British FTSE 100 CEOs are more international than their counterparts


Highlighting the UK’s position as a global business hub, Route to the Top, a study by global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, has found that FTSE 100 CEOs come from a wider range of nationalities and have also notched up more international experience when compared to their counterparts in other leading economies.

The study analyses the main characteristics of CEOs of the largest public companies in the UK (FTSE 100), US (the first 100 companies in the Fortune 500), France (SBF 120) and Germany (DAX 30 and MDAX 50).

Britain leads the way when it comes to CEOs with substantial international experience. Four out of 10 (41%) of FTSE 100 CEOs have international experience (defined as having spent at least five years abroad) and the average time they have spent abroad is 15 years. This is double the figure of US Fortune 100 companies, where only 19% of CEOs have international experience and the average time spent overseas is 11 years. Around a third of French and Germans CEOs (31% and 33%) have international experience, with an average of 12 years spent abroad.

The findings also highlight that more than a third (35%) of FTSE 100 CEOs are foreign nationals. These CEOs are mostly European (mainly French and Dutch) or from the Commonwealth (South-Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA). In contrast, the figure for foreign nationals in the Fortune 100 is only 7%, just shy of the 8% for French CEOs. In Germany, 17% of DAX 30 and MDAX 50 CEOs are foreign.

Luis Urbano, Heidrick & Struggles’ Managing Partner, Europe and Africa, said:

“The cross-cultural intelligence that comes with international diversity is increasingly important for companies operating in today’s volatile and fast-moving global business environment.”

Other key findings show that:

Female CEOs remain rare. France and Germany still lack gender diversity. In fact, this year’s survey is the first time any French or German CEOs have been female (2% and 1% respectively). The UK fares better with five female CEOs in the FTSE 100. But the US leads the way with nine women at the helm of Fortune 100 companies, a four-fold increase since 2007 when the figure was only two. (1)

Oxbridge is still important. A quarter (24%) of UK FTSE CEOs graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, highlighting the importance of an Oxbridge qualification in the route to the top. However, the proportion of UK CEOs without post-graduate degrees is the lowest of the four countries (35%), compared to 27% in the US and 15% in Germany. In France, having a post-graduate qualification is almost mandatory, with 92% of CEOs holding an advanced degree. Educational elitism is also very pronounced in France, where half of CEOs graduated from one of four Grandes Écoles.