The women who move Britain - Our top 50 didn't rise on the old school tie. Most of them hide their strength behind closed doors. But each wields the kind of power and influence that defies stereotypes, says Kirstie Hamilton, and hastens the day when their rarity no longer prompts debate.
Women succeed in business either by being nice and reasonable, or by being tough and macho. Two surveys, released within days of each other, came up with entirely different conclusions. One insisted that the good girls won out, while the other maintained the more traditional view, that women who want to climb up the corporate ladder have to be like their male counterparts - that is, aggressive and tough.
The reality, as any successful woman in the professions or business will attest, is that neither is true. Some women are terrifying tartars, others gain their authority through a quiet persistence, but each has taken her own path. Carol Galley, the most powerful woman in British business according to Management Today's assessment, was labelled the 'ice maiden' by the London Evening Standard a few years back and put firmly in centre stage as the crucial person in deciding the outcome of a fiercely contested takeover bid. Her supporters rose up in outrage at the slur: to them, Galley is an incisive, intelligent woman whose dedication, rather than her ruthlessness, has been behind her success.
Galley says the success of Mercury Asset Management, the fund management group now owned by Merrill Lynch, the US investment bank, is entirely a team effort, with no room for a star system. 'World-class financial services businesses are built on teamwork,' she says. 'Stephen Zimmerman, my co-head, and I, owe everything to the many outstanding people with whom we have worked over the last 25 years.'
Galley's words are backed up by facts: she is by no means the only senior woman within MAM. Lynn Ruddock and Elizabeth Corley are both senior fund managers - with Ruddock now heading the powerful investment committee of the National Association of Pension Funds. And with other talented staff, the company has proved unusually accommodating in order to retain skills it believes are unique.
Management Today came up with its list of Britain's most powerful women in business after a series of interviews with headhunters and senior figures in industry and the City. The winners have all achieved power and influence in Britain. Would a prime minister or the head of a large public company listen and act on the advice of this woman? Does she have the power or influence to achieve objectives even outside her primary area of business?
There was no question of just compiling a list of the women who head important businesses in Britain: there are simply too few of those. Marjorie Scardino is the only woman to head a FTSE 100 company, and her success has given her a high profile in her native America as well as here, with Business Week recently promoting her as one of their executives to watch in 1999.
Scardino does not subscribe to either the 'bully' or the 'nice-as-pie' school of management. 'You have to be willing to know who you are, and be that person, good or bad,' she says. 'You don't need to be completely determined and ruthless. You have to be confident enough to be yourself.'
Scardino, whose success is partly based on her ability to build a strong management team, gives the impression of being a natural leader, rather than someone who feels the need to impress her importance on others. She stresses the need for women to run operations in order to get the experience needed at the very top of organisations, rather than following the more traditional and expected paths of marketing or personnel.
'I have had one great advantage that most women and men don't get, in that I had my own business and I failed miserably at it,' she says. 'My husband and I started a newspaper which was a great success editorially and an economic flop - he was in charge of the words and I was running the business. But learning the lessons of failure was very valuable.'
There are few signs that other women are about to break through to join her in the FTSE 100 index. Women have, though, been much more successful in areas where they can attain great influence. The law, accountancy, fund management and economics are all areas where women now account for a substantial proportion of incoming staff, and where the number of women at a senior level is growing rapidly.
Unlike a study of successful male executives, women high achievers are less likely to fit into a neat mould. There is no equivalent of the Eton-Oxbridge pattern. Almost all have degrees, but the proportion of Oxbridge graduates is lower than in a list of male equivalents, and the schools are more varied.
Retailing, an area where women might be expected to predominate, remains staunchly male dominated at a senior level. Ann Iverson, the American who was brought in on a £1-million a year package to save Laura Ashley, made plenty of headlines, but mostly disastrous ones. The City and press seemed to take a special delight in emphasising her failure to turn around the ailing store chain, happily dredging up an ill-judged appearance in Vogue where they combined her disparaging comments about the City with raunchy photos of her in leather trousers.
