to brush up on your algorithms, my
sponsor Brilliant offers over 60 interactive courses in math, science, and computer science.
You can learn at your own pace, there are no exams. If you make mistakes while practicing,
Brilliant explains exactly where you went wrong. You can sign up with the link in my description.
And the first 200 people to use my link will get 20% off the Premium subscription which
gives you unlimited access to all the courses.
Thanks for watching Newsthink.
I’m Cindy Pom.

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