The CEOs of the UK's top companies are better educated and have more international experience than their counterparts six years ago. They are also almost twice as likely to accountants than they were in 1996.
CEOs are also getting younger. Only six FTSE 100 chief executives were under 45 in 1996, a figure that has now more than doubled to 13. Marks and Spencer, Reuters and the Royal Bank of Scotland are among those companies with younger CEOs. However the average age of CEOs across the FTSE 100 has risen from 49 to 52.
'Route to the Top', a study by Dr Elisabeth Marx of Search and Selection firm, Hanover Fox International also shows that more than six out of ten of today's CEOs have an international track-record, a marked increase from 1996 when fewer than half had international credentials. Their educational profile has also changed; only one in ten of the class of 2003 does not have a university degree, whereas in 1996 the figure was just over a third.
"Educationally better equipped, CEOs of the top British PLCs are now much more comparable to their European counterparts," said Dr Marx. "Also, stronger international experience will certainly help them to deal better with the complexity of global business."
However the research also begs the question whether CEOs are being cast from an increasingly homogenous mould. More than four out of ten of the UK's largest PLCs are now run by individuals with an accountancy or finance background, almost double the number of 1996.
According to Dr Marx, "this finding could also imply that executives with a career route outside accountancy or finance will have a harder time making it to the top."
In addition, the career progression of women at the top has been almost non-existent, with the sole female CEO still being Marjorie Scardino of Pearson.
The length of time CEOs spend in their jobs has fallen since 1996. The current crop of CEOs have been in their position for an average for 4.05 years, compared to 5.6 years in 1996. One quarter have been in their current position for less than one year.
A further trend is an increase in internally-appointed CEOs. Some 77 per cent of CEOs now reach the top through internal promotion, compared to 72 per cent in 1996, a figure that Dr Marx said could reflect companies' reluctance to risk hiring an outsider in a difficult economic climate.