According to a study of the career profile of the chief executives of the top 100 UK companies over the past six years, an accountancy/finance background is the best route to the job. More than four out of ten (41%) of today's batch of chief executives come from that side of the business, compared with 24% in 1996.
The study, by Dr Elisabeth Marx of headhunters Hanover Fox International, merely confirms what most of those with marketing's interests at heart have complained about for years: that marketing, despite its role as the champion of customers, is still too marginalised when it comes to the top table.
Other findings are that today's chief executives are better educated; only one in ten don't have a degree. They have more international experience and there is an increase in younger 'super' chiefs who are 45 or under.
And more of them are coming up through the ranks, with more than three-quarters having reached the summit through internal promotion. However, there's still only one woman as head of a FTSE 100 company: Marjorie Scardino of Pearson.
But here's some good news. According to a new ranking of Europe's best-performing companies from Business Week, British companies account for 17 of the top 50 and six of the top ten. The rankings are based on the Standard & Poor's Europe 350 index, which uses, among other measures, sales and earnings growth over both a one- and three-year period.
What these firms have in common, says the magazine, is all have made singular progress in boosting sales, increasing profits and delivering superior returns to investors despite the gloomy European economic climate.
It's a varied collection. HBOS comes first, followed by another UK group, GlaxoSmithKline, at number two and Royal Bank of Scotland in third place.
Centrica comes in at seventh, with plumbing supplies company Wolseley at ninth and Tesco tenth.
Other UK companies in the top 50 include Next (13), British American Tobacco (20), Shell (29), Reckitt Benckiser (40) and Marks & Spencer (41).
Still others, such as Barclays, Diageo, Allied Domecq, BP and Ryanair, make it into the top 100.
So who's running these paragons of corporate performance? Going by Marx's research, you'd be forgiven for thinking that few of them come from a marketing background. But it's not as straightforward as that. HBOS, for example, is indeed run by a financier, James Crosby. But GlaxoSmithKline's Jean-Pierre Garnier has a marketing and sales background. Consider Centrica.
While chief executive Sir Roy Gardner has come up through finance, chairman Sir Michael Perry provides a powerful marketing ballast. Then there's Terry Leahy at Tesco, whose marketing expertise has helped make Tesco a byword for customer focus.
So yes, finance produces a disproportionate share of British chief executives.
But the Business Week list also shows that you can't keep a good marketer down. Marketers might have to try that much harder, but cream always rises to the top.
This article was first published on Marketing