How to be a FTSE 100 chief executive: Bosses in the UK are in their 50s, highly educated - and often foreign

Emma Haslett
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Want to get into the corner office? Follow this advice (Source: Getty)

What qualities does the person in the corner office have that his or her colleagues don't? A new study has found they are likely to have a background in finance, have an MBA and be in their early 50s.

The report, by headhunter Heidrick & Struggles found top-flight UK chief executives tend to have been promoted from within, rather than being drafted in from outside the company.

The figures, which compared bosses of the UK's FTSE 100 with chief execs of Germany's Dax 30 and MDax 50, France's SBF120 and the US' Fortune 500, also found Britain's blue-chip index is increasingly becoming less male-dominated, with the number of women running the show doubling between 2013 and 2016 (although women still only make up six of the FTSE's 100 top bosses).

Want to be the FTSE 100's next chief executive? Here's how to get there:

Read more: The anatomy of a FTSE 100 chief executive

1. Bide your time: The average age at appointment is 49

If you're 25 with big dreams, have patience. The figures showed the majority of bosses - 54 per cent - are appointed when they are under 50 years old. That was compared with 30 per cent who were hired between the ages of 50 and 54, and 15 per cent who were hired when they were between 55 and 59. By the time you hit 60, it may be too late: only one of the FTSE 100's chief executives was hired when he was over 60.

That said, the average age of chief executives generally (rather than when they are hired) is 54 - younger than the US, France and Germany.

2. Stay put: Boards prefer internal candidates

The figures showed 61 of the FTSE 100's bosses were already at their company when they were appointed, compared with 34 per cent who were external candidates. Just five of the FTSE 100's chief executives (WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell, Sports Direct's Mike Ashley and Randgold's Mark Bristow among them) are founders of their company. It takes the average candidate 13 years to be appointed to chief executive.

3. Do your best to be male

More women than ever before are heading up FTSE 100 companies - but the progress is glacially slow. Just six of the FTSE 100's top bosses were female in 2016, although that was twice the number of 2013. Meanwhile, eight per cent of the Fortune 500 are headed up by women - while just two per cent of French companies and one per cent of German companies are run by women.

4. An MBA does not a chief executive make

Considering whether spending £100,000 on an MBA will help your career? Just 30 of the FTSE 100's chief execs have an MBA, compared with 35 per cent of US bosses. A degree is a good idea, though - 70 per cent of British blue-chips are headed up by someone with a university education, while 27 per cent have a masters. Only three per cent of FTSE 100 chief executives don't have either.

5. Start your career in the consumer sector

While more than a quarter of FTSE 100 bosses have a background in financial services, 32 per cent started off in the consumer sector. Meanwhile, 24 per cent kicked off their careers in the industrial sectors, 10 per cent worked in technology, and just six per cent began in life sciences.

6. ... but get onto the financial side

More than a third of FTSE 100 chief executives have finance backgrounds, followed by 18 per cent with backgrounds in sales and marketing, and 13 per cent have backgrounds in engineering.

7. A change of passport might help

Four in 10 FTSE 100 chief executives are foreign, the figures showed - compared with just 13 per cent of US bosses, 10 per cent of French chief execs and 17 per cent of German CEOs (although, rather confusingly, the origins of nine per cent of Germany's bosses are "unknown").

8. ... and always try to be called Dave

Separate analysis of FTSE 100 chief executives by City A.M. back in 2015 found eight per cent were named either Dave or David - in fact, at the time, there were more Daves than women heading up British blue-chip firms.

Stephen or Steven, Mark or Marc and Andrew or Andy all came a close second, with each making up five per cent of the index.

Read more: Why FTSE 100 bosses should be on social media

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