The great – and the good

The UK’s honours system tends to incite powerful emotions. With its 660-year history stretching back to the first Order of the Garter and the pomp of formal investitures in Buckingham Palace’s ballroom, the twice-annual event can easily appear both anachronistic and irrelevant.

The Queen’s Birthday and New Year’s honours have increasingly been used to recognise community heroes, alongside the stars of public, corporate and entertainment life. With a reformed nominations process, and honours committees that are theoretically at least independent of government or sovereign, the honours are a way of recognising outstanding contributions made by loyal citizens to the community at large.

They also reflect the zeitgeist. Bankers continue to be thin on the ground and MPs are only now returning to the list, that they once thronged, following the fall-out from the expenses scandal.

UK designers had a good showing in the latest list headed by Katharine Hamnett, CBE, queen of the political slogan T-shirt. It’s hard to imagine a Labour government honouring the woman who went to meet then-prime minister Tony Blair in a T-shirt emblazoned with “Tony Blair, No War”. Other successful designers in the list were Beatrix Ong, the upmarket shoe designer, fashion designer Alice Temperley and Tanya Sarne, the designer behind fashion label, Ghost. They join Tamara Mellon, founder of Jimmy Choo, who was honoured in the Queen’s Birthday honours last year.

In the 1990s, less than 30 per cent of the honours were awarded to women while by 2010’s new year’s list that had risen to 45 per cent.
But as Roger Carr, the chairman of Cadbury at the time of its takeover by Kraft, and Martin Broughton, former chief executive of British American Tobacco and current chairman of British Airways, receive their knighthoods, I can’t help but wonder where are our successful corporate women?

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit


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.