13 World Leaders Who Got Biz Degrees In The U.S. — And One Who (Probably) Didn’t 

12 World Leaders Who Got Biz Degrees In The U.S. — And One Who (Probably) Didn’t 

Research by MPOWER Financing reveals that 42 world leaders have degrees from U.S. colleges or universities — and 14 have business degrees or credentials, including one who has been in the news quite a bit lately

A university education in the United States has long been seen as a prerequisite for career success. For dozens of world leaders past and present, a degree from a college or university in the U.S. has been a stepping stone to even more — to power in their home countries, and direct impact on world events.

In a year unlike any other, when more than half the world goes to the polls, whether democracy prevails in 2024 may hinge on political leaders who were educated in the U.S. and other democracies, according to a December 2023 social impact report by MPOWER Financing, a company that helps international students fund their U.S. education. In the report, MPOWER found that 42 current presidents, prime ministers, and their equivalents have earned a degree at a U.S. school — including 14 who studied business.

Among those 14, eight earned MBAs, while others earned business bachelor’s or executive credentials; one got both a BBA and an MBA from a U.S. school. And one, controversially, says he earned an MBA from an M7 school when the evidence strongly suggests he never did.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Daniel Noboa, president of Ecuador since November 2023, who earned a BBA from NYU Stern in 2010 and an MBA from Northwestern Kellogg in 2019.


12 World Leaders Who Got Biz Degrees In The U.S. — And One Who (Probably) Didn’t 

Laurentino Cortizo, president of Panama, earned an MBA from St. Edward’s University in Texas in 1981

Overall, according to MPOWER’s report, 86 current world leaders were educated in the U.S., Britain, the European Union, or other advanced democracies outside of their own country. Collectively, that represents the leaders of nearly half the world’s nations, says Sasha Ramani, MPOWER’s chief strategist and lead researcher on the report, who notes that this year, more citizens than ever before in history — 4.2 billion in 65 countries — have the opportunity to vote in elections.

“We publish an annual social impact report, and the goal is to analyze the impact that MPOWER and our no-cosigner loans have on the lives of students,” Ramani tells Poets&Quants. “This year, though, we wanted to sort of step back. The student angle is beautiful — the fact that we support so many students of the global lower and middle class who otherwise would not have had access to a world-class education. But we wanted to step back and say, ‘What does this actually mean for the world writ large, in a year like no other when so many elections are taking place?’

“On the one hand, we can talk in platitudes and say, ‘Of course if we have more doctors, scientists, engineers, and business people who are able to reach their full academic aspirations, that’s — in theory — good for the world.’ But we wanted to at least try to quantify this a little bit and look at how many leaders in the 200-odd countries around the world were actually educated in the U.S. or a similar industrialized, democratic nation.”

MPOWER looked at the UK, EU, Japan, Australia, and other countries to find where world leaders with a Western education did their learning. Several were educated in the United Kingdom and other European countries; a dwindling number “were from the old Soviet bloc, where their president grew up in the Soviet Union and was educated in Russia, for example. But the majority by far came to the U.S. to learn and take what they learned back home.

“The U.S. holds a million-plus students from around the world and is the largest recipient of international students by a decent long shot,” Ramani says. “For a long time, the world’s best and brightest have either wanted to come here or wanted to send their children here. The U.S. benefits from this, the world benefits from this. We talk in our report about how the U.S. should make it easier for students from countries where visa approval rates are lower — and how the U.S. has a lot to gain by making sure that students from, for example, West Africa are given those educational opportunities as well.”


12 World Leaders Who Got Biz Degrees In The U.S. — And One Who (Probably) Didn’t The list of world leaders with MBAs includes some familiar names, among them the prime minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak, a Stanford Graduate School of Business Class of 2006 MBA. When Sunak was close to reaching the pinnacle of British power, The Guardian wrote a profile noting his U.S. education — and that it didn’t appear Sunak had made much of an impact in his two years in Palo Alto, California.

“While Stanford clearly made its mark on him,” it reported, “it’s less clear whether Sunak made much of a mark at Stanford, ranked first in the world by Poets&Quants, one of the highest-ranked business schools in the world.” Sunak was not listed among the students in his 2006 MBA class awarded prizes at graduation for being among the 37 MBA grads named Arjay Miller Scholars who were in the top 10% of the class, for service to the university, or for contributing to the school’s social culture and sense of fun. Dozens of his classmates did not respond to The Guardian’s request to share memories, or declined to comment.

The newspaper contacted teachers on some of the school’s signature courses to ask them about Sunak, including entrepreneurship guru Irv Grousbeck, innovation teacher Andy Rachleff, leadership professor Charles O’Reilly, and “touchy-feely” teacher Carole Robin.

“When he delivered a prestigious business school lecture in London last year, Sunak, now 42 and also a University of Oxford alumnus, cited one of his “inspiring” Stanford professors, the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Romer, and described the impact of Romer’s lecture on innovation,” wrote The Guardian. “I have no recollection of ever interacting with him,” Romer told the newspaper.

Another world leader, and perhaps the best-known among those currently in power who earned a business degree in the U.S., does not have the problem that no one remembers him at his alma mater. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, earned a master of science in management from MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 1976 at the same time he earned a bachelor’s in architecture. Netanyahu was “on his way to a doctorate” before returning abruptly to Israel following the death of his brother Yonatan in the Entebbe raid in Uganda, and he never returned to his studies, instead entering politics.

