This year’s Fortune 500 list, which ranks United States companies by their total revenue, provides a glimpse into the nation’s top businesses and the bold Fortune 500 CEOs who run them.
Based on publicly available information, many of the Fortune 500 CEOs on this list speak only English, presumably too focused on growing their businesses to learn a second language. But a handful of them either grew up speaking at least one other language or learned one later in life. These bilingual and multilingual Fortune 500 CEOs serve as examples of how linguistic acumen can further enhance a successful career.
Fortune 500 CEOs Who Speak Another Language
1. Stefano Pessina (Walgreens Boots Alliance) — Italian and French
Coming in at number 19 on this year’s Fortune 500 list, Walgreens Boots Alliance is one of the largest retail pharmacy in the world, made up of Walgreens, Boots, Duane Reade and Alliance Healthcare. Its CEO and Vice Chairman Stefano Pessina was born in Italy and is a native Italian speaker.
While it’s not entirely clear when or how he learned French, it may relate to the fact that France was the second country, after Italy, on his world tour of buying up drug wholesalers. Or the fact that he now resides in Monaco, a French-speaking city-state (and tax haven) on the Mediterranean coast of France.
2. Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo) — Tamil
The soda giant PepsiCo ranks 45th on the Fortune 500, and its former CEO and Chairwoman Indra Nooyi is one of only 24 women (and just a couple of women of color) on the list of Fortune 500 CEOs this year.
Nooyi was born in India, in the city of Madras (now called Chennai), capital of the Tamil Nadu state in the southern part of the country. She grew up speaking Tamil, a Dravidian language spoken primarily in India and Sri Lanka.
3. Juan Luciano (Archer Daniels Midland) — Spanish
Juan Luciano sits at the helm of Archer Daniels Midland, a food-processing company coming in at number 48 on this year’s ranking. Like the CEOs mentioned above, Luciano is a native speaker of another language. He was born and raised in Argentina and grew up on a farm in a rural area of the country. Luciano is a native Spanish speaker, who emigrated to the United States after graduating college.
4. Hubert Joly (Best Buy) — French
Consumer electronics company Best Buy ranks 72nd on the Fortune 500 this year, led by CEO and Chairman Hubert Joly. Born in France, Joly is a native French speaker and attended two universities in his home country: HEC Paris and Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. Joly was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian distinction, in 2017. He now lives in Minnesota.
5. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) — Mandarin Chinese
Facebook has moved up to the 76th spot on this year’s list, and despite numerous controversies over the past year, co-founder Mark Zuckerberg remains the company’s CEO and chairman.
A native English speaker, Zuckerberg speaks Mandarin Chinese as a second language and told students at Beijing’s Tsinghua University (in Mandarin) that he continues to study the language daily in order to communicate with the family of his wife, Priscilla Chan. He may also have learned Mandarin for business reasons, like potential negotiations with the Chinese government regarding its ban on Facebook.
6. Darius Adamczyk (Honeywell International) — Polish
Multinational conglomerate Honeywell follows directly behind Facebook as number 77 on the Fortune 500. CEO Darius Adamczyk, who took over as the company’s chairman in April, was born in Poland. He emigrated to the United States at age 11, speaking only Polish. Adamczyk reportedly picked up English after just six months of living in the U.S.
7. James Quincey (Coca-Cola) — Spanish
Coming in significantly below its competitor PepsiCo at number 87, Coca-Cola is still hanging on under the leadership of President and CEO James Quincey. Born in London, England, Quincey speaks Spanish fluently. It’s not entirely clear when or where he learned Spanish, but Quincey spent much of his early years with Coca-Cola in Latin American markets, where he led key product launches and acquisitions.
8. Antonio Neri (Hewlett-Packard Enterprise) — Italian, Spanish and Dutch
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) split off from HP, the well-known printer and personal computer company, in 2015. HPE deals solely with servers, storage and networking, and ranks 107th on this year’s Fortune 500. President and CEO Antonio Neri speaks Spanish, Italian and Dutch, and his semi-nomadic childhood and early life explains why.
Neri was born in Argentina, moved to Italy at age 5, and then moved back to Argentina 5 years later. After growing up and attending university there, he returned to Italy. A few years later, he moved to Amsterdam, where he met his Dutch-Italian wife, Caroline, who speaks six languages. Neri and his wife speak Italian at home with their two kids.
9. Giovanni Caforio (Bristol Myers Squibb) — Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese
Biopharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb ranks 145th on this year’s Fortune 500 list. But its CEO and Chairman Dr. Giovanni Caforio takes first place when it comes to multilingualism. Caforio was born and raised in Italy, where he received his M.D. from the University of Rome. Details on how he acquired his Spanish, French and Portuguese language skills are not readily available, but learning multiple languages is quite common in Europe. Caforio now resides in New Jersey.