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CEO Focus

Route to the Top 2018

12/9/2018 Heidrick & Struggles
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What do the current CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies look like? Some 95% are male, two-thirds hold advanced degrees, and almost half have experience in finance or general management. Those are among the findings of Heidrick & Struggles’ fifth in a series of demographic studies of chief executives begun in 2011 and expanded this year from 5 countries to 13—12 in Western Europe plus the United States.

Behind this picture of the typical CEO globally lies considerable variation from country to country. For instance, 84% of CEOs in the United States were promoted from within their companies, while the average across the 12 European countries was 64%. The proportion of chief executives who hold MBAs ranges from a high of 47% in Portugal to a low of 13% in Italy. And while the overall proportion of CEOs who were under 50 years of age when they were appointed stands at 44%, the figure ranges from a high of 64% in Norway to a low of 22% in the United States.

The research1 encompasses 674 current chief executives of the companies listed on the following country indexes: Denmark, OMX Copenhagen 20; Finland, OMX Helsinki 25; France, SBF 120; Germany, DAX and MDAX; Italy, FTSE MIB; Netherlands, AEX; Norway, OBX; Portugal, PSI-20; Spain, IBEX 35; Sweden, OMX Stockholm 30; Switzerland, SMI Expanded; United Kingdom, FTSE 100; United States, Fortune 100.

Key findings include the following:

  • Some 67% of CEOs were promoted from within.

  • The average age at appointment as chief executive is 50.

  • The average age of CEOs across all 13 countries is 56.

  • The proportion of CEOs who are women ranges from a high of just over 8% in the United Kingdom to a low of 0% in Denmark and Italy.

  • Some 46% of all CEOs have previous experience as either CFOs or COOs.

  • In 10 of the 13 countries studied, the vast majority of CEOs are nationals, with Switzerland being the only country where non-nationals outnumber locals.

  • Almost half of all CEOs have worked in at least two countries; however, in the United States, only one in four has any cross-border experience.



1 All findings for the countries represented in the 2018 report are based on data that was collected during spring/summer 2018.

To read the full report, flip through the interactive version above or click the download button for the PDF.

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