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In-depth: Top 25 business women
How do women get to the top of the male-dominated corporate ladder? Differently from men, according to Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive of Areva, the world’s biggest nuclear energy company. Speaking at last year’s inaugural Women’s Forum - a conference aimed at giving greater voice to women’s views on economic, social and corporate issues - she described how men "return from lunch at 3pm, read L’Equipe [the French sports newspaper], chat in the corridors and then start this contest to be last to leave, to show how important they are. Women do it the other way round: it’s a race to get home by 8 or 8.30pm because the family is waiting."

Steady as she goes

By Andrew Hill. Published: October 6 2006

Yet when they get to the top, Lauvergeon suggested, the differences between men and women are more difficult to detect. She said it was tough to point out clear distinctions in leadership style: "Two individuals, of whichever gender, never lead in the same way."

It is a message that also emerges from this year’s Financial Times/Financial Times Deutschland ranking of Europe’s top women in business - which features the Areva chief at number two. Of course, the ranking is a record of successful women in business. But at this level it is also a gauge of the corporate performance of business leaders who just happen to be female and who are affected by the same influences as all top executives: globalisation, competition, technological change and the swings and roundabouts of mergers and acquisitions.

The wave of M&A in the past two years nearly gave this list a prominent new entrant in the form of Patricia Russo, poised to take the helm of Alcatel Lucent, the transatlantic telecommunications behemoth approved by shareholders last month.

Discussion of the list was dominated by the Russo question. Should one of the US’s most powerful and best-known executives be admitted to the ranking on the strength of her position as chief executive-designate of the merged company? If the deal is successful, Russo will almost certainly be vaulted into the top 25 - as eligibility for the ranking is based on location rather than nationality. But was she already worthy of a place? As one panellist, Evelyne Sevin, senior partner of recruitment consultancy Egon Zehnder International in France, pointed out, the imminent arrival of this American in Paris is already creating waves in the French capital. The merger - essentially an acquisition of Lucent of the US by Alcatel of France - will be a political, cultural and commercial test. Russo will be the person held to account if it goes wrong.

But the panellists decided that the ranking should judge performance, not potential; the decision should be based on a candidate’s record over the preceding year. Russo stayed out. As a result, the 2006 list - at least in its upper ranks - reflects a year of consolidation for many of the best-known and most powerful women in European business. The top four this year are unchanged from 2005 and our top European businesswoman is again Ana Patricia Botin, chairman of the Spanish bank Banesto.

Consistency should be seen as a strength, according to the judges. More than half the 25 women picked for the inaugural ranking in 2004 still make the grade two years later. Those who have dropped out have often left executive positions altogether, as was the case with Sari Baldauf, who topped the first ranking but then left her job as head of Nokia Networks for personal reasons.

Elizabeth Barrett, partner and head of dispute resolution at UK law firm Slaughter and May, and Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson (publisher of the FT) are the only panellists to have sat on the jury for all three rankings. Barrett told her fellow judges during the final discussion of the 2006 ranking: "If we have correctly identified the highest-performing European businesswomen, it would be extremely odd for someone to be in the top five one year and the following year to disappear from the list. We expect our very top women to be consistently high achievers."

Exceptional performance is the main reason why some have risen in the ranking this year, or joined it for the first time. Clara Furse, whose year was dominated by successfully defending the London Stock Exchange from takeover approaches, climbed the list to number six. Annika Falkengren of SEB owed her improved position to her promotion to chief executive of the Swedish financial institution - showing again the panel’s determination that executive power should be the deciding factor.

That also helped explain the arrival of two women appointed to executive positions since last year’s list - Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax, which owns the largest coal-fired power station in Europe, and Ingrid Matthaus-Maier, chief executive of the German state-owned bank KfW. Anke Schaferkordt, head of the RTL television network in Germany, also joined the list, as did Mercedes Erra, the fast-rising star of French advertising agency Euro RSCG. For Germany, the inclusion of Matthaus-Maier and Schaferkordt represents something of a breakthrough. German executives have struggled to merit inclusion in the list since it began in 2004, although many have been considered.

These new faces were enough to knock from the ranking Miuccia Prada, of the eponymous fashion house. Her position has looked precarious since the jury began last year to focus more on women with executive - rather than pure creative - roles.

Christel Bories, president and chief executive of Alcan Packaging, and Gail Rebuck, chairman and chief executive of Random House, the publisher - placed at number 24 and 25 respectively in 2005 - also missed out. Finally, Rose Marie Bravo, who helped turn round the British fashion business Burberry, stepped down this year.

