UK Chief Executives back 2017 “CEO for a Day” student initiative as global participation nears 1,000

Twenty-one UK chief executives of leading organisations – including Sainsbury’s, Asos, Williams F1, Mumsnet, The Cabinet Office, Domino’s Pizza Group and Getty Images – are backing an initiative giving students personal insight into what it takes to lead a major organisation, and make it to the top of the business world. Odgers Berndtson, a leading global executive search firm, is today revealing the UK line up of companies and top bosses for 2017. This brings to almost 1,000 the number of chief executives and students who will have participated internationally since the firm first introduced the CEO for a Day initiative.

Undergraduate students from all UK universities are eligible to apply, gaining a rare, one-to-one opportunity to shadow the working day of a chief executive with insight into a full range of business challenges. Odgers Berndtson is committed to widening access and opportunities.

J Sainsbury Mike Coupe
Taking part: J Sainsbury CEO, Mike Coupe

“This is about opening doors at companies and top organisations for talented young people who might not otherwise have the chance,” said Kester Scrope, CEO of Odgers Berndtson. “In times of fake news, and with preconceived ideas at large, we, as business leaders, want the young generation to see for themselves what working at the top of an organisation is like, and what businesses can achieve. Then they can reach an informed view about it for themselves.”

Other chief executives said increasing opportunities for the next generation had encouraged them to take part. “Enthusing and inspiring the next generation of leaders is a responsibility, not a choice,” said Stephen Young, CEO of Meggitt, the global engineering group. David Wild, CEO of Domino’s Pizza Group said: “Enabling young people to see first-hand what’s involved in running a business, will appeal to the openness and transparency sought by Millennials,”

Asked about the most pressing challenge facing today’s leaders, this year’s participating CEOs almost all expressed concern about the pace of change impacting their organisations – both short and longer term. “Leading change at any time is hard. But leading perpetual change is the hardest challenge of all,” said Dawn Airey, chief executive of Getty Images. “Living with constant evolution, adapting your own work and helping others do the same is in my view, the challenge of our time,”

Ian Filby, chief executive of furniture maker DFS agreed. “The greatest challenge for today’s business leaders is constantly staying alerted to what’s going on around you. Making sure you’re bringing the outside in and navigating the unknowns. We’re confident in our robust business model and growth strategy but it’s the things we can’t control externally that create most disruption – the weakened market environment triggered by political instability such as Brexit, the general election, hung parliament and so on all take their toll on customer confidence.” Most participating CEOs expressed wider concern about their own ability to keep up with rapid changes in technology and attitudes, with consensus on the need to keep abreast of these. Almost all said they believe rapid change will help to fast-track the next generation of business leaders.

“Almost all industry sectors and companies are in the throes of a massive digital transformation, which is changing what’s required of an effective top leader,” said Mark Freebairn, leading the CEO for a Day initiative in the UK. “We’re expanding CEO for a Day internationally because it enables today’s leaders to give back in a direct and personal way, whilst also challenging them with the unusual experience of sharing a day with an unconnected, ambitious young person.”

Internationally, Odgers Berndtson has been running CEO for a Day across its global network since 2004, with almost 1,000 CEOs and candidates participating so far. Feedback from many of the students last year, participating in the UK and other countries, reflected a strong belief across the younger generation that accelerating change will benefit their careers. Most also commented on the people skills required from top bosses which, in many cases, came as a surprise.

Student applications are currently being assessed, with finalists chosen early autumn, and CEO days to take place later in the year.


Participating CEOs

See the full list of CEOs taking part in 2017

CEOx1Day 2017