Press Release

Brexit Requires Visionary CEOs But Investors Are Nervous That Leaders Will Find The UK Less Attractive


December 14, 2018

  • Despite intense short-term pressures, investors see long term vision as the most critical characteristic for CEOs leading the largest UK FTSE companies through Brexit

  • Over half (53%) of investors worry that Brexit will make it harder to attract the best global talent into senior leadership roles

  • The ability to disrupt and challenge business models is now seen as a core leadership requirement for CEOs 

We carried out research among more than 100 institutional investors to assess their views on the impact of Brexit on the leadership requirements of UK companies.  It revealed that investors believe the most important characteristic for the CEOs of the largest 250 companies on the FTSE is a long-term vision to lead their organisations through Brexit.  Nine in ten (93%) institutional investors believe a long-term vision is an important characteristic for leadership in a Brexit UK, far greater than the importance placed on short term action.  

Most investors we spoke to (53%) believe that Brexit will make it harder to attract global talent at CEO and board level. Very few investors (18%) believe that leading a UK company through Brexit will be seen as an attractive career challenge.

The vast majority of investors (86%) believe Brexit will result in a higher turnover at the top of organisations.  They attribute this to the leadership challenges of Brexit, greater shareholder scrutiny and the lure of attractive opportunities outside of the UK.

Disruptive leadership, often associated with high growth digital companies, is now viewed as a core requirement for leaders of the largest 250 companies on the FTSE.  More than three quarters (76%) of investors believe that the ability to disrupt and challenge business models is important. Almost two thirds (62%) believe that resilience is a key management attribute.   

The research reminds us that UK companies are competing for leadership talent in a global market and shows that investors are concerned that the UK may lose some of its appeal to global leaders.  We should not be complacent that the UK will continue to be a magnet for international talent.  Any reluctance of high calibre global leaders to be based here and lead UK companies will be problematic. 

Intense uncertainty in the UK is a very particular challenge for CEOs and boards. The uncertainty of Brexit is layered on top of rapid technology disruption and changing markets. Leaders will need to adapt more than ever before.  Our proprietary framework, Leadership Span, shows that leaders who are able to work across a range of leadership styles will be more effective in unpredictable environments. According to this framework, the strongest global leaders balance 'loud' leadership characteristics, such as disruption, with 'quiet', leadership characteristics such as vulnerability.  These characteristics initially appear contradictory, but leaders who span both will be more successful, which will be vital for the UK in a post-Brexit environment.

Lauren Taylor
Russell Reynolds Associates 
44 (20) 7198 1885