14 top CEOs paired with student winners of CEOx1Day

BT, Standard Chartered, ITV, Legal & General, Sage Group, National Trust, Cabinet Office among leaders backing future talent initiative to build trust.

Chief executives from fourteen FTSE companies and leading organisations are today matched with real-life apprentices in an initiative from global executive search firm Odgers Berndtson to help dispel cynicism and build interest and trust in business among young people.

The successful applicants, all currently at universities in the UK, are to be paired with participating CEOs, who they will shadow through every aspect of a working day. 

Both chief executives and students taking part are keen to share a taste of life as it really is in the top job, cutting through pre-conceived ideas about the business world and addressing difficult issues head-on. Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust, added she wanted “to give myself the opportunity to reflect on my role as CEO and see what it looks like through someone else's eyes."

Bill Winters, CEO of Standard Chartered, also expressed concern that many may be losing faith in the corporate world. “Young people want their political and corporate leaders to care about the things that matter to them and their futures. Many have become cynical through repeated scandals and a sense they are denied opportunities their parents had.”

“One of the most important challenges that leaders face is building trust in business - the trust of their employees, customers and the wider public. Central to this is addressing the perceptions people have of corporations and those at the top,” said David Sproul, CEO of Deloitte. “Taking part in CEO for a Day is a great opportunity for me to better appreciate what the younger generation thinks about business and, crucially, whether they believe the path to leadership is open to them.”

Kester Scrope, CEO of Odgers Berndtson said: “The opportunities for a new generation are immense. We hope this may help to inspire young people about the exciting possibilities that exist for the next generation and the good that can be done through business.”

When asked by Odgers Berndtson about what it takes to be a good leader, many of the UK students applying to take part in CEO for a Day cited the need to earn trust and respect through personal integrity, high standards and setting an example. Strong people management and communication skills, with the ability to inspire and bring out the best in others, also scored highly.

Charles Harvey, studying business management at Nottingham Trent University and paired with Standard Chartered’s Bill Winters, said: “a good leader needs to have tact, a sound knowledge of the area and creativity”. According to Christina Le, studying chemical engineering at the University of Manchester and paired with Stephen Kelly of Sage, “trust and respect are great factors that cannot be bought but can be gained over time." 

Oliver Scholten, studying computer science at Hull University and paired with Kester Scrope, CEO of Odgers Berndtson, said a good leader “portrays a host of characteristics – compassion is a big one, experience in the field you’re managing is a big one, then stereotypical leadership skills like confidence and charisma.”

Odgers Berndtson has run the CEO for a Day initiative across Europe, Canada and South Africa since 2004, introducing it in some countries – like Spain – in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. Positive feedback from participants has encouraged CEOs and companies to repeat the scheme, whilst many technical students have gone on to pursue corporate careers.

Both in the UK and internationally, students of finance, accounting and management are strongly represented amongst both students and participating CEOs – reflecting a strong trend for senior executives to move from the top finance to chief executive role.

However, amongst UK winners participating in the 2016 UK initiative, both technical and arts subjects are also well represented. “Overall the most successful applicants are strong in attributes like collaboration and sociability and motivated by a strong desire to do good in the world,” said Mark Freebairn, head of the CFO practice at Odgers Berndtson, leading the CEO for a Day initiative in the UK. “This reflects what we’ve found in assessments internationally in over a decade of running the scheme, and suggests that future leaders may look very different from today. Currently, finance is the only executive function reflecting any Millennial attributes, notably greater flexibility and agility.”