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SP05-47: Path to Corporate Leadership: Profiles of Chief Executive Officers of the Top 20 Pharmaceutical Companies

Poster Presenter

      Daniel Fiebig

      • Faculty
      • Rutgers University
        United States


To analyze Chief Executive Officer (CEO) backgrounds including demographics, education, and prior work experience to better understand the path to corporate leadership by recognizing relevant experiences leading to executive roles.


A list of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies by market capitalization was created using the NASDAQ symbol screener in January 2020. Medical device companies without marketed drug products were excluded. Relevant information was collected from corporate websites, LinkedIn, Bloomberg, and Reuters.


CEOs of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies by market capitalization were identified, and data was gathered on demographics, education, and previous work experience. CEOs were classified using the following categories during data analysis: age, gender, race/ethnicity, undergraduate degree, graduate degree, total number of pharmaceutical companies worked for, primary functional area, and position held prior to CEO appointment. Regarding demographic information, the average CEO profile was 56 years old (44-65), white (95%), and male (85%). Undergraduate education was categorized into Biology (20%), Economics (20%), Engineering (10%), Other (50%). Graduate education was categorized into Masters of Business Administration (50%), Juris Doctor (15%), Medical Doctor (15%), PhD (15%), and Other (15%). The majority of CEOs worked at one pharmaceutical company (55%), followed by two and three (15%) each, five (10%), four (5%). The primary functional area of expertise was Commercial (60%), followed by Management (15%), Legal (10%), Finance (5%) and IT (5%). The most common positions held prior to current CEO appointment included both CEO of an internal division or external company (25%) and Executive Vice President (25%) followed by COO (20%), President (15%), Other (15%).


Gender and racial diversity in corporate leadership amongst companies as a whole has been increasingly highlighted over the past decade. While there have been efforts to increase diversity amongst executive committees, this data shows the current average CEO demographic profile within top pharmaceutical companies to be that of a middle-aged, white, male. By trending this data, we highlight the need for more culturally diverse leadership. Data on education and work experience can serve as a guidance towards positions in pharmaceutical executive committees as well. Undergraduate studies varied greatly amongst the data pool with no subject matter majority. Graduate level education was present in 95% of CEOs with the majority pursuing a Masters of Business Administration (MBA); however, there were also a number of CEOs with non-business graduate degrees including MDs, JDs, and PhDs. More than half of the CEOs have worked at one pharmaceutical company highlighting the importance of time commitment and deep knowledge of the company. Most CEOs started within a commercial function, progressed to roles with profit-and-loss (P&L) responsibilities, and had prior executive level experience as CEO of an internal division or external company, Executive Vice President, or COO before their current CEO appointment. Pharmacy students and professionals alike can use these metrics to shape future educational and professional endeavors to prepare for a role within pharmaceutical corporate leadership.