But the legacy of the past 10 years is neither so simple nor so ephemeral as this implies. A second sea change, from nepotism to meritocracy, has its origin in earlier decades though flourishing only in the Thatcher era.
As economic historian Leslie Hannah points out, two cultural stereotypes in particular have been used to explain the impact of social and educational background on British business: the old-boy network which guaranteed a place on the board to all but the most incompetent; and (as Wiener argues) the deleterious influence of the public schools in driving young men away from commerce into more "gentlemanly" pursuits.
Research into earlier years suggests that the first of these stereotypes is nearer the truth. From 1905 to 1971 public school men - particularly those from the famous establishments such as Eton or Harrow - were the norm for chairmen, with only a small increase in the number who had been to university. However, when Hannah looked at the past decade of chairmen from the top 50 companies listed in the Times 1000, the pattern had changed.