How to climb the ladder to the top spot: the success factors behind FTSE 100 CEOs

31 May 2016

London, 31 May 2016 – Those with ambition to reach the top spot in Britain’s biggest companies can plot a clear path based on a series of success factors, according to new research1 from leading recruitment specialists, Robert Half UK.  The ninth annual Robert Half FTSE 100 CEO Tracker shows that there are 10 key factors to consider, from training in finance and accounting, to gaining experience in different industry sectors.

1. Gain a background in finance

More than half (55%) of today’s FTSE 100 CEOs have a background in finance & accounting or financial services, compared to 21% in retail/hospitality, 15% in engineering/natural resources, 15% in marketing and 14% in technology. Almost one in four (23%) CEOs are qualified Chartered Accountants, showing the value of investing time in financial education.

2. Build experience of a particular sector…

The majority (66%) of FTSE 100 CEOs move from a senior role in the same industry, demonstrating the benefits of understanding the particular issues faced by a sector. Some of the longest serving CEOs in sectors such as mining and brewing have spent their entire careers in one industry.

3. ...Or gain CEO experience by moving between industries

A small number of FTSE 100 CEOs have got to the top by learning how to tackle the top job across multiple sectors. This may well become more common as organisations look for leaders of successful digital transformation programmes who can apply learnings from one sector to another.

4. Have a university degree and/or a post-graduate qualification

The majority of FTSE 100 CEOs have at least one university degree, while more than a quarter have either an MBA or a PHD. Unsurprisingly, those who have stayed in a single industry all of their working lives, such as mining, tend to have read for a relevant degree such as geology. The number of FTSE 100 CEOs with a degree from Oxford or Cambridge has fallen slightly over the past few years, from 21% in 2012 to 18% in 2016.

5. Be in your 50s or older

For the past five years, Robert Half has calculated that the average age of a FTSE 100 CEO is around 55. The youngest CEO in this year’s tracker was 40 and the oldest CEO was 71, highlighting the need for experience and patience when plotting a route to the top.

6. Be a British citizen, but don’t rule out heading up a FTSE 100 company if you’re not

The majority (60%) of FTSE 100 CEOs are British citizens, yet 20 different nationalities are represented at the top of the UK’s largest companies, including leaders from South Africa, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

7. Challenge the status quo by being female

The number of women heading up the FTSE 100 has increased by one in the past 12 months and two in the last four years. There are now six female CEOs in the FTSE 100 with the appointment of Alison Brittain to Whitbread earlier in 2016.

8. Be prepared for at least a five-year stint

While some FTSE 100 CEOs are in for the long haul, the average length of tenure for FTSE 100 CEOs tends to remain constant at around five and a half years, suggesting a regular churn rate at the lower end of the scale of tenure.

9. Be ready to switch companies

While almost a third (30%) of FTSE 100 CEOs are promoted from within the same company, the majority have moved from another orgainsation.  In some cases it pays to show commitment to your employer if you are determined to get to the top, but people should be prepared to consider moving for the CEO position. Some companies value the different experience that potential chief executives gain in other firms  or even other sectors, as the appointment of Alison Brittain to Whitbread from Lloyds Bank earlier in 2016 demonstrates.

10. Prepare to be based in London

Six-in-10 FTSE 100 companies have their corporate headquarters in London, so while FTSE 100 CEOs may live and work all over the world, they are likely to be based in London for a significant portion of their time.

Phil Sheridan, UK Managing Director at Robert Half, said: “While there isn’t a single template for a FTSE 100 CEO, it’s clear that anyone planning their route to the top should consider their choices along the way. All in all a university degree and a financial background are also required, together with a range of management experience gathered in different roles and business sectors.

“Many of todays C-suite executives have reached the top job by providing evidence of their industry expertise, a strong understanding of fiscal responsibility and the ability to lead and inspire. For many whoaspire to become a future FTSE 100 CEO, it helps to understand some of the common traits that today’s leaders share.”

- ENDS -

Notes to editors

1 All information based on analysis of publicly available sources of information analysed from the period 1st April 2015 – 31st March. 2016.

About Robert Half

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialised recruitment consultancy; a member of the S&P 500 and #1 in our industry on FORTUNE® magazine’s “World's Most Admired Companies” list (2015). Founded in 1948, the company has over 330 offices worldwide providing temporary, interim and permanent recruitment solutions for accounting and finance, financial services, technology and administrative professionals. Robert Half offers workplace and job seeker resources at roberthalf.co.uk and twitter.com/roberthalfuk.

About the Robert Half FTSE 100 CEO Tracker

Robert Half has conducted annual research on CEOs of the FTSE 100 by analysing publicly available sources of information about FTSE 100 CEOs to track trends including their professional career backgrounds, age, gender, nationality and length of tenure. The research was analysed from the period 1st April 2015 – 31st March 2016, and all results are correct to the best of our knowledge.