An MIT Alumni Association Publication
Ben Bernanke MIT Business Insider Most Successful?
Ben Bernanke PhD '79 spoke at MIT's 2006 Commencement ceremony.

Determining one’s level of success is entirely subjective. And determining the most successful MIT alumni seems impossible.

But, according to the news site Business Insider, 21 MITers stand out in a field of more than 130,000 alumni. The site’s list, which was released last week, includes architects, CEOs, and scientists but gives no defined method for determining success.

While it’s an impressive list, we’ll let you decide if the ranking truly constitutes MIT’s most successful. (“Most well-known” may be a better descriptor.)

The 21-person list, which actually features 22 alumni, list is below. Click on each name to jump to Business Insider for more info.

Let us know your take—and which other alumni merit mention—in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

21. Lorenzo Mendoza SM ’93, CEO, Empresas Polar 20. I.M. Pei ’40, architect 19. Drew Houston ’05 and Arash Ferdowsi ’08, founders, Dropbox 18. William Hewlett SM ’36, co-founder, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Company 17. Jonah Peretti SM ’01, founder, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post 16. Brian Halligan MBA ’05, CEO and co-founder, HubSpot 15. John W. Thompson SM ’83, chair, Microsoft 14. William Porter SM ’67, founder, E-Trade 13. Robin Chase SM ’86, co-founder, Zipcar 12. Ivan Getting ’33, engineer, co-credited with development of GPS 11. Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 10. James Woods ’69, actor 9. John Potter SM ’95, former United States Postmaster General 8. Benjamin Netanyahu ’75, SM ‘76, prime minister, Israel 7. Amar Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, founder, Bose Corporation 6. Andrea Wong ’88, president of international, Sony Pictures Entertainment 5. John Thain ’77, chair and CEO, CIT Group 4. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin ScD ’63, astronaut 3. Salman Khan ’98, MEng ’98, founder Khan Academy 2. Kofi Annan SM ’72, former secretary-general, United Nations 1. Ben Bernanke PhD ’79, former chair, Federal Reserve


harold wilensky

Mon, 02/23/2015 12:05pm

What about an MIT Professor without an MIT degree?

Paul Anthony Samuelson


Sat, 02/14/2015 10:19pm

If you didn't earn an undergraduate degree, you aren't a true alumni. I despise all the MBAs and Sloan School grads posing as MIT alumni. Same for those with non-technical degrees. A MIT degree in history is the equivalent of an engineering degree from Julliard.
While we're at it, their definition of success is very WASPy. People who devote their lives to helping others aren't successful, but those who trample their colleagues to grasp the highest rungs of wealth and power are?
For my money, Michael Aponte is the most successful MIT alumnus I ever met.


Mon, 02/16/2015 11:49am

Charles and David Koch (the Koch brothers) Co-owners of the largest private company in the US. philanthropists and avid supporters of liberty.


Mon, 02/16/2015 3:56pm

Philip Terry Ragon, owner of ImterSystems headquartered at 1 Memorial Drive in Cambridge, made Forbes 400 list of billionaires last year. He is class of '72. I call that pretty successful.
Congratulations Terry!

Susan Margulie…

Sat, 02/14/2015 9:40am

I saw this article when you posted it on 2/4, and now, 10 days later, you've felt the need to send it to everyone's inbox because I guess you want more of us to read it and weigh in. I understand why TR makes lists like the top 35 under 35, to celebrate invention and entrepreneurial spirit. I understand why college ranking lists exists, too. But I have no idea why a list like this one was created by Business Insider nor why MIT is publicizing it with such enthusiasm when it represents such a tiny percentage of successful alumni of MIT and with such a narrow definition (you claimed there was none offered, but this is "Business Insider", so clearly a business oriented definition of success was used).

