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If you got your life insurance policy from State Farm, bought a shirt with Ralph Lauren’s Polo logo or filled up your tank at a BP station, a former Illini thanks you.

That goes double if you’ve given to the American Lung Association, worn pink to a Susan Komen walk or volunteered at a Lutheran Services event.

Those are just a few of the dozens of corporations and nonprofits Boeing-big and Graceland University-small that have UI alums for CEOs.

And two months from now, the list will add one of the world’s most recognizable brands — IBM.

Today, in a spin-off of our UI at 150 & Beyond website, we spotlight 50 Illini CEOs — past and present — with much more on their C-U experience at

1 Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ new CEO grew up baling hay and walking beans on the 2,000-acre family farm outside Bloomington, close enough to Rantoul that Stan Deal could hear supersonic planes whizzing by on their way to and from Chanute Air Force Base. It was right then and there that the UI aerospace engineering grad remembers first thinking a career in aviation might be for him.

2 Deal earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986. That’s also the year IBM’s CEO-to-be was wrapping up his first year of grad school in the same College of Engineering. Arvind Krishna would spend parts of seven years in C-U, earning a master’s (1987) and Ph.D. (1991) in electrical and computer engineering, and landing his first of seven jobs at IBM months later.

3 When Krishna’s promotion takes effect in April, the pride of Andhra Pradesh, India, will become IBM’s first CEO born outside the U.S. That will come two months after BP’s first CEO born in the U.S. — 1978 chemical engineering grad Bob Dudley — steps down after 10 years at the helm, all post-Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

4 With Dudley walking away, the Illini CEO of the highest-ranked company in the Fortune 500 is Michael Tipsord, who joined State Farm as an assistant tax counsel in 1988 — four years after earning his law degree from Illinois — and was named CEO of the country’s largest home and auto insurer in 2015.

5-8 State Farm’s 2019 revenue of $81.7 billion put it at No. 36 on Fortune’s list, one spot ahead of Johnson & Johnson. That’s the Band-Aid and baby powder maker, not the billionaire former Illini power couple of Robert and Sheila Johnson, who — like former Weather Channel CEO Michael Kelly (’79/political science) and current C-SPAN co-CEO Rob Kennedy (’78, electrical engineering) — made their mark in cable TV, founding BET.

9-13 Robert Johnson earned his bachelor’s in history in 1968, not a bad year to graduate from Illinois. Among his classmates: the former CEOs of John Hancock Life Insurance (Jim Benson, finance), Petsmart (Phil Francis, agriculture), Peabody Energy (Irl Engelhardt, accounting), Oberweis Dairy (state Sen. Jim Oberweis, political science/economics) and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (Nancy Brinker, sociology).

14-16 Since launching her non-profit in 1982 — two years after Brinker lost her sister to breast cancer — Komen has raised $800 million for research. And she’s had plenty of Illini company in the fight against cancer. John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society from 1992-2015, earned his master’s at Illinois. Holding bachelor’s degrees: the Class of ’77’s Harold Wimmer, now national president and CEO of the American Lung Association, and the Class of 2000’s Pat Basu, CEO of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

17 Millions have also been donated toward cancer research since Crate & Barrel’s founders created the Chicago Pancreatic Cancer Initiative in honor of UI College of Education alumna and company CEO Barbara Turf, who died from the disease at age 71 in 2014.

18 Mrs. Turf served as Crate & Barrel CEO from 2008-12. Her CFO for three of those years — 1980 accounting grad Diane Pearse — was handed the reins of another household-name brand herself in 2016, when she was named CEO of Hickory Farms.

19 For Pearse and Spyglass co-founder Brand Fortner, a three-degree UI grad, it didn’t get any better than Richard Scanlan’s Classical Civ class. “Fridays during football season were always the best, as Professor Scanlan would come out dressed as the Greek god of prophecy, Apollo, in a toga and laurel wreath,” Pearse says. “Upon his encouragement, I remember shouting ‘I-L-L, I-N-I’ with my fellow students, and then he would predict an Illini victory. But alas, the predictions rarely came true, as the Illini football team wasn’t very good.”

