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Many English majors are tired of people telling them their degree is useless. On the contrary, many successful business people started their professional lives as English majors. In this field, they learned to think critically, communicate clearly and practice empathy. Ultimately, the major you choose doesn’t matter nearly as much as the level of curiosity you cultivate and the soft skills you develop along the way. The next time someone challenges your degree, show them this list of six famous English graduates who became financially successful CEOs.
- Grant Tinker
Born in 1926, Grant Tinker interrupted his studies at Dartmouth College to fight in World War II. He finished a degree in English shortly after his time with the service and started working for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) after graduation. After starting MTM enterprises and working in television for a while, he rejoined NBC in 1981 as its CEO.
The company was wildly successful under his leadership. Tinker called himself a professional “appreciator” – his strong people skills helped him build a team of kind and creative people. Colleagues believed that he improved the quality of television by giving writers a supportive environment to pursue their best ideas.
- Andrea Jung
Andrea Jung grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, with two hard-working parents. She took both Mandarin and piano lessons as a child and studied English at Princeton. After completing a thesis on Katherine Mansfield, she entered the executive training program at Bloomingdale’s, a division of Macy’s.
Jung fell in love with the industry and eventually became the CEO of Avon, a multinational cosmetics company. She led Avon through several transitions, from selling products in retail stores to using the internet for marketing and sales. In 2014, Jung switched roles to lead Grameen America, a non-profit focused on supporting female entrepreneurs.
- Michael Eisner
Michael Eisner is another successful English major. He studied English and theatre at Denison University, then went on to work in the movie industry for Paramount. In 1984, Eisner was passed over for an important promotion. He left the company and was hired as the CEO at The Walt Disney Company instead.
Eisner has publicly spoken out about the role literature played in his career. He believes studying English equipped him to understand others and handle interpersonal relationships with wisdom. During his time with Disney, Eisner worked with a talented team of professionals to bring the company back after the death of its founder.
- Susan Wojcicki
Susan Wojcicki was raised on the Stanford campus and went to Harvard for history and literature. In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin rented Wojciki’s garage and started building the Google search engine. By 1999, Wojcicki had joined them as the 16th Google employee and urged the company to acquire YouTube in 2005.
Since then, Wojcicki has managed YouTube’s multi-billion dollar growth. In an interview with the Guardian, she said the creative potential of technology is what drew her to work with Google and eventually YouTube. She has excellent work/life boundaries and spends her free time with her five children, learning about farm animals and working in her garden.
- Henry Paulson
Henry Paulson, also known as Hank Paulson, was born in 1946 in Palm Beach, Florida. He attended Dartmouth College for English and then studied business at Harvard. While in school, he was a skilled football player. After school, Paulson began his career working as a staff assistant at the Pentagon.
From 1974 to 2006, he worked for Goldman Sachs in investment banking. He was nominated by George W. Bush and became Secretary of the Treasury from 2006-2009. During this time, he helped to mitigate the credit crisis of 2007. Paulson continues to contribute to society with the Paulson Institute, an organization dedicated to sustainable economics and environmental protection.
- Anne Mulcahy
Anne Mulcahy was born in 1952, the only girl in a family with five children. She studied English and journalism at Marymount College of Fordham University and joined Xerox as a field sales representative in 1976. After 25 years with the company, she was asked to become their CEO in 2001.
Mulcahy described the promotion as more challenging than exciting, as Xerox was struggling with serious issues like heavy debt. During her time leading the company, Mulcahy used superb leadership skills to bring Xerox back from the brink. In 2009, she handed the position of CEO over to another female leader and became Chairman of the Board for Save the Children, a non-profit that works to protect children around the world.
Don’t Discount English
The next time someone challenges your choice to study English in school, show them this list of six successful CEOs who studied English. The skills they learned in this field equipped them to develop better relationships, practice empathy and think both critically and creatively about the problems they faced.
Although not every English major will become the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, it’s comforting to know that the people running some of the most powerful businesses in the world have roots in the liberal arts. Their interest in the human condition equips them to handle daily challenges with wisdom, kindness and concern for a better future.