Almost one in five FTSE 100 CEOs now come from a marketing background

New research shows marketers are continuing to make progress in terms of reaching the c-suite.

Almost one in five (18%) FTSE 100 CEOs are former marketers, according to new research from Heidrick & Struggles. This makes marketing the second most common route to the CEO position, behind only those with a background in finance (36%).

The recruitment firm’s 2017 Route to the Top study explores the backgrounds of CEOs at the top 100 companies from the FTSE 100 in the United Kingdom, the Fortune 500 companies in the US, the DAX 30 and MDAX 50 in Germany, and the SBF 120 in France. And it shows the UK (18%) has a higher proportion of CEOs with a marketing background than the US (15%), France (12%) and Germany (9%).

In the consumer sector, 31% of FTSE 100 companies are led by CEOs who formerly occupied sales and marketing positions, compared to just 25% with a finance background and 19% who come from operations.

Meanwhile, in the global technology services (GTS) sector, 30% of FTSE CEOs come from a sales and marketing background, which is the same proportion as CEOs who previously had a career in finance.

READ MORE: How one marketer made the transition to CEO

A growing trend

The proportion of British CEOs who come from a marketing background has been steadily rising over recent years. In 2011, for example, this figure stood at 15%, rising to 17% in 2013 and 21% in 2015. However, this means the 2017 figure of 18% represents a small decline.

Ben Twynam, head of the consumer practice at Heidrick & Struggles, says you shouldn’t read too much into this drop. He tells Marketing Week: “The decline isn’t significant – it is marginal – in general CEOs with a marketing background is seen as a positive, particularly in consumer and technology companies.”

With the likes of Tesco CEO Dave Lewis and Easyjet CEO Carolyn McCall both coming from marketing backgrounds, Twynam expects the trend to only intensify over the coming years.

“This trend will only continue, particularly as marketers ensure that they broaden out their own marketing remit or actively move into other functional areas to ensure that they keep progressing towards the CEO role,” he adds.

“Great marketers don’t necessarily become great CEOs. But as companies have to focus on digital transformation, or increasing customer centricity while driving growth in an increasingly uncertain environment, senior marketing executives are becoming CEOs because they are able to ensure that these key parts of their functional experience come to the fore.”

The study also shows CEOs at the UK’s largest companies are younger than ever before. FTSE 100 CEOs are on average five years younger than their counterparts in the US, with more than half (53%) under 55 years old compared to 17% in the U.S. The large age gap is highlighted by the fact that four out of 10 (42%) US CEOs are age 60 or older, compared to just 13% in the UK.