20 Pearse’s era wasn’t unique in that respect. As a late ’50s engineering grad student at Illinois, future General Electric CEO Jack Welch remembers watching first-rate basketball (“except when we played the great Ohio State teams of that era”) and lousy football (“they lost more than they won then”).

21-22 Welch, who made all of $10,500 a year when he started at GE weeks after graduating, holds the distinction of receiving what’s believed to be the largest severance payment in corporate America history — $417 million — when he retired in 2001.Of course, that’s chump change compared to the estimated net worth of 1959 accounting grad, Chicago real estate tycoon and Barack Obama 49th birthday party host Neil Bluhm ($4 billion — with a b) or 1971 industrial engineering alum, Flex-N-Gate CEO and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan ($8.3 billion, per Forbes).

23-25 Khan, who came to the U.S. from Pakistan with all of $500 to his name, isn’t the only Illini immigrant success story. Max Levchin (’97, computer science), who co-founded PayPal and is now CEO of financial tech giant Affirm, spent his youth in Ukraine. Bloom Energy CEO and two-degree UI engineering grad K.R. Sridhar is from India. And Ralph Lauren’s CEO since 2017, Patrice Louvet (MBA ’87), is from France.

26 In between his time on campus and joining the working world, Louvet served a mandatory two-year stint in the French Navy. It’s a story similar to that of the former CEO of New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine, who joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1969, the same year he earned his bachelor’s degree at Illinois, and remained in his infantry unit as a sergeant until 1975.

27-28 Corzine, the captain of his Taylorville Tornadoes basketball team, walked on at Illinois. But sadly, he says, “there wasn’t much need for a 6-2 forward at a Big Ten school,” dashing any dreams of the future senator and Goldman Sachs executive having the same sort of on- and off-court careers as Jerry Colangelo or Manny Jackson.

29-30 When Jackson bought the Harlem Globetrotters for $5.5 million in 1993, he became the first African-American owner of a major sports corporation, one of many firsts achieved by Illini CEOs. Among the others: first black female billionaire (Sheila Johnson), first female architect to design a federal building (Ross Barney Architects founder Carol Ross Barney, ’71) and first female CEO of a top 25 accounting firm (CliftonLarsonAllen’s Kris McMasters, ’78).

31-33 McMasters’ path to the CEO’s office began in Catlin and included a two-year stop at what was then known as Danville Junior College — a local-kid-makes-good story also written by the former CEOs of Sara Lee Branded Apparel (Urbana native Cary McMillan, ’80), Conversant (Rantoul’s John Giuliani, ’83) and both Ticketmaster and Live Nation (Danville Wall of Famer Irving Azoff).

34 Azoff did OK for himself despite not sticking around long enough to earn a degree at Illinois. Fellow California high roller Tom Siebel earned three — a bachelor’s in history, MBA and master’s in computer science — before making his first billion (he’s worth three of them, according to Forbes) or writing his first eight-figure check to his alma mater (he gave $32 million in 1999, $100 million in 2007 and $25 million in 2016).

35-37 The generous founder of Siebel Systems was part of the Grainger College of Engineering’s inaugural Hall of Fame class of 2010, an all-star group that also included Khan, former Motorola and Kodak CEO George Fisher (’62), venture capital CEO and Internet icon Marc Andreessen (’94) and William Grainger himself, of the Class of 1919.

38-39 You know you have an elite engineering college when the first CEO of Tesla — company co-founder Martin Eberhard (’82, electrical engineering) — isn’t inducted until Hall of Fame class No. 6. And that was one class before George ‘Papa Bear’ Halas, a civil engineering grad from the UI Class of 1918.