Such public humiliation has prompted other potential retail stars, such as Beverley Hodson, director of WH Smith retail, to keep a deliberately low profile.
Little wonder, then, that so many of Britain's most powerful women are keen to wield their power from behind closed doors. Rosie Boycott, editor of The Express and formerly of The Independent, is one of the exceptions.
She allowed the cameras into her newsroom during her brief and stormy reign editing The Independent, and proved to a gripped audience that her willingness to admit weakness in some areas was offset by a ruthless ability to dispense with those who failed to meet her expectations.
Boycott believes that the bright spotlight trained on women who make it to senior positions may discourage some from seeking promotion. 'I think it does put some people off,' she says.
Boycott adds, however, that women should not be discouraged by the relatively small number of them in the very top echelons of business. 'If you put it in the context of this all happening in a quarter of a century, it is a fairly phenomenal achievement,' she says. 'Going back to the days of Spare Rib, where we were saying we want abortion and equal pay, there was no other route to the top than coming in from menial jobs. That has shifted dramatically.'
Opportunity 2000, the campaigning group invented to help promote the interests of women in business, concedes that the number of women in the boardroom is still tiny. Latest figures from Hemmington Scott, the firm that collates details on Britain's public companies, show that only 3.32% of all non-executive directors are women, and an even lower number - 188, or 2.67% - of all executive directors are women.
But even one woman at the top can help. Clara Freeman at Marks & Spencer, who is chairman of Opportunity 2000, says her career was helped along by mentors within the organisation, including Baroness (Janet) Young, who was a non-executive director of M&S when Freeman was climbing the ladder. 'I felt I could go to her and discuss how I should tackle issues that were coming up in my business.'
Freeman, herself a personnel director, believes many woman would advance further and faster if they paid more attention to career planning. 'When I first joined M&S, it was as a buyer, which is a very enjoyable and creative job - but if you stick with that as a career, you don't get a broader business experience and you won't be qualified for the top position.'
Boycott believes that some very practical issues may be holding back some women in the media from taking a place at the very top of their organisations.
'The hours are punishing. I would never have done anything like this if I had a little kid,' she says. 'I started at the Indie when Daisie was 13 - so I could see her in the evenings, and she had a life of her own. If she had been seven, it would have been awful. The problem with newspapers is you cannot change the hours. You can't say we will run this newspaper so everyone gets home at 6pm. You can do that with some other sorts of companies, but with newspapers you have to be prepared to be there until 10pm, 11pm or more. It is all-consuming.'
Other professions suffer similar problems. Top City law firms, for example, require their legal staff to work very long hours, often at short notice, and believe that their clients will not be happy with anything less. Those demands, too much for many women who have small children, may explain why so few of the successful women lawyers end up as partners.
Freeman agrees that the tendency towards longer, more punishing hours is a retrograde step, but points out that the trend is not being adopted everywhere. Opportunity 2000 member companies, which include many of Britain's biggest, have not moved to longer working hours, and many have brought in policies to make work hours more flexible for both men and women.
Yve Newbold, the former Hanson company secretary who is now a headhunter with Heidrick & Struggles, says there is still a long way to go before the directors of Britain's biggest companies get their heads round the skills and abilities women can bring to the boardroom.
'Men are not yet persuaded that they need women in the boardroom,' she says. 'They may, however, genuflect to the lobby which says that they must have a woman on the board for political correctness.'
Despite this, Newbold says there have been steps forward. Today, a woman who makes it to a Footsie boardroom no longer has to be the wife of a retired Cabinet minister and is more likely to be qualified in her own right. 'But it is almost as if the board pulls up the drawbridge after that one person is admitted.'
New Labour has not yet managed to push through any changes in big business, she says, perhaps because the Government has been so determined to characterise itself as the friend of corporate Britain. But real change has occurred in government itself, and in the thousands of quangos that wield influence and power in the quasi-political field. By insisting that quangos move to having at least a third of their membership made up of women, the Government is enabling a large number of women to gain crucial experience and contacts at a senior level.
