Why FTSE 100 companies want ex-FDs in the top job

The number of ex-FDs getting chief exec jobs increased again last year. It's a trend that started in 2009, and it's a clear sign of the times...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Aspiring business types with corner office ambitions might want to think about doing an accountancy qualification: according to a new study by recruiter Robert Half, almost half of FTSE 100 CEOs now have a finance background, including two-thirds of those appointed in the last year (like Whitbread's Andy Harrison and BAT's Nicandro Durante). Back in 2008, the equivalent figure was just 31% - an indication that in these difficult times, companies are keen for a safe pair of hands who really understands the numbers. Wherever they come from...

Much though we hate to blow our own trumpet (ahem), MT drew attention to this trend way back in June 2009. As Alistair Dryburgh pointed out in his excellent 'FDs take the tiller' feature: 'When business is booming, growth is all and marketers and dealmakers are in the ascendant... But as times change, so the demands on organisations change. These days, big deals are off the menu, belts are being tightened and cash is indisputably king once again. And so FDs have moved upstage, out of the shadows.' Dryburgh pointed out that ex-FDs have much to recommend them: they can see the business as a whole; they're 'native speakers' of the 'first language of business'; and they're expert in many of the areas currently at the top of the corporate agenda - credit, cashflow, cost-cutting and so on.

It was also interesting to note from this study that the highest echelon of UK plc is getting increasingly cosmopolitan - the number of non-Brit CEOs in the FTSE 100 has risen from 41 to 46. There's also been a slight rise in the number of (relative) youngsters: there are now 6 CEOs under 45, up from 4 last year. The baby of the bunch is Oleg Novachuk, chief exec of copper mining firm Kazakhmys, who at a mere 39 is barely out of corporate short trousers, while at the other end of the scale is 75-years-young Jaime Lomelin, CEO of Fresnillo.  But if this sounds like things are improving diversity-wise, unfortunately the same can't be said of the number of female CEOs - which remains stuck at a measly four.

Of course it's always hard to draw sweeping conclusions from such a tiny sample (particularly as there are all sorts of other factors that might skew the results). But while we'd be wary about reading anything into the fact that, say, the number of Oxbridge-educated CEOs has risen from 19 to 21, it does look as though the rise of the FD continues unabated. And until the good times are rolling again, that's likely to continue.

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