CEOs with legal backgrounds

An increasing number of CEOs at top companies have legal backgrounds

There’s no denying that, in the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changing. And in changing times, some do good – just look into the boardrooms of the FTSE 100. According to Reed Smith and KPMG, the proportion of CEOs with a legal background has increased by a whopping 133 per cent since 2002.

This breed of lawyer-turned-leader exists across the pond, too. The number at Fortune 100 companies has risen by 70 per cent, from 10 to 17 over the same 10-year period.

This begs the slightly scary question – is the world being taken over by lawyers? Possibly, says Reed Smith director of learning and development Nigel Spencer.

“The credit crunch has had a big impact on the business environment and understanding the balance between risk and reward is now hugely valued [in business leaders],” he says.

But aren’t lawyers a stuck-in-their-ways sort of bunch?

“The stereotype of lawyers has changed,” says Deepak Malhotra, former general counsel of Constellation Brands. “GCs are at the heart of businesses, lawyers have become leaders and now CEOs are increasingly from a legal background. It’s time to herald the next generation of legal leader.”

One such trailblazer is Misys GC Tom Kilroy, who – as acting CEO last year – navigated the software company through its acquisition by Vista Equity Partners.

Inspiring stuff for anyone with an eye on the CEO prize, a holy grail that is clearly becoming more attainable for those with a legal CV.