But do quotas do good or harm? Opinions remain split, and many suggest the implementation is as important as the policy itself. 'Sometimes if you put a token woman into a situation, men can see it is not as bad as they had thought, and it may even have added something. Alternatively, it can reinforce stereotype ideas, because the women put into the position are not experienced or able enough for the job. There is no easy answer, but if you don't set a target, men inevitably keep saying we can't find any suitable women. What they mean is: we can't find women like us, because women act and think differently and express themselves in a different way.'
Kirstie Hamilton is City Editor of the Sunday Times
A 50 year old fund manager often called 'The Ice Maiden', Galley turned a healthy income stream into a tidal wave when she and partners sold Mercury Asset Management to Merrill Lynch for £3.1 billion. Her team now manages more than £250 billion, much of it our pension money, and as a key investment stakeholder can move share prices and be the make or break factor in global mega-deals.
THE TOP 50
Texas-born Scardino, 52, has attracted a loyal following after some distinctly dubious reaction to her being plucked from The Economist, where she was chief executive, to take on a higher profile in 1997 at the head of Pearson, with its newspaper, TV, leisure and book interests. Since then she has charmed the City by resisting pressure for action and moving at her own pace with sell-offs and the recent surprise $4.6 billion takeover of the big US publisher Simon & Schuster.
The prime minister's wife could have been a politician herself (she stood for Labour in Thanet North in 1983, but was unsuccessful). She has had success, however, in the law courts, specialising in employment law, and became a Queen's Counsel in 1995. The 44 year old daughter of actor Tony Booth has seen her legal work reduced, but as Tony Blair's wife her public activities and influence have expanded rapidly.
The youngest of the top 10, Murdoch, 30, would not deny that her power at BSkyB is due in large part to being the daughter of Rupert Murdoch.
This has not prevented her from being an active force in the cable and satellite sector, however, where she has shown the mettle of someone who has learned the business at the knee of one of its pioneers.
American-born Julius, 49, was chief economist at Shell and at British Airways before being invited by the Labour Government to join the new Monetary Policy Committee following reform of the Bank of England. As one of this elite band of economists, she helps decide the direction of interest rates in the UK and is seen as the representative voice of business on the committee.
For years the first name mentioned in any discussion of women in business, the 56 year old Roddick is now in the mature stage of a career of more than 20 years since founding the Body Shop chain. She increased her profile by
being the original ethical businesswoman, bringing animal-friendly cosmetics to the high street at popular prices and becoming a force for the environment as well as for women in business.
The personnel chief at Marks & Spencer began as a trainee buyer over 20 years ago and rose to become the retail giant's first woman executive director, being appointed to the board in 1996. The 46 year old, who oversees 60,000 M&S staff, also chairs Opportunity 2000, the campaign to promote women in the workplace.
A civil servant for 30 years, Page, 54, knows her way in the corridors of power. In 1989, she took charge of some of those hallowed halls when she became chief executive of English Heritage. More recently she shifted her attention to the future by taking over the helm of NMEC, the New Millennium Experience Company, with its massive budget and controversial Dome.
The head of Random House, 47, is often described as the most powerful figure in British publishing. She has a reputation for nurturing writing talent and terrorising tentative editors and is now dealing on a European footing since Random House was purchased by Bertelsmann of Germany. She and her husband, Philip Gould, the political adviser, are also at the heart of New Labour.
Cheltenham Ladies College is a conservative beginning to the CV of Fleet Street's tearaway editor. Boycott, 48, founded Spare Rib, a feminist magazine, lived in India and Kuwait, came to grips with alcoholism and turned Esquire into a fashionable men's magazine before being hired by The Independent on Sunday as editor, where she campaigned to decriminalise marijuana. She is now editor of The Express.
The 58 year old chief of FI Group recently sold £6.6 million of her shares in the successful computer services company.
The chief executive of The Economist group, at 42, is on the same track that put Scardino atop the Pearson empire.
