Route to the Top 2017
Chief Executive Officer

Route to the Top 2017

The destination may be the same, but research suggests that the path to the corner office is different in France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Heidrick & Struggles
Route to the Top 2017

Heidrick & Struggles’ most recent demographic study of global chief executives finds the typical CEO to be largely male, highly educated, and likely to have a background in finance—but with some notable differences by country. For example, some 85% of CEOs in the United States were promoted from within their companies; in France, the figure is 48%. CEOs in the United States are also likely to be older than their counterparts in France, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Switzerland leads the countries studied on percentage of foreign nationals at the head of its companies, while US companies lag significantly in this respect and French companies are led almost exclusively by natives.

The research encompasses current chief executives of the top 100 companies listed in the Fortune 500, the FTSE 100 in the United Kingdom, the DAX 30 and MDAX 50 in Germany, the SBF 120 in France, and the 50 largest companies represented in the SMI Expanded in Switzerland. This report represents the fourth in a series of such studies begun in 2011.1 It provides profiles of today’s top leaders, looks at how those profiles vary from country to country, and observes how they vary within countries by industry sector.

Key findings include the following:

  • CEOs in the United States not only tend to be older than their counterparts in other countries but also take far longer to reach the top when they are promoted from within.
  • CEOs in Switzerland and in the United Kingdom are more diverse by nationality than CEOs in other countries, especially the United States and France.
  • Finance, engineering, and sales and marketing are still the main ingredients of a CEO’s background, with the emphasis varying according to sector and country.
  • Women have made little notable progress toward the top job in any country we studied since the inception of this research in 2011.


1 This year's report marks the first time that Switzerland has been included in this study. The research on Switzerland, which tracks 2016 data, was added in mid-2017; the research on the other countries featured in this report was conducted in mid-2016 and first published in April 2017.

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