Impressed by the young Netanyahu, Professor Emeritus Leon B. Groisser of the Department of Architecture recalled in a 1996 interview that he “broke his own policy and let the Israeli student take a double course load that first semester in 1972. When he showed he could handle the work, Mr. Netanyahu was permitted to continue with the double-load, enabling him-despite the break for war duty-to obtain the SB in architecture (art and design) in 2 and 1/2 years, in February 1975.

“‘He did superbly,’ recalled Professor Groisser. ‘He was very bright. Organized. Strong. Powerful. He knew what he wanted to do and how to get it done. He’s not the flippant, superficial person I keep reading about in the newspapers. He was organized and committed.'”

12 World Leaders Who Got Biz Degrees In The U.S. — And One Who (Probably) Didn’t 

Bongbong Marcos says he earned an MBA from Wharton in 1980. But did he? Council on Foreign Relations photo


The prime minister of Greece since June of 2023, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1995. Mitsotakis is a former financial analyst at Chase Bank in London. After earning his MBA he went to work for McKinsey & Company, and he has also worked in private equity and venture capital. As prime minister he has been credited with the modernization and digital transformation of the country’s public administration, and for his overall management of the Greek economy.

One of the world’s youngest chief executives, Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Northwood University in Michigan before going on to earn a master’s degree in marketing from the University of Hull in the UK. She became prime minister in 2017 after serving as minister of public administration and local self-government and was re-elected in 2020; Serbia’s first openly gay leader, she has earned widespread praise — and awards — for the development projects on which she worked, particularly for what her Wikipedia page describes as “socially accountable business operation and tolerance.”

And then there’s the curious case of Bongbong Marcos, president of the Philippines. The only son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his famously sartorially obsessed wife Imelda, Bongbong attended Wharton in the late 1970s and early 1980s but there’s controversy — to say the least — about whether he completed his degree. As Verafiles, a nonprofit founded in 2008 by veteran Filipino journalists, describes it:

“On his official website, a copy of his Wharton MBA transcript issued on April 2, 2015 is posted showing that the presidential aspirant … enrolled for four terms between the fall 1979 and 1981. He did not enroll for the 1981 spring term.

“Looking at a course description of Wharton MBA program in the mid-1980s and Bongbong’s transcript, it appears that in the fall term of 1979, he failed to earn credit for a core subject: administration. He performed a bit better during the spring 1980 term, passing all the courses taken by Wharton MBA students regardless of their major. Of the five courses he took during the fall 1980 term, he earned credit in only two.

“Bongbong did not pass any of the courses during the fall 1981 term; he received two incompletes, suggesting that he attended classes but failed to submit all prerequisites to earn course credit. Overall, he earned eleven credit units before withdrawing from the program. He was far from finishing his MBA; he retook administration in the fall 1981 term, but received a mark of NR (not reported) for the course. The transcript states that his major is ‘undeclared.’

“It would have been necessary for him to declare a major and complete major courses before he could write a thesis or do a capstone/advanced study project. Yet in several biographic notes and at least one interview, Bongbong claimed that he was already writing his MBA thesis or dissertation when he had to cut his studies short because he was elected vice governor of Ilocos Norte.”


MPOWER’s Sasha Ramani says there is no dispute that Marcos attended Wharton. “I think that’s not controversial, but whether he graduated, that is a different question,” Ramani says. “I think though it’s important to emphasize that not everybody who studies in the U.S. or Europe turns out to be a great leader. An example of that is President Kim (Jong Un) of North Korea, who was I think was educated in Switzerland. He did not digest and bring back principles of neutrality or democracy or anything, I think.

“But it’s still generally the overwhelming truth that these folks tend to have fond memories and they’re able to foster diplomatic and business ties between their origin country and the U.S. just based on that shared culture, that shared kinship — even just from a two-year MBA.”

A U.S. business education typically emphasizes analytical and data-driven decision making, Ramani continues, and leaders with that background are more likely to base economic policy on empirical evidence, rigorous analysis, and data-driven insights. Moreover, “American MBA business schools tend to emphasize free-market economic principles, and put a premium on innovation, entrepreneurship and ultimately capitalist models of running an economy, and it’s certainly plausible that leaders who are educated through this system are more likely to adopt free-market principles and policies that align with these values — and that, in turn, could certainly influence the economic policies of their nations.”


Name Country Office School Degree Year
Rishi Sunak UK Prime Minister Stanford MBA 2006
Benjamin Netanyahu Israel Prime Minister MIT Master of Science in Management 1976
Laurentino Cortizo Panama President St. Edwards (Texas) MBA 1981
Bongbong Marcos Philippines President Wharton MBA – may not have graduated 1980
Alexander De Croo Belgium Prime Minister Northwestern Kellogg MBA 2004
Johnny Briceño Belize Prime Minister Texas-Austin BBA 1985
Kyriakos Mitsotakis Greece Prime Minister Harvard MBA 1995
Mateusz Morawiecki Poland Prime Minister Northwestern Kellogg Advanced executive program 2006
Ana Brnabić Serbia Prime Minister Northwood University (Michigan) BBA 1998
Srettha Thavisin Thailand Prime Minister Claremont Graduate University MBA 1988
Faure Gnassingbé Togo President George Washington University MBA 1998
Luis Abinader Dominican Republic President Hult Postgraduate Studies in Project Management NA
Surangel Whipps Jr. Palau President UCLA Anderson MBA 2012
Daniel Noboa Ecuador President NYU Stern, Northwestern Kellogg BBA, MBA 2010, 2019


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