As chair of the Equal Opportunities body at 42, she can act to level the field for millions of working women - and men.
Morgan Stanley's managing director for Europe at 42 has triumphed in the macho world of investment banking.
The secretary of state for Northern Ireland, 49, is Britain's most popular politician. And its next PM?
Networking skills and a legal brain lifted Kingsmill, 51, to be number two on the monopolies and mergers panel.
The Guardian's 52 year old managing director was the first woman to run a newspaper group.
Margaret Jay, 59, will lead this year's reform of the House of Lords, a key element of the Blair programme.
The woman who walked out on Morgan Grenfell is now joint managing director of SG asset management at 37.
Don't write off the 73 year old former prime minister who is still sought out by movers and shakers.
Radcliffe, 54, is the chief UK economist at the newly merged PriceWaterhouse Coopers group.
The chief executive of BA's cut-price Go airline, 38, brought American marketing tactics to this fierce competitive arena.
An ambitious Scot, 50, the Consumers' Association boss took a firm stand in the UK beef crisis.
Sainsbury's 46 year old finance director is also on the board of the Prince's Youth Business Trust.
Want to work at the BBC? Send your CV to Salmon, 51, the personnel director and John Birt aide.
The 50 year old head of the Corporation of London is the voice of the City's bankers as Britain tracks the progress of the euro.
Managing partner of Lovell White Durrant since 1995, she has one of the City's top legal jobs at age 46.
The former finance chief of BTR, 41, got the job at merged BTR-Siebe over strong competition.
Duffield, 52, one of the philanthropic Clore family, is a trustee of the Royal Opera House and a force for culture.
The new controller of BBC radio, 52, helped remake the face of UK radio with the launch of Radio Five Live.
As first chef to the nation, Smith, 57, moves markets with her loyal fans, as shown by a recent book of egg recipes.
The 41 year old boss of PIRC, the pension fund activists, leads a war against fat cats and a fight for shareholder value.
Stepping out of Boots and Dolcis, Hodson, 47, has taken on the task of running WH Smith's huge retail division.
The 55 year old human resources chief of Granada was one of the panel that helped set the UK minimum wage.
The former director of BA's Asia-Pacific wing, 47, says her service background fits her role as chief executive of Bupa.
Newly appointed to run Channel 2 for BBC, the 41 year old former documentary maker will now set the agenda for other opinion shapers.
Managing director of Spencer Stuart, the 40 year old headhunter has a ready network after filling some of the UK's top positions.
A 10-year partner in corporate law at Freshfields, the 44 year old has advised MCI and Amoco in mega-merger talks.
The leader of the socialist wing of the EU Parliament, the 50 year old could be a contender in the race to be mayor of London next year.
A media figure with her feisty rabbinical comments, this 50 year old exerts her influence on health matters as head of the King's Fund.
The chief executive of Business in the Community, at 48 she has the ear of the leaders of the UK's top companies and Prince Charles.
As director of policy and planning for the BBC, Hodgson, 52, has sway over such matters as strategic alliances and cases of broadcast bias.
The woman Labour chose to stand in on John Smith's sudden death, Beckett, 56, ran the DTI before becoming leader in the Commons.
Rupert Murdoch's London newspaper advertising boss, 40, has become a media force after a circulation war that rewrote strategy.
Already a Business Woman of the Year at 32, the Brands Hatch chief led the leisure group to a solid market debut.
The UK's prime arts administrator, 52, is back at the Royal National Theatre after running the Royal Opera House.
For years Hanson's right-hand woman as company secretary, Newbold, 58, is now a key headhunter for Heidrick & Struggles.
Bus and rail queen Gloag, 56, who runs Stagecoach with Brian Souter, her brother, is worth nearly £400 million.
Programme director for Channel Five's select viewers, the 38 year old is set to reclaim the plaudits won at Channel 4.
The Spencer Stuart headhunter, 41, ran the GGT Europe ad group and sits on the DTI task force on competitiveness.