What does it take to become one of the most powerful people in the world?
When Forbes Magazine rated the world’s most powerful people in November 2009, the financial magazine found that the world’s top political leaders, economists and internet gurus used their educations as stepping stones to power.
#1: Barack Obama, U.S. President
Courtesy: Flickr – Barack Obama’s Profile
Degree: B.S. in Political Science, J.D. in Law
So how did the leader of the free world and commander and chief of the world’s largest and most powerful military get where he is today? Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, spent his high school years at a college preparatory school in Honolulu, Hawaii, before starting his college career at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Calif. on a full scholarship. Feeling stifled at the small liberal arts school, Obama transferred to Columbia University in New York, where he got a B.A. in political science with a specialization in international relations in 1983. Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago for several years before entering Harvard Law School in 1988. While at Harvard, he became the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, and served on the Black Law Students Association’s board of directors. Obama graduated with a juris doctor magna cum laude in 1991. Obama so valued the educational process that the Nobel Peace Prize-winner taught constitutional law at the University Of Chicago Law School for more than a decade.
#2: Hu Jintao, President of China
Degree: B.S. in Hydraulic Engineering
The political leader of more than 1.3 billion Chinese might have spent a year as a construction worker during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, but President Hu Jintao put his education first. Hu attended Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he first flexed his leadership skills as chairman of its Student Union. Hu graduated with a degree in hydraulic engineering in 1965, and began postgraduate work while working as an instructor and in research and development at the university. Hu has called education the basic way of raising cultural and scientific levels, and though Hu’s education hasn’t led China to acknowledge Taiwanese independence, Tibetan freedom or given much power to the press, the country’s economy is projected to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest in 25 years.
#3: Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia
Degree: B.A. in International Law, doctorate in Economics
Russia’s Prime Minister may no longer be president, but Forbes called Vladimir Putin “vastly more powerful” than head-of-state Dmitry Medvedev, the man he chose to succeed him. His influence stretches well beyond Russia’s vast land—one-ninth of Earth’s surface—rich with energy and mineral resources. Under Putin’s direction, the nuclear power cut off gas supplies to the Ukraine and Western Europe, and invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008.
But before rising to power, Putin attended a respected high school in Russia that only accepted students with near-perfect grades and stressed chemistry as part of its curriculum. After receiving his B.A. in International Law, Putin graduated from the Leningrad State University law school in 1975, where he also earned a doctorate in economics. After spending 15 years in the KGB, and serving in city and national government, Putin rose to prime minister, then became acting president when his predecessor left office, and was officially elected and re-elected before sliding back into the role of powerful prime minister.
#4: Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve
Degree: B.A. in Economics, Ph.D. in Economics
The man at the head of the world’s largest economy was well on his way to success in high school. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke—just tapped for a second term as chairman in January— was valedictorian of his Georgia high school and scored 1590 on his SATs. The impressive score may have helped land him at Harvard University, where he earned a B.A. in economics and graduated summa cum laude in 1975. Bernanke got his Ph.D. in economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology four years later, and went on to teach at Stanford Graduate School of Business, New York University and Princeton University, where he chaired the University’s economics department for six years before leaving for public office. A Great Depression scholar and TIME magazine 2009 person of the year, Bernanke has taken the Fed from less than $900 billion in liabilities in August 2008 to more than $2.1 trillion.
#5: Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google Inc. founders
Degree: B.S. in Computer Science/mathematics, B.S. in computer engineering, Ph.D. in Computer Science
Not many people can say that they’ve invented a verb anyone with an internet connection has probably used. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both 36, Their Mountain View, Calif.-based company, Google Inc., offers an email client, social networking tools, photo sharing and other web-browsing services. The internet gurus have a combined net worth of $30.6 billion, all thanks to their desire to continue their education.
Soviet-born Brin and American Page met while attending Stanford University’s computer science Ph.D. program. Brin had graduated with honors from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in computer science and mathematics in 1993, and went to Stanford on a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation. He showed new computer science Ph.D. candidates around the campus in March 1995—Page was among the students, having just graduated with honors from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in computer engineering. The two later became friends and, eventually, business partners.
Though the five most powerful people in the world have varying educational backgrounds, it appears the old saying it true— knowledge is power.