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Alumni & FriendsA headshot of a contemplative Chris Larsen. Photo by Gino de Grandis

In a League of Our Own

Do you need an Ivy League degree to climb to the top of the corporate ladder? A recent report in The Wall Street Journal confirmed the answer most SF State alumni already know: You don't.

According to the article "Nation's Top Chief Executives Find Path to Corner Office Usually Starts at State University," published Sept. 18, "Most CEOs of the biggest corporations didn't attend Ivy League or other highly selective colleges. They went to state universities, big and small, or to less-known private colleges." Heads of business who studied at state universities "mixed with students from diverse backgrounds -- an experience that helped them later in their corporate climbs."

Chris Larsen (B.S., '84) cofounded online lending companies E-Loan and, where he is CEO. When résumés come across his desk, Larsen says that he looks first and foremost at candidates' prior accomplishments. He knows that graduates from state universities are likely hard workers. "Most people who go to SF State weren't born with a silver spoon in their mouth." Although there's a tendency to view Ivy League degrees as "a vetting mechanism -- it's hard to get in," he points out that "at both Stanford [where he earned an M.B.A.] and SF State, I got a great education."

What may matter most of all is confidence, Larsen says. Graduates from state universities "need to believe in themselves because there's plenty of competition out there -- people who want to tell you that they're better."

Andrew Ly (B.S., '86), CEO of Sugar Bowl Bakery, says that where a job candidate attended college isn't very important. What is? "There is no substitute for experience. I would most likely to look for experience and adaptability in a candidate. I want someone who can be trained for a position quickly and can best fit and contribute within the culture of our organization."

SF State's alumni roster offers further proof that an Ivy League degree isn't the only ticket to the top. Graduates include Manny Mashouf (B.A., '66), bebe chairman and founder, and his wife, Neda Mashouf (B.S., '84), bebe vice chair; Paula LeDuc (M.A., ‘73), CEO and founder of Paula Le Duc Fine Catering; Gloria Borders (B.A., '78), head of PDI/DreamWorks; and George Marcus (B.A., '65), whose businesses include Essex Property Trust and Marcus and Millichap.


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