40-41 The sports landscape is a wee bit different than it was in the Roaring Twenties, when Halas paid the hefty sum of $100 to launch the Bears franchise two years after graduating from Illinois.Just ask VC Sports co-founders Ed Cerulo (UI Class of 2008) and Steve Veltman (2005), who’ll soon have the pleasure of negotiating what could go down as baseball’s richest contract — on behalf of their client, new Los Angeles Dodgers star Mookie Betts.

42-43 Speaking of sports contracts, here’s a fun storyline to follow: Which UI-educated agent to the stars will have the top-earning client at this time next year? Also in the running: Priority Sports and Entertainment CEO Mark Bartelstein (business administration, ’82), whose 30-player NBA roster is headlined by $33 million-a-year guard Kyle Lowry and $32-million-a-year forward Gordon Hayward, and Mark Steinberg, the former Flyin’ Illini walk-on who has repped Tiger Woods since 1998.

44 Steinberg graduated from the UI College of Law in 1992 — one class after former Timpone’s bartender/waiter Michael Osanloo, now the CEO of Portillo’s.

45 Osanloo’s first CEO gig, from 2015-18, was at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. He left for Portillo’s after its previous CEO — 1976 UI accounting grad Keith Kinsey — retired.

46-50 Who’s hungry? On top of the Portillo’s guys, Illinois can match about any school’s lineup of foodie CEOs — there’s the late Jim Cantalupo (McDonald’s head from 1991-99 and again from 2003 until dying of a sudden heart attack at 60 a year later); Doris Christopher (founded Pampered Chef from her Chicago basement); Rodney Anderson (founder and CEO of Pancheros Mexican Grill); and Steve Carley (CEO of El Pollo Loco from 2001-10 and Red Robin from 2010-16); and Jeremy Stoppelman (CEO of Yelp, the website that’s made finding a place to eat easier).


Among the UI-educated bosses making headlines the last 12 months:


The theater management grad who ran NBC Entertainment from 2011-18, ROBERT GREENBLATT, lands a new high-powered gig: chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment, which makes him the head of HBO.


Weeks after being picked to lead the $8.5 billion expansion of O’Hare Airport, Studio Gang boss and 1986 grad JEANNE GANG is named the world’s most influential architect by Time magazine.


Employees at bicycle giant Huffy mourn the death of their former president/CEO of nearly eight years — former Centennial Charger and 1978 UI political science/history grad BILL SMITH, who was 64.


Esquire — the magazine with the writing roster that once included Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Gay Talese and Norman Mailer — selects an Illini as its next editor-in-chief: 2003 history grad MICHAEL SEBASTIAN.


An A-list roster fronted by former Illini IRVING AZOFF and rocker Dave Matthews announces the formation of the Music Artists Coalition, a new lobbying group that will advocate for musicians.


In a double dose of fast-food news, JIM TAYLOR, above(’91/engineering) is promoted to president of Arby’s, the same new title for Starbucks veteran BETO GUAJARDO (’89/business administration) at Schlotzsky’s.


The Women’s Sports Foundation’s pick for the 2019 Billie Jean King Leadership Award: the Class of 1970’s SHEILA JOHNSON, the first black woman to have a principal shareholder stake in three pro sports teams.


Boeing lifer and 1986 aerospace engineering grad STAN DEAL is rewarded for his 34 years of loyalty when the aviation giant names him CEO of its commercial airplane division.


A month after his three-year term as chief justice of the state Supreme Court ends, 1964 College of Law grad LLOYD KARMEIER announces he’ll hang up his black robe for good on Dec. 6, 2020.


The U.S. Senate now has an Illini among its 100 members, as 1992 marketing grad KELLY LOEFFLER, co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, is appointed to retiring Georgian Johnny Isakson’s seat.


Departing IBM boss Ginni Rometty on her successor, two-degree Illinois grad ARVIND KRISHA (MS ’87, Ph.D. ’91): ‘A brilliant technologist’ and ‘the right CEO for the next era at IBM.’


The Class of 1978’s BOB DUDLEY, who’ll be remembered as the CEO who brought BP back from the brink of an environmental disaster, retires after 10 years in charge.


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