‘Over 20% of FTSE 100 CEOs now come from a marketing background’

British companies are increasingly turning to marketers when it comes to filling the top job, with 21% of all FTSE 100 CEOs now coming from a sales or marketing background.

The study from executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, which analysed the main characteristics of CEOs from the largest public companies in the UK, US, France and Germany, shows an upward trend for marketers.

In 2011, only 15% of FTSE 100 CEOs had come from a marketing background but that has climbed to 21% in under four years. And the figure rises to 40% when applied to the consumer and health care sectors.

An upward trend

Over recent years, Tesco is perhaps the most high-profile UK brand to employ a former marketer in its hot seat. In July 2014, it appointed former Unilever marketer Dave Lewis (pictured) – who was responsible for Dove’s popular Real Beauty campaign – as its chief executive.

There are plenty more examples, however, with former Tesco marketing director Mike Coupe currently the CEO at Sainsbury’s.

Nick Varney, a former head of marketing at Alton Towers, is also the CEO at Merlin Entertainments, while EasyJet’s CEO Carolyn McCall previously served as the president of Women in Advertising and Communciations London (WACL).

This trend will only intensify according to Lucy Harris, Heidrick & Struggles’ UK head of retail practice.

She told Marketing Week: “Increasingly organisations are recognising the value of a CEO who understands the importance of how their brand engages customers.

“In terms of the talent pipeline, there is an increasing trend to search for leaders who have the clear ability to grow and develop brands on a global scale.”

How the UK compares to the US, France and Germany

The UK’s tendency to employ former marketers as chief executives is far ahead of other international markets. In the US Fortune 100 and French SBF, for example, only 10% of CEOs are former marketers, while in the German DAX this figure climbs slightly to 12%.

The UK market also leads the way when it comes to hiring CEOs with international expertise. Four out of 10 (41%) FTSE 100 CEOs have spent at least five years abroad, more than double that of the US Fortune 100.

But despite the likes of Easyjet’s Carolyn McCall, female CEOs still remain rare.

Only 2% of French CEOs are female, a figure that drops to 1% in Germany. And although the UK has five female CEOs in the FTSE 100, the US leads the way with nine women at the helm of Fortune 100 companies; a four-fold increase since 2007 when the figure stood at just two.

Furthermore, it seems an Oxbridge or Cambridge education can still go a long way in 2015. A quarter (24%) of the current FTSE 100 CEOs have graduated from either Oxford or Cambridge, according to the study.