Famous Business School Alumni

Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale are considered to be the top four business schools in America. Here are some of their most famous graduates.

Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale are considered to be the top four business schools in America. Their prestige allows them to charge top tuition rates for their coursework. In return, graduates are given the skills to go on and build highly successful careers for themselves, as the famous alumni below demonstrate.

Abigail Johnson (Harvard)

Abigail Johnson

Abigail Johnson is one of Harvard Business School’s biggest success stories. With a net worth of $18.1 billion, Johnson is considered one of the world’s most rich and powerful women. She is considered somewhat of an enigma because she is quiet and prefers to avoid media attention; but this only adds to her power and prestige.

Ms. Johnson is the granddaughter of Edward Johnson II, who founded Fidelity in 1946. From an early age, she shunned public displays of wealth, choosing to work as a waitress during summer vacations and to major in art history as an undergraduate. Although she had worked as a receptionist at Fidelity, she did not choose to work there when she first graduated college, instead working for management consultant firm Booz Allen Hamilton while pursuing her MBA at Harvard.

Soon after graduating, she got married and began working her way up at Fidelity from stock analyst to portfolio manager. In 1995, she became one of Fidelity’s top portfolio managers, gaining 25.2 returns on a $1.9 billion portfolio. Soon afterwards, she moved into the middle management track, and by 2007 she had risen to the level of senior executive, gaining a reputation for being a soft-spoken, congenial manager who preferred discussion and negotiation to asserting her power. During this period, she began losing her hair and there was speculation that she had cancer, but she never made any public announcement, and she rarely missed work.

Today, Johnson is in position to become CEO of Fidelity during one of its most challenging periods. Fidelity’s market share took a large hit when the dot-com bubble burst, and it’s losing heavily to competitor Vanguard. Johnson’s strengths are customer service, investing and management, so she is in a key position to turn things around.

Indra Nooyi (Yale)

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi, a famous alumni of Yale’s MBA program, is best known for being the CEO of PepsiCo. Forbes lists her as the 13th most powerful woman in the world in 2014.

Nooyi was born in India, though today she is a U.S. citizen. As a young girl, she defied cultural expectations by refusing to focus solely on doing household chores. Instead, she played for an all-girls cricket team and joined an all-female rock band. As a young woman, she earned an MBA from one of India’s two programs, then emigrated to the United States in order to get another MBA from Yale–something that completely went against cultural norms, as women in her position who emigrated would not be considered marriage material.

Following her graduation from Yale, Nooyi paid her dues by working as a strategist for Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Motorola. Her career took off in 1994 when she joined PepsiCo. She convinced then-CEO Roger Enrico to spin off the company’s restaurant division and helped the company acquire Tropicana for $3.3 billion in 1998. She became PepsiCo’s CFO in 2000 and finished the year with four continuous quarters of uninterrupted growth in every respect; by the end of the year, company stock had risen by 40 percent.

In 2001, PepsiCo acquired Quaker Oats; this was Nooyi’s biggest challenge. Integrating Quaker into the company was difficult; Nooyi saw a key executive quit at Quaker and promotion mistakes due to the merger of Tropicana and Gatorade’s sales teams, resulting in a slowdown of Gatorade’s sales after the merger. However, she was able to turn it around, and by 2004 PepsiCo was again doing so well that Nooyi was tapped to become CEO.

Phil Knight (Stanford)

Phil Knight Nike

Phil Knight, one of the co-founders of Nike, graduated from Stanford’s business school to become one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. Knight created the template for what would become Nike as a graduate student. He was required to write a paper about starting a small business in an area he knew well, and so he chose to write about how he would create a running shoe business to compete with Adidas. His plan was to use cheap Japanese labor so that he could undercut Adidas’ prices. Knight focused on running shoes because he had been a track champion as an undergraduate.

After graduating from Stanford’s business program in 1962, Knight made it his business to turn his idea into reality. He visited a Japanese company that made knockoffs of Adidas shoes and pretended to be the CEO of a fictional company that wanted to import those shoes into the U.S. He then borrowed money from his father to buy some samples from the Japanese company, which he sent to his former coach, who enthusiastically signed on as his business partner. Knight initially sold shoes to college students from his car. In the early 1970s, he decided it was time to design his own shoes and created Nike. He was the first to use athlete endorsements to advertise his shoes. In fact, many Olympic contenders in 1972 wore Nike shoes.

In the early 1980s, Knight faced the one and only challenge of his career to date. Nike was so focused on athletic shoes that it missed the emerging market for aerobic shoes, and Reebok was able to push its line of trendy shoes for people interested in exercise. This resulted in Nike’s sales dropping by 18 percent. However, Knight responded by creating Nike Air and paying $250,000 to use the Beatles song “Revolution” as part of its marketing campaign for the shoe. Nike regained its lead and is still the top sneaker company in the United States over 30 years later.

Peter Dawkins (Princeton)

Pete Dawkins

Peter Dawkins, a Princeton graduate, is best known as the former Vice Chairman of Global Wealth Management at Citigroup, but that is only one of his many accomplishments. Dawkins has long attributed his success to spending summers with his grandparents, who owned a farm in a town with a population of just 12 people. He had his first business experiences at age 10, when he was given five acres of land and planted cucumbers, selling them to the local pickle factory. However, the next year, when he was 11, Dawkins suffered from polio, which curved his spine. His mother ignored conventional wisdom of the day to use a back brace, and instead took him to physiotherapy to help straighten his stance, a process that taught Dawkins about determination.

Prior to becoming a businessman, Dawkins graduated from United States Military Academy at West Point, serving in the US Army for 24 years, being promoted to Brigadier General in 1981. He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University for three years, later earning his Ph. D and Master of Public Administration degrees from Princeton.

Dawkins then entered the financial world, serving as chairman and CEO of Primerica Financial Services from 1991 to 1996. He went on to work for Citigroup in various positions for 17 years. In 2008 he founded his own private equity firm, ShiningStar Capital. He also serves as a senior advisor to Virtu Financial LLC.


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