How to become a FTSE 350 CEO - in five easy steps.

The UK's chief executives have a lot in common, if you want to fit in among them - there are a few rules you can follow to make sure you look the part, argues Sean Farrington of QlikTech

by Sean Farrington
Last Updated: 20 Nov 2013

Britain's businesses are a colourful and distinct bunch. We've got media companies, video game powerhouses, financial whizzkids, manufacturing legends, industrial leaders and engineering titans. But on close inspection, The UK's glute of high flying business leaders at the helm of these businesses all look strikingly similar.

We carried out some research and found that if you ever fancy joining the ranks of the UK's FTSE 350 chief executives, your chances would be a lot higher if you...

1)     Go to Oxford/Cambridge…

From our research, we discovered that 15% of FTSE CEOs went to either Oxford or Cambridge. That the top universities end up producing top business people shouldn’t surprise anyone, but interestingly, the University of Manchester can claim 4% of the FTSE 350 as alumni, which puts it second behind the Oxbridge institutions. Other than that however, we found that no other institution came close - it’s still the Oxbridge graduates getting the most roles.

2)     Don’t be afraid to study the arts

If you’ve got a qualification in finance, law, or economics to go along with the obligatory MBA qualification, you’ll be in good stead to become a CEO. However, our research also found that, across the recurring industries such as energy, manufacturing, and finance, CEOs also have an academic background in subjects like the classics, geography, English, and even philosophy. Surprisingly, these subjects trumped accountancy qualifications as a route to the boardroom, with only two of our chief executives studying this subject.

3)     Have a finance background

For all the increasing talk of boardroom diversity, there’s no risk yet of your financial/management background being phased out. In fact, our research has found, regardless of the increasing importance of IT professionals and data analysts, just one FTSE 350 CEO made the step up from the CIO role. The culture among FTSE 350 business leadership is such that even the most forward thinking industries still tend to eschew those working on the technological side for the top job, in favour of those holding a more traditional role. In particular, if you’re a managing director or a CFO, you’ll probably be a likely contender for the big seat as 18.8% of the current FTSE 350 CEOs come from these roles.

4)     Be middle aged

Perhaps most importantly, becoming a CEO is just as much about who you are as it is your professional background. The days of the Mad Men style boardroom are alive and well in terms of demographic, so being able to fit seamlessly into this ‘Old Boy’ network is essential. Much has been made of the greater visibility afforded to women in business, and yet even in 2013, little has changed in the boardroom.
If you’re in your 40s or 50s, you’re in luck. Our research has found the average age of the FTSE CEO to be 52, while 1955 is the most common year of birth. You might still make the cut, however, if you were born at any point in the late 1950s/early 1960s, but there’s not too much leeway outside of these dates.

5)     And finally…Be male!

Sadly for 50% of the population, the biggest single advantage you can hold in your journey to the boardroom is being male. Even in late 2013, with high-profile businesswomen often hitting the headlines, you’ll find that unless you’re male, the FTSE 350 is essentially a closed shop. Our research established that, of the FTSE 350, just 14 companies are led by a woman. So even for those women who have studied hard for an economics degree at Oxbridge, who have a long career as an MD, or even happen to be 52 (or thereabouts) – running a FTSE 350 company may still be a tall order.
But for those men who picked up a degree in economics from Oxbridge, who entered an industry such as finance, energy or manufacturing, who took a role as CFO or MD, and are of 52 years of age, you might yet be in with a chance of leading a FTSE 350 company.

Sean Farrington, MD UKI and RVP Northern Region at QlikTech

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