2. Jack Welch
1960 – 2001
After earning his PhD in chemical engineering, Jack Welch started working for General Electric’s plastic division in 1960. Chemical engineering is one of the best backgrounds for a business career as the classwork and required thesis teach you that there are no finite answers, Welch believed. This ideal inspired him to become the youngest vice-president in the company’s history in 1972.
“When I got involved with GE Capital in 1977, I had been making things all my life. I then was given responsibility for GE Capital, which was then still a very small business. We had all the capital in the world, and all we needed to make money was ideas. That was a revelation to me. Maybe it shouldn’t have been — I was a PhD chemical engineer, and I probably should have figured that out already.”
He almost got fired, however, when a chemical blast blew off the roof of the factory he was managing. Not letting the fact deter him, Welch later became vice chairman in 1979 and CEO in 1981.