Over the last decade, the average age of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) in the UK has risen. In 2017, the average age of a UK CEO was 53 years old, compared with 50 years old in 2007. Employers are increasingly recognising the importance that experience and critical leadership skills have in running a successful business, and these skills are often ripest in people over 50.
Think of payments you’ve made over the past week, for example, to your TV and Broadband provider or to an airline for flight tickets – chances are the CEOs of these companies are over 50. We should appreciate the value that over 50s bring to the corporate world by recognizing and celebrating their contributions.
Below, we’ve carefully selected the UK’s top 5 CEOs over 50, giving you a taste of the power that experience can bring to the workplace.
1. Linda Jackson – 59 – CEO, Citroen
Linda Jackson is the current CEO of Citroen; one of the world’s largest car makers. As the first British woman to lead a car company, in 2018, Autocar named Linda as one of the most influential women in motor history.
Linda’s journey to her high-powered job has not always been smooth. In 2014, she lost her husband to cancer only months after she accepted her job as CEO. But, four years on, she is responsible for some of Citroen’s most impressive developments. She has completely changed the way the company thinks about cars to make them more suitable for both women and men. For example, the company have used online female discussion boards to allow women to comment on new car designs and have begun to consider smaller details – e.g. where does a woman hang her handbag?
She’s an extraordinary female role model who worked her way up the motor industry career ladder, starting with stapling invoices as a temporary accounting clerk for Jaguar in 1977. Linda went on to study for an MBA at Warwick Business School, and also played various roles at Rover and Citroen, until in 2014, she became CEO of Citroen.
At 59 years old, Linda’s role as CEO is far from over; she has big plans for Citroen to become one of the world’s top 3 most recommended car brands. Watch this space…
2. Sir Harpal Kumar – 53 – Former CEO of Cancer Research UK
In 2016, Harpal Kumar received a Knighthood for his outstanding contribution to the fight against cancer during his 15-year career as CEO at Cancer Research UK. Some of his most notable achievements include: creating campaigns that highlight the importance of spotting cancer early, the introduction of immunotherapy which works to enable the immune system to fight cancer itself, and updating radiotherapy equipment to make the treatment safer and more effective.
Harpal came from a humble background. His parents were refugees from India who moved to England in search of a better life, where his father took a job sweeping factory floors. Harpal’s journey to the top job at Cancer Research UK involved hard work and persistence; he achieved a Masters Degree from the University of Cambridge before studying for an MBA at Harvard Business School. After graduation, he had various jobs at McKinsey & Co, Atomic Energy Authority, and Papworth Trust.
Amazingly, whilst Harpal was CEO at Cancer Research UK, he was also able to hold down six other jobs (which he still does today), including his job as a Trustee of the Francis Crick Institute and as the Independent Chairman of the Cancer Outcomes Strategy Advisory Group in England.
Although he’s stepped down from his role as CEO, Sir Harpal Kumar’s groundbreaking work will continue to save the lives of thousands of cancer sufferers for years to come.
3. Guy Laurence – 57 – CEO, Premier League Club Chelsea (Former UK CEO, Vodafone)
Guy Laurence has earned the third spot on the UK’s top 5 CEOs over 50 because of his unique way of thinking about work. In February 2018, Guy joined Premier League Club Chelsea as CEO, following his success in the UK CEO role at Vodafone. He joined Vodafone in 2009 and the following year, the phone company made an astounding £5.2bn.
Putting his leadership into action, Guy changed the way that his staff at Vodafone thought and felt about daily working life. His aim was to do away with any rule or convention that is no longer relevant to anyone born after 1980. His first move was to remove offices completely, instead giving each staff member a smartphone and laptop, and allowing them work from home or from the company coffee shop.
Guy also removed all of the normal structures usually present in a working environment, such as dress code, set working hours, and judgements made on attendance, rather than the quality of the work produced. The happiness and productivity of his staff increased, and company earnings soared.
At 57 years old, Guy’s approach to leadership and management at the highest level is proof of his ability to use his knowledge and experience to innovate radically, keeping up with modern workforce trends.
4. Dame Carolyn McCall – 57 – CEO, ITV (Former CEO, Easy Jet)
Dame Carolyn McCall became ITV’s first female CEO in January 2018, after six years as CEO of Easy Jet. She had made some remarkable achievements during her time at Easy Jet, drastically improving the airline’s quality of customer service by focusing more on passengers than planes. When she arrived in 2010, passenger numbers were 49.7 million, rising to 80.2 million by 2017. The same year, Easy Jet’s earnings also rose by 11.5%, to £2.97bn.
As well as being a top boss, Carolyn is also a strong female role model, achieving multiple awards related to her role of CEO at Easy Jet. She was named as one of ‘Britain’s 100 Most Powerful Women’ by Radio 4 in 2013, as Veuve Clicqout’s ‘Business Woman of the Year’ in 2008, and as one of the 5 female CEOs of a FTSE 100 Index company. Carolyn was also appointed a Dame in the 2016 New Year’s Honours for services to the aviation industry.
Carolyn’s background and her route to becoming a top leader has been varied and interesting. The mum of three grew up in India and only moved to the UK in her teens.
Prior to joining Easy Jet, Carolyn held leadership roles at companies such as Lloyd’s TSB, New Look, Tesco, and the Guardian.
The ITV boss appears to be unstoppable as she gets ready to take on media giants Amazon and Netflix in her new role. Stay tuned…
5. Jeremy Darroch – 56 – CEO, Sky
Jeremy Darroch has earned the final spot in the UK’s Top 5 CEOs for his positive contributions to the environment since becoming CEO at Sky in 2007. He has a long history with Sky – he joined them in 2004 after working for DSG Dixons Group, and before that Proctor and Gamble.
Sky is Britain’s largest commercial broadcaster and Jeremy uses it as a platform to spread awareness of environmental issues. Under his leadership, the company have become the first carbon-neutral entertainment company in the UK, reducing the amount of carbon emissions they pump into the atmosphere.
Sky also launched the Sky Ocean Rescue Campaign in January 2017, which aims to encourage people to think about the effect that discarded plastic is having on oceans. Sky have also partnered with the Worldwide Wildlife Fund (for which Jeremy is an ambassador) and have helped saved over a billion trees in the Amazon as a result.
By 2020, Jeremy wants to make sure that Sky no longer use single-use plastic in its operations, products and supply chains. He’s setting the bar high for CEOs of media companies around the world and we can’t wait to see what he does next.
Why not check out our article on the Career Change Ideas for the Over 50s. It’s never too late to make your mark on the world.
Do you know any inspiring business people over 50? Or maybe you have your own story? We’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation over on the Rest Less community forum or leave a comment below.