Unlike in Britain, American Companies Tend Toward Homegrown CEOs

Around 40% of Britain's biggest companies now have a foreign national at the helm, compared to under 10% in the U.S.
BP’s CEO Bob Dudley is from New York.

Think Apple’s Tim Cook, Exxon’s Darren Woods, JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Walmart’s Doug McMillon. They’re all American and that’s no coincidence.

Of course there are exceptions, like Google’s Sandar Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi, who were all born in India. But for the most part, American companies are led by people born in the U.S.

Interestingly, the situation contrasts markedly across the pond. BP CEO Bob Dudley was born in New York, Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao is Italian, British Airways CEO Alex Cruz is Spanish and Lloyds Banking Group CEO Antonio Horta Osorio is Portuguese. The two big Anglo-Dutch companies listed in Britain, Shell and Unilever, are both headed by Dutchmen.


In fact, the number of top 100 British companies with a non-UK national as their CEO has doubled since the turn of the century to now stand at 40%, according to new research.

Conducted by London-based recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, the analysis found that no other leading global stock exchange had more than a third of companies with non-nationals in the top job.

In Germany, for instance, the level of top CEOs of national origin is 75%, while in Holland and France it’s 68% and 86%, respectively.

And then there’s the U.S., where over 90% of S&P 500 companies are led by natives, based on data available for analysis.

The reason Britain stands out could be related to its strength as an international business center, capable of attracting foreign-based companies and executives, according to Odgers Berndtson CEO Kester Scrope. Brexit, however, could possible disrupt the balance.

“The key question is how impending trade negotiations and deals with the U.S., EU and Asia and the rest of the world will impact this trend in future,” Scrope said.

Indeed, Britain’s geographic positioning on the doorstep of Europe, and the free movement of people allowed across EU borders, can go some way to explaining why so many British companies have foreign CEOs.

And the U.S. has the world’s biggest economy and the world’s biggest companies, so it’s not surprising that American leaders are held in high regard, both at home and internationally.

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