Hands-on management is key to becoming CEO

Egon Zehnder International, the executive search firm, has looked at the background of the CEOs in the FT’s ranking of the top 50 women in world business. All but three share one crucial attribute: they’ve had hands-on management experience.

This puts them in a minority even among women in business. A separate EZI study of female executive directors in Europe shows over 70 per cent are in support functions, such as finance, human resources or marketing. Yet line management is the route to the top.  For instance, the FT’s number 6, Ursula Burns, started in various assistant roles at Xerox but used the role of vice-president of global manufacturing as a stepping stone to the CEO job.

Having been chief marketing officer or chief financial officer (a role held by increasing numbers of women, it seems), is no block to advancement, but a stint in line management looks to be an essential stopover on the winding route to the summit. Why aren’t there more women on this path? Evelyne Sevin, head of Egon Zehnder’s global diversity council, says:

Women may find it particularly hard to move around the world running businesses in different countries…. Many are effectively ineligible for the very top despite having made it as high-flying executives with a seat on the board.

(Egon Zehnder supplied the data for the FT’s ranking of the Top 50 Women in World Business)

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.