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at MIT and all of the wonderful experiences I had there, all of the dear and lifelong friendships that I made, and the great start that it gave me to my successful career in electrical engineering. My accomplishments in 22 years since graduating from MIT have defined me as a person - wife, mother, engineer, volunteer, friend... and so much more. I am not MIT's most successful or best known alumna. But I am a financial supporter, an MIT EC, and a responsible, ethical engineer who represents her alma mater well in industry and in life. MITAA would do well to consider all those who leave its campus having had a positive experience and ready to be positive ambassadors for MIT in whatever they pursue as successful and stop trying to make alums feel less simply because of the awesome company in which we all find ourselves.

Susan Margulies Beiter
MIT VI-1A EECS '92 (SB) and '93 (SM)

Alex Lippard

Sat, 02/14/2015 9:11am

Rather than listing the moguls who were socially adept, driven, and lucky enough to monetize existing technologies, why not list the people who invented---out of thin air---the underlying technologies that have fundamentally changed our world? E.g., John Thompson is great, but what about Dan Bricklin, who invented the computer spreadsheet?

I'd like to hear people suggest more individuals (and groups) from MIT like Bricklin, or better yet, see a new article with names nobody knows. Not only is it more interesting and informative to learn about these unsung pioneers, but it will allow your student readership an alternate and in my opinion much more accurate definition of success.

While you're at it, you can't have Woods on the list but not Krugman.

Jay Caplan

Sat, 02/14/2015 8:48am

And don't forget Henry Kendall, one of the founders/leaders of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Noam Chomsky, de-bunking political rhetoric for 50 years.

Andrew Furman

Sat, 02/14/2015 9:28am

Ben Bernanke does not deserve to be on this list, let alone be #1. He missed subprime completely. He was asleep at the switch for Fannie and Freddie's collapse. He left us a legacy of moneyprinting, which has quietly done more to widen income inequality than anything the mainstream media (the source of this dubious list) could come up with. So many MIT alums have made technological advancements. Mr. Bernanke's only advancement is repeating history's infatuation with currency debasement.

Chuck Hieken

Sat, 02/14/2015 2:02pm

How could you omit Amar G. Bose!


Wed, 02/04/2015 9:23pm

Makes me sad that all the people working in academia got ignored. It seems that even MIT, on their own website, considers people who went to business and politics more successful.

Jan Jurnecka

Sat, 02/14/2015 11:21am

James Woods is NOT an alumnus...he dropped out after his first year! I'd nominate Robert Shiller, the Nobel-prize winning economist at Yale, who received his PhD in economics from MIT.

Mike Hughes

Thu, 02/05/2015 10:56pm

How could they miss Bob Metcalfe? Invented Ethernet, founded 3Com. Just a tad important to today's wired world.....

Hajime Sano

Wed, 02/15/2017 12:00am

He said in a Tonight Show interview years ago that he dropped out half a semester short of graduation, while on a full-ride National Merit Scholarship. He came out to visit his brother during Spring Break senior year, and decided to stay and pursue acting. When he called his mom to tell her of his plans, he said it was the longest pause in telephone conversation history before she encouraged him to be the best actor he could be. Mind you, I don't know him personally and he was a few years ahead of me so I wasn't at MIT, but it seems plausible. I think the interview was around the time he was nominated for an Oscar, and he took his mom as his date.

In reply to by Jan Jurnecka

Tim Chambers 1…

Sun, 03/08/2015 10:41pm

They're not alums, but they're valued members of the community. Note that President Reif is an honorary member of the MITAA. [1]


In reply to by harold wilensky


Fri, 03/06/2015 10:10am

MIT has MORE graduate student than undergrad. Most of its world class research work in engineering, science, economics and management is conducted by graduate students. Its reputation is based on this work and not that of undergrads (who although bright are not yet up to the par). Calling them not MIT grad is short sighted and not very worthy of an MIT grad. Please think before insulting more than half of our grads;

In reply to by Joe

Tim Chambers 1…

Tue, 02/24/2015 2:04am

Joe gives undergrads a bad rep for being such a snob. As a mere undergrad I greatly value non-undergrad masters and doctors, especially non-undergrad professors. And three cheers for President Reid for being made an honorary member of the MITAA [1]. Take that, Joe! :P


