Business

Business and philosophy seem at first glance to be poles apart, but in reality, quite a bit of evidence suggests that the skills developed in the philosophy major are highly conducive to success in business. For example: 

  • Many successful people in business and industry started out as philosophy majors and credit their philosophy training as largely responsible for their success. 
  • Philosophy majors are more likely than other majors to become CEOs. 
  • Philosophy majors score significantly higher than most majors, including business majors, on the General Management Aptitude Test (GMAT), used to determine admissions to Masters of Business Administration (MBA) programs.
  • Salary data suggests that Philosophy majors earn more than most majors, including Business majors. 

 Philosophy Majors Annually Ace the GMAT Exam 

An MBA (Masters of Business Administration) is often seen as a prominent path to professional and financial success. MBA programs use applicant’s scores on the GMAT (General Management Aptitude Test) as a major determinate in deciding admissions. 

Annually, philosophy majors overall mean scores on the GMAT are significantly higher than most majors overall mean scores, including business majors.  

The GMAT has sections on quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing.  From 1964 – 1982, philosophy majors had the second highest overall mean scores amongst all majors on the GMAT. From 2004 through 2013, philosophy majors consistently scored at or near the top (between first and fifth), including consistently outperforming all humanities fields, all social science fields except economics, and significantly outperforming business majors). 

Sources - Based on annual data on comparative mean scores by majors over a 32-year span, from:

  • Graduate Management Admission Council, (2013), “Profile of Graduate Management Admission Test Candidates: 2008-2009 – 2012-2013: Five Year Summary”
  • Graduate Management Admission Council (2009), “Profile of Graduate Management Admission Test Candidates: 2004-2005 – 2008-2009: Five Year Summary”:  http://www.ncsu.edu/chass/philo/documents/GMATCandidatesProfile.pdf
  • Nelson & Monson (2008) “GMAT Scores of Undergraduate Majors”, The Journal Of Economic Education, 39.3, 269-272.
  • Adelman, C. (1994) The Standardized Test Scores of College Graduates 1964-1982, National Institute of Education, http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED248827.pdf; 

GMAT

Philosophy Majors are more likely than other graduates to become CEOs

According to Marketwatch, “Philosophy majors are twice as likely than other college graduates overall to become CEOs, according to PayScale data analyzed for MarketWatch. That may be because the curriculum provides a foundation students can use later to do broad strategic planning and other tasks… “Philosophy is literally teaching you how to think,” Bardaro said.”

Source: “A Wall Street legend gave $75 million to philosophy majors and, yes, it’s a good investment”, by Jillian Berman, Market Watch, Published: Jan 21, 2018:  https://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-wall-street-legends-bet-on-philosophy-majors-is-a-good-investment-2018-01-18  

Some Famous Executives Who Majored in Philosophy 

Herbert Allison Jr. – The Former CEO of Fannie Mae was also the former Chief Operating Officer of Merrill Lynch. He oversaw the federal governments TARP - Troubled Asset Relief program in the wake of the great recession of 2008. 

Linda Bair – the former FDIC Chair was a philosophy major at the University of Kansas.

Bair served as the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, having been appointed by George W. Bush in 2005. She helped prevent the financial system from collapsing in 2008. She's since written a book, Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself. 

Stewart Butterfield – The Flickr co-founder got both a Bachelor's and Master's degree in philosophy. Butterfield founded Flickr with his then-wife Caterina Fake in 2004. About a year later, Yahoo snapped the photo-sharing site up for $35 million He's now working on Slack, a workplace communication tool.

Patrick Byrne – The Overstock.com founder and CEO got a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University. Byrne almost made philosophy his career. He did teach at Stanford briefly but ultimately decided to pursue a career in business. 

Carly Fiorina – the former Hewlet Packard CEO was a medieval history and philosophy major at Stanford University. She was President and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Company from 1999 to 2005 and served as chairwoman of the board from 2000 to 2005. She ran for President of the United States in 2016 and continues to be influential in the business world.    

Carl Icahn – The activist investor was a philosophy major at Princeton University. Icahn is the chairman of Icahn Enterprises and is one of the most well-known and aggressive activist investors of our time, buying and eventually folding Trans World Airlines, and more recently trying to take over Netflix. His Philosophy Thesis for his 1957 degree was titled "The Problem of Formulating an Adequate Explication of the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning." 

Gerald Levin – The former Time Warner CEO was a philosophy major at Haverford College. Levin joined Time Inc.’s HBO in the 1970s and helped develop the business model that made HBO a huge success. He later engineered the merger with Warner Carner that turned the company into a true media giant. He became CEO in the early '90s. 

Bill Miller - perhaps best known for beating the S&P 500 Index for 15 straight years, donated $75 million to the philosophy department at Johns Hopkins University, Miller attributes much of his business success “to the analytical training and habits of the mind that were developed when I was a graduate student, [in philosophy]” he said in a release announcing the donation.

George Soros – The billionaire business magnate and philanthropist was a philosophy major at the London School of Economics. Soros, the chairperson of Soros Fund Management, is one of the most successful hedge fund managers of all time.

Moses Znaimer - Media entrepreneur. Co-founder and former head of the Canadian TV station Citytv, Head of Zoomer Media. Founded MuchMusic.  

Philosophy Majors Earn More than Most Majors.

Based on several years of comparative salary data from Payscale, Philosophy majors earn more over the course of their lifetime than most majors, including all humanities majors, and eight of the top ten most popular majors, including Business. 

Sources - Payscale publishes annual salary data online. Between 2008 and 2014, their methodology was based primarily on reported alumni earning data from U.S. colleges. It is to that data that we refer. They compared graduates with only a single bachelor’s degree in X major to other such majors. Each annual report included a methodology explanation for that particular year. Each year philosophy was ranked above most majors. According to their published explanation of their data methodology, their salary data was based on a combination of their online individual salary survey and their survey of U.S. Universities (private and public), which had those report on the salaries of their alumni. For an example of their sample sizes, for their 2013/14 salary data, Payscale reported that the individual online survey sample size consisted of 1.4 million individuals and university alumni earning data consisted of approximately 1/3 of bachelor’s degree granting institutions in the U.S. 

Note - Unfortunately, Payscale no longer houses data and methodology reports for previous years online. Some of that data may still be available upon request. In recent years, Payscale’s methodology has changed so that sample size is too small (from a simple online survey where the sample size for some majors, like philosophy, are in the single digits). Hopefully they will return to better methodology in the future. Their data should only be considered for years where their methodology includes adequate sampling.