The Liberal Arts form the oldest qualifications in the history of the world, going right back to the reign of the Ancient Greeks, when knowledge of these subjects was considered the epitome of intelligence. There are currently over 500 Liberal Arts colleges in America alone, as this type of education has become a fundamental part of US academia, but in continental Europe, where it all began, the Liberal Arts education has only just resurfaced. In 2013, Asia began to incorporate the Liberal Arts into is educational provisions, and Africa joined to race way back in 2002, opening the continent’s first ever Liberal Arts college, Ashesi University.
— Matthew Lynch (@Lynch39083) October 24, 2015
Modern day Liberal Arts is a broad and inter-disciplinary category, covering a range of topics within the humanities, as well as the social, natural and formal sciences:
– Humanities – including art, literature, philosophy, linguistics, religion, ethics, modern foreign languages, music, theatre, speech and classical languages
– Social Sciences – including history, psychology, law, sociology, politics, gender studies, anthropology, economics, geography and business informatics
– Natural Sciences – including astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, botany, archaeology, zoology, geology and Earth sciences
– Formal Sciences – including mathematics, logic and statistics
— Libby and Art (@SmartColleges) October 30, 2015
So, what’s life like for students after the Liberal Arts? Well, who better to ask than these incredibly successful people, all of whom graduated with a degree in Liberal Arts and now find themselves at the forfront of some of the most lucrative global companies:
1. Michael Eisner, Former Walt Disney CEO
Degree: BA in English Literature and Theatre, Denison University, 1964
Michael Eisner was the CEO of the Walt Disney Company for more than 20 years. Between 1984 and 2005, Eisner oversaw the day-to-day runnings of every aspect of the company, despite never having taken a single class in Business.
In a 2001 article published by USA Today, Eisner voiced his support for English literature, claiming that as a subject, it can help candidates in any business virtually anywhere in the world: “Literature is unbelievably helpful, because no matter what business you are in, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships,” he writes, “It gives you an appreciation of what makes people tick.”
In late 1964, Eisner received his first official job offer; he worked as an NBC clerk, logging the times each commercial appeared on air, for $65 a week. It wasn’t long before he bagan to climb the corporate ladder at ABC and Paramount Pictures, before earning his place at the helm of Disney. As the New York Times said back in 1988: “Eisner is unusual among entertainment moguls because he has both creative and corporate experience. He knows how to put a show together and avoid going broke doing it.”
2. Andrea Jung, Former AVON CEO
Degree: BA in English Literature, Princeton University, 1979
Andrea jung is the former CEO of the door-to-door global cosmetics giant, AVON. She was the company’s Chief between the years 1999 and 2012, and to this day, Jung finds it hard to believe how a quiet Princeton intellectual came to run the world’s largest network for selling cosmetics: “What I find myself doing [now] was pretty much unimaginable for me in 1979, after I finished my much-loved thesis on Katherine Mansfeld and my junior papers on Virginia Woolf,” Jung told students in a 2012 speech at her alma mater, “To be standing here and saying, ‘I now run a $10 billion global company’- I would’ve said, ‘Couldn’t be possible, that is no an imagined career path, not an imagined journey.’ Things have certainly taken a wonderful, but different, path.”
Upon her graduation, Jung joined an executive training programme for Bloomingdale’s in New York through Cincinnati’s Federated Department Stores Inc. Now, after stepping down from AVON, Jung works as the CEO of the non-profit microfinance organisation Grameen America.
“Because I was an English major, I loved journalism, I thought perhaps I’d go back to journalism or law school,” claimed Jung in her speech, but she soon joined the programme at Bloomingdale’s to gain experience in merchandising and marketing, “I fell in love with the business and the consumer…The rest is history.”
3. Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO
Degree: BSc in Communications, Northern Michigan University, 1975
Schultz grew up in a working-class family in the Brooklyn Projects. He was the first member of his family to graduate from college, and is now one of the most successful businessmen in the world. He was also a talented Football player, and gained entry to NMU through a Football Scholarship. “During senior year, I also picked up a few business classes, because I was starting to worry about what I would do after graduation,” he wrote in his 1999 memoir, Pour Your Heart Into It, “I maintained a B average, applying myself only when I had to take a test or make a presentation. To my parents, I had attained the big prize: a diploma. But I had no direction. No one ever helped me see the value in the knowledge I was gaining.”
Schultz graduated in 1975, and like so many other fresh young students, he had no idea what he wanted to do next. He dwelled on it for a year before returning to New York where he got a job with Xerox on the sales training programme. It was this real-life experience that taught him the knots and bolts of the competitive business world. Three years later, Schultz joined a Swedish coffee maker manufacturer before moving to Starbucks as Director of Marketing nin 1982. In 2008, he was promoted to company CEO.
“It took years before I found my passion in life. But getting out of Brooklyn and earning a college degree gave me the courage to keep on dreaming. I can’t give you any secret recipe for success. But my own experience suggests that it is possible to start from nothing and achieve even beyond your dreams.”
4. Susan Wojcicki, Youtube CEO
Degree: BA History and Literature, Harvard University, 1990
Wojcicki began her career working for Google, before reaching the pinnacle of modern cyber-business in 2014, when she took on the role of Youtube’s CEO. She grew up on the Stanford campus, where her father taught Physics, and with a mother whose career also lay in education, Wojcicki credits her parents for encouraging her ambition: “Their goal wasn’t to become famous or make money…They found something interesting, and they cared about it. I mean, it could be ants, or it could be math, or it could be earthquakes or classical Latin literature,” she told Fast Company in 2014, “No one in my family had ever worked in business beforehand. So there was the expectation that I would just go into academics.”
After graduation, Wojcicki planned to work towards her PhD, but upon discovering the potential of technology in her final year at Harvard, Wojcicki’s career took an unexpected turn when she signed up for the School’s innovative computer science class, “CS50 changed my life,” she recalls in video aimed at students, “When I graduated from Harvard in 1990, I went to Silicon Valley, and I got a job, and I’ve been working in tech ever since.”
Wojcicki is now one of the powerful women in the business of modern technology.
5. Richard Plepler, HBO CEO
Degree: BA in Government, Franklin & Marshall College, 1981
Pleplar has been Head of US television network HBO since 2013. Earlier this year in a commencement speech at his alma mater, Pleplar recalled how he drew inspiration from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings whilst trying to land his first job: “I believed, with Emerson, that is a man planted himself on his convictions and hopes that, ‘the huge world will come ’round to him’ I always felt that, and all these years later, still do. I decided to do everything in my power to secure a job, however lowly, in the nation’s capital,” he said, “I got in my little Honda, and I drove to Washington, used all my energy and power of persuasion to try to talk my way onto the staff of a young US Senator from my home state of Connecticut, Christopher Dodd.”
Pleplar spent four years in Washington before moving to NYC in 1987 and developing his own one-man consultancy. He saw Benjammin Netanyahu, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, in a Chinese restaurant one night, and decided there-and-then to pith him a documentary idea based on the theme of conflict: “He barely looked up from his dumpling,” he said, “He finally asked me to sit down, he listened, nodded and after a variety of happy accidents in the coming weeks and months, I produced a film…The film captured the imagination of the Chairman of HBO, who invited me to join the company.”
So, there you have it. Study the Liberal Arts, and the next success story could be yours.
Image via Cornell College.