In reply to by Joe

Miles Fidelman

Sat, 02/21/2015 4:33pm

So let's see:
Ray Kurzweil - Course 21 (in Music, if memory serves) - Kurzweil Reading Machine, a bunch of other things
David Boucher - Course 24 (Linguistics & Philosophy) - Kurzweil co-founder, then founded Interleaf
to cite just two counter-examples

In reply to by Joe


Thu, 02/19/2015 5:28pm


I agree there is an authenticity gap between the college and the university, especially at schools that prioritize undergraduate education, like Princeton or Dartmouth. Certainly some at Harvard feel that way too and a degree from "the college" carries implications of privilege, class and access that isn't available to all those grad school strivers.

That isn't the ethos of MIT however. And even if it were, 60% of the enrollment are grad students. The economics department, whatever your views on the subject's difficulty, is the envy of the world, with only Chicago having more laureates. I also just saw that 6 of 30 on the Forbes 30 under 30 list are sloan grads.

You should reconsider your views. Perceptions drive reality, and we should work together to advance the perceptions needed to put more MIT people in control of more important institutions.


In reply to by Joe

John Winner, ScD

Mon, 02/16/2015 1:21pm

Funny how you didn't post your full name with a comment like that. Well over half of MIT alums are grad students these days, Joe Loser. Also, grammar and Latin clearly don't count in your version of MIT engineering education. It should be " aren't a true alumnus." And while we're at it, let's bring race into it! The non-WASP/minority representation in that list is way out of proportion to actual alumni stats (not that I agree with the list, either).

Your name is clearly: Joe Loser, BSc.

In reply to by Joe

Christoph von Braun

Mon, 02/16/2015 8:07am

Susan, you hit the nail perfectly. There is absolutely no reason for this list and a lot more than no reason to not have it. It is a self-congratulatory, unjustified claim to fame of those who are not on it, but feel that somehow establishing a thread of commonality with those "titans" makes them a little bit like them. Does living on the same street as George Eastman did make me a similarly successful entrepreneur? Does having gone to the same university as him? Of course not. Success - however defined - does not rub off, you have to achieve it yourself.

In reply to by Susan Margulie…

Reid Sheftall MD

Sun, 02/15/2015 9:58pm

I agree Joe. The undergrads are the elite at MIT. And of those, the physics, math, and ''JOY OF SIX'' majors are the cream of the crop.

In reply to by Joe

Paul Rudovsky

Sun, 02/15/2015 9:25pm

Krugman is almost as bad as Chomsky

In reply to by Alex Lippard

John Redding

Sun, 02/15/2015 5:38pm

I did an SM in EE/CS on the heels of a Canadian B.S.(Eng). By your definition I am not an MIT alum.
I have an MIT alum email address (so MIT disagrees) and I suppose they are the final word on who they deem an alum.
Maybe you should petition MIT to institute another type of address at the "Tute ...
An online dictionary's definition is: alumnus n. 1640s, from Latin alumnus "a pupil," literally "foster son," vestigial present passive participle of alere "to nourish" (see old ), with ending akin to Greek -omenos. Plural is alumni. Fem. is alumna (1882), fem. plural alumnae.
Thank goodness they all disagree with you.
You caused cold shivers to run up my back as I imagined I had to throw my Brass Rat in the trash. It cost a lot of money, a lot of "mainly thesis associated" sleepless nights, a very sucky social life, etc etc to merit wearing it. And I will continue to do so.

In reply to by Joe

harold wilensky

Sun, 02/15/2015 1:29pm

What about engineering, math, physics, etc MIT PhDs/ScDs who were not recipients of MIT undergraduate degrees?

In reply to by Joe

Sanford Asman

Tue, 04/21/2015 8:22am

Harold "Doc" Edgerton (S.M. '27 and Sc.D. '31) should definitely be on the list. He was an icon both at MIT, where his teaching spanned the gap from a freshman seminar and grad students, as well as being a founder of EG&G.

