Maths skills secret to rise in FTSE ranks

A BACKGROUND in finance is becoming the best route to landing a chief executive’s job at a blue chip firm, according to findings from this year’s Robert Half study of FTSE 100 chief executives.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of serving chief executives in the current FTSE 100 Index have financial backgrounds – such as an accountancy qualification or experience as a finance director – according to the report. That compares to just 31 per cent in 2008.

Of the nine FTSE 100 chief executives who have been appointed over the past year, six have financial backgrounds, including Andrew Harrison of Whitbread and Nicandro Durante of British American Tobacco, who have both held the position of finance director at some stage.

“We are seeing an increasing demand for leaders with a strong financial skill-set to guide organisations through a challenging operating environment and drive competitiveness so they emerge a stronger, more capable business,” said Phil Sheridan, managing director for Robert Half UK.

“This renewed significance in fiscal expertise reflects the increasing regulatory environment and need for accountability for the numbers behind the business.”

While the majority of chief executives are British nationals, the remaining leaders come from a wide range of countries, including the United States, Mexico, Syria, India and South Africa.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising giant WPP, is one of just over a fifth of the FTSE 100 chief executives who attended either Oxford or Cambridge university. With a two per cent rise on last year, 21 per cent of current chief executives studied at Oxbridge, including Chris Grigg of British Land (Cambridge) and Stephen Hester of the Royal Bank of Scotland (Oxford).

Although the days of City firms requesting “a 35 year-old man” are over, the number of women making the top position has remained unchanged from 2010. There continues to be four female CEOs in the FTSE 100. The four top women are Angela Ahrendts from Burberry, Dame Marjorie Scardino from Pearson, Katherine Garrett-Cox from Alliance Trust and Cynthia Carroll from Anglo American.

The youngest FTSE 100 chief executive is Oleg Novachuk who runs the copper mining company Kazakhmys at just 39 years old. The number of chief executives under the age of 45 has increased from four per cent to six per cent over the last year. The younger professionals working their way to the top include Greg Hawkins of African Barrick Gold, 41, and David Atkins of Hammerson, 44.

Seven of the FTSE 100 chief executives hold titles, including Dame Marjorie Scardino of media and publishing company Pearson, Sir Bill Gammell of Cairn Energy and Sir Kevin Smith OBE of GKN. Another titled leader is WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell, who also holds the accolade of longest-serving FTSE 100 chief executive, having held the top spot for almost 25 years.