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In Asia, you don’t need an MBA to become a CEO

What does it take to be a CEO in Asia?

Folk wisdom suggests that the more education one has, the greater the chances they'll reach the top of the corporate ladder. However, a study by software company Qlik shows otherwise.

Nearly 80 percent of Asia's top CEOs do not hold a Master's degree in Business Administration (MBA), the survey showed. Meanwhile, over two-thirds of Asia's CEOs hold degrees from local tertiary institutions despite Asia's high regard for Western universities.

"There was no trend to say they studied overseas. A good 80 percent of them didn't actually have an MBA so this defies the whole perspective of (CEOs) going overseas to get a degree and whether they added a MBA to that," Terry Smagh, Vice President of Qlik Asia, told CNBC Asia's Squawk Box on Friday.

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"It shows that there's no one path and this analysis gives you a whole new discovery: 'Alright, do I have to do this or walk this route before becoming a CEO?'" He added.

Only Hong Kong and Singapore bucked the trend; over 70 percent of CEOs there hold degrees from Western universities.

No experience necessary

Prior experience was also not a pre-requisite, according to Qlik. Majority of Asia's business leaders previously held managing director, director or vice president roles; only 8.8 percent had previously served as CEOs.

"This [trend] is great because it shows upward mobility within the organizations," said Smagh.

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Most Asian business leaders have experience in the finance, manufacturing and energy sectors, but CEOs with non-business backgrounds are not uncommon.

"There is no one charted path. In Australia and Japan, some had law degrees or even studied anthropology," said Smagh. "So most of them did not plan to start off as an intern in a particular company or sector like [they do in] finance and [work towards becoming] CEO."

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CEO demographics

On average, Asia's corporate leaders – both male and female – are 56 years old, the study showed.

However, there's a massive gender disparity when it comes to leading a company. Only 3.2 percent of women reach the top of the corporate ladder in Asia. Women in Hong Kong and Japan were least likely to make it; the survey did not find any female CEOs there.

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Still, Qlik noted this may not accurately reflect the corporate world given the survey's small sample size. The study examined 250 Asia-Pacific-based corporations listed in the 2013Forbes Global 2000 ranking.

"Globally, GMI Ratings [says] 10 percent of top leaders are female, considering 40 percent of the global workforce is women. So [this is] not reflective of what it should be, there should be way more females in the boardroom," Smagh said.