Paul E. Gray (S.B., S.M. and Sc.D.) for making many of those on the list possible.

Reid Sheftall MD

Tue, 02/17/2015 9:45am

Yes Robert. Great choice! Also their father who started Koch Industries...

In reply to by Robert


Mon, 02/16/2015 3:57pm

That is InterSystems, ipad typo.

In reply to by Gary


Mon, 02/16/2015 11:56am

Can't forget Doc Draper.

In reply to by Robert

Paul Rudovsky

Sun, 02/15/2015 9:24pm

All Chomsky has ever done is create political rhetoric that is not based on facts or the real world.

In reply to by Jay Caplan

Chuck Hieken

Sat, 02/14/2015 8:41pm

My face is Cardinal and Gray.

In reply to by Chuck Hieken

Jeffrey Felton

Sat, 02/14/2015 7:59pm

Dear JS, I think that another list should be generated, naming the graduates who have made the greatest contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Then we can decide which list we like best. Jeff Felton

In reply to by JS

Jay London

Fri, 02/06/2015 7:20am

Hi JS,

Thank you for reading and thank you for your comment. Just to clarify, <em>Slice of MIT</em> does not consider people in business and politics more successful than those in academia. The first sentence of the articles states "Determining one’s level of success is entirely subjective."

<em>Slice of MIT</em> did not determine this list and also wrote in the article, "'Most well-known' may be a better descriptor." The main of goal of reproducing <em>Business Insider's</em> list was to generate conversation and discussion among alumni. We know it's impossible to define success! Thank you again for reading. I appreciate your comments.

Jay London

In reply to by JS

Reid Sheftall MD

Fri, 02/06/2015 7:18am

I agree Mike. They missed so many people. There are literally thousands of alumni whose accomplishments meet or exceed those listed, not to diminish what they did... It was a pretty silly exercise for them to try to narrow it down to only 21 people. Like I wrote in my comment, it is an impossible task.

In reply to by Mike Hughes

G.A.M.(Tony) B…

Sat, 03/21/2015 10:13pm

I did not see Frank Press amongst the most successful MIT alumni.

Paul Ackman

Sat, 03/21/2015 3:52pm

Was the list biased in favor living alums and recently departed?
In addition to those alums mentioned above who were omitted from the original list, mad props to Jimmy Doolittle, Pierre S du Pont, Andrew Viterbi, and Margaret L. A. MacVicar. Where did you find all these haters who commented? Graduate degrees are alums, too. I got my MS from University of Southern California, and they would never diss me the way you haters diss our Sloan grads and other grad school alums.

Simon van Norden

Sun, 02/15/2015 2:05pm

Sad that, while others use their comments to laud other noteworthy contributions, you feel the need to tear someone's down.

Bernanke made critical academic contributions to understanding the role of credit in macroeconomics (among other things.) He also lead the Fed to react much faster, and with greater innovation, to the crisis than his counterparts in England or the Eurozone. We've seen the US recover more strongly from the crisis than either of those other economies, despite the US having been at the center of the crisis. That's not a bad contribution....for an economist.

As for currency debasement.....funny how that debasement has given the US an inflation rate that's lower than targeted and a currency that appreciates against its competitors. (Is that how you think debasement works?)

In reply to by Andrew Furman

José María Lar…

Thu, 03/12/2015 4:42pm

In my opinion, the list should include Professor Moshe Ben-Akiva, for the application of original economic concepts, mathematical models, and digital technologies, to state-of-the-art transportation engineering.

Don Morrison

Sun, 02/22/2015 3:06pm

How can you not include Richard P Feynman, SB '39?

William Griffith

Tue, 02/17/2015 8:32am

There is too little emphasis on scientific achievement.

Jon Dennis

Tue, 02/17/2015 2:51am

Very bad choice for number one. Bernanke could have been the one to address the lack of regulation and vast imbalances that led to the 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis, instead he chose to propagate them. We need another 10 years to pass before we can properly evaluate what Bernanke did for the Global Economy.

Mike Dornbrook

Mon, 02/16/2015 11:13pm

Some suggestions:
Doc Edgerton - strobe, EG&amp;G, and most importantly for his teaching and inspiration
Charles Stark Draper - inertial guidance
Vannever Bush - first presidential science advisor, initiator of the Manhattan Project, initiator of the National Science Foundation, founder of Raytheon, ...

Liz Fisher

Mon, 02/16/2015 7:52pm

I agree that the term prominent or infamous would be a better term. From whose perspective are you evaluating? For example, Netanyahu's accomplishments are somewhat dubious -- akin to Hitler's "success" -- but would Hitler make the list if he'd gone to MIT?

Will Siegfried

Mon, 02/16/2015 3:46pm

Benjamin Netanyahu might be better described as least successful, since he has managed to involve his country in almost continuous war. The Magliozzis have probably brought more happiness to more people than anyone else (but we should divide by two, eh?).

Eduardo Testart

Mon, 02/16/2015 1:43pm

I don´t think to be an nundergraduate as requisite to be in the listing of known, recognized or watever people. One of the nice things learned at MIT, among many other was the fact that I decide to take an exam on some courses "required" for my studies because my level in physics was superior to the required level for my MSc degree and after "passing" the I decided to pass more courses... so my advisor ask me why? I thougt it was possible this way to shorten my studies, therefore, my advisor told me: No body no matter how smart is nor how many courses have taken, to earn a degree at MIT you must spend at least ONE year of studies, on campuss because yo need not only knowledge, yo have to get the spirit.

Mark Coggin

Sun, 02/15/2015 11:22pm

I think that not listing Ken Olsen is a major oversight. I would also consider Ray Stata and Alex d'Arbeloff as worthy of inclusion on such a list.

Herb Lin

Sun, 02/15/2015 9:18pm

"If you didn’t earn an undergraduate degree, you aren’t a true alumni. I despise all the MBAs and Sloan School grads posing as MIT alumni. Same for those with non-technical degrees. A MIT degree in history is the equivalent of an engineering degree from Julliard."

What drivel!! An MIT degree in the humanities is probably the best all-around liberal arts education someone could have.

But I agree with other commentators that the list is quite unimpressive.

73 SB, 79 ScD

Frank Sheeman

Sun, 02/15/2015 7:33pm

The list needs a lot of improvement. I would insert Tom Perkins (founder of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers early Silicon Valley venture capital firm, founding chairman and funder for Tandem Computers and Genentech, and much more) ahead of at least half the list.

Reid Sheftall MD

Sun, 02/15/2015 7:11pm

Correct Kare and Marshall. Feynman and Sloane were major omissions.

John K. Stenar…

Sun, 02/15/2015 4:54pm

These are all great comments, but we are not going to win playing someone else's game. The “List” is explicitly based on "famousness" or just "name recognition" (and implicitly, name recognition, as perceived in today's pop culture) rather than any of the many other attributes which may be correlated to "success".
On one hand, name recognition is as good a metric as any other, and better than some. Having famous alumni certainly burnishes an institution's reputation. On the other hand, focusing on name recognition is not playing to our strongest suit. As noted, numerous other MIT alums are obviously highly "successful" (in every way but name recognition), and yet they will never make a list *of this type*. Case in point is that Technology Review magazine has for several years published the "Top 35 under 35" technology innovators, as well as the "TR10" list of the emerging, impactful technologies, and most people have no awareness, let alone memory of them.
I suggest we (1) accept this list graciously, since it is good to have famous alums, (2) graciously acknowledge the contributions of the alums on the List, since seriously, some of them have jobs that are not only hard, but exceptionally hard (would you like to try being Prime Minister of Israel?), and (3) work to promote a more tech-driven list, such as the TR10 or TR35, and let alums from other schools try to compete on our playing field. It’s not a competition anyway. Best regards, John

Ken Sills

Sun, 02/15/2015 3:57pm

Bob Metcalfe, (MIT '69) the inventor of Ethernet isn't in the ranking??

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