Of those who have slipped down the ranking, Pat O’Driscoll of Northern Foods was the most notable. The chief executive of the British food supplier has been forced to announce radical measures as she tries to turn the company round. She took over in 2004 - winning a place on the inaugural list - but has issued a string of profit warnings since. The panel considered, however, that to eject her would be a sign that she had failed altogether, whereas investors are still waiting to see if she can effect the long-awaited recovery.

After continued concerns in Sweden about whether Cristina Stenbeck, head of the family empire, is wielding real power, she dropped down the list, and the jury declined to include Marina Berlusconi, daughter of the Italian media tycoon and former prime minister, despite her appointment to chair Fininvest, the family holding company.

Inga Beale, the new chief executive of Converium, narrowly missed inclusion. She was appointed to the top job at the Swiss reinsurer in February, but the turnaround at the company is not yet complete. Georgia Garinois-Melenikiotou, one of the top female executives at Johnson & Johnson, was also passed over in favour of women with a more direct reporting line to the chief executive. They - and Patricia Russo - will be among those to watch in the coming year.

Data research by Anne-Britt Dullforce.

The criteria

Candidates can be drawn from European Union member states and official applicant countries, plus Russia, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and the Balkan states. They must be based in Europe, but their nationality is irrelevant. Employees of Pearson and companies in which it has a substantial interest are ineligible. Only those with key operational or senior advisory roles are considered. The most important factors include: the candidate’s seniority in the company, and the size and complexity of the company or division she oversees. Other elements include: the candidate’s influence, contribution to society and significance as a role model for women.

Judging panel

Elizabeth Barrett, partner and head of dispute resolution, Slaughter and May

John Grumbar, chairman and chief executive, Egon Zehnder International

Marjorie Scardino, chief executive, Pearson (publisher of the FT)

Burkhard Schwenker, chief executive, Roland Berger

Evelyne Sevin, senior partner, Egon Zehnder International


Chairman, Banesto

If there was much to admire in Ana Patricia Botin as the highest-ranked businesswoman in Europe last year, there is even more now. Profits are up at Banco Espaonol de Credito (Banesto), the retail bank she heads within the Santander group, and expansion continues.

There is still the question of whether Botin will succeed her 72-year-old father - Emilio Botin, Spain’s most powerful banker - as chairman of the group. His daughter, though, continues studiously to make nothing of it. There is another question that must be familiar to every heir apparent: how much is Botin’s position the result of her birth? Who, and where, would she be if she hadn’t been born into a banking dynasty?

The start of Botin’s career was as unremarkable as that of any other young, aspiring banker - two years of clerical work at J.P. Morgan in New York, after which she was accepted on to their trainee scheme. Working "incredibly long hours", she rose to become the youngest vice-president of her intake.

After seven years at J.P. Morgan, and by now approaching her thirties, Botin joined her father’s company - where, she told the FT, she "had to prove my worth, like everyone else". She was put in charge of investment banking and Latin American expansion, but in 1999 had to resign as part of Santander’s merger deal with Banco Central Hispano Americano - Central Hispano executives baulked at having such a tight unit of Botin power at the helm of Santander.

While out on her own, Botin started a private equity fund and a technology consulting firm. But just two years later her father had seen off his Central Hispano co-chair and regained full control of Santander. He brought Botin back into the fold, appointing her head of Banesto, a retail bank that had been sold to Santander in 1994.

Since her appointment, Botin has worked to expand and secure Banesto’s position as one of Spain’s biggest banks. Currently, she has three main goals. The first is to increase Banesto’s market share in loans to small- and medium-sized businesses - the most promising growth area in Spanish banking - and she travels frequently around the country to win new clients and promote Banesto’s services. Her second goal is to keep the company at the forefront of technological innovation, and the third is to uphold Banesto’s reputation for being autonomous within Santander.


Chief executive, Areva

As the only woman to head a major French company, Lauvergeon is part of the formidable French elite. A graduate of the Ecole Normale Superieure and the Ecole des Mines, she has an advanced degree in physics.

From 1984 until 1995 she worked in various capacities for government energy agencies, and in 1990 was picked by President Mitterrand as his adviser on international economic affairs and foreign trade. He apparently said of her that she knows how to say no and smile at the same time.

On leaving government in 1995 she took her unrivalled contacts book and joined the investment bank Lazard and then on to Alcatel, the telecoms group.

In 1999 she got her first chief executive appointment, at French nuclear fuel suppliers Cogema. Its merger with state-owned reactor maker Framatome created Areva, the world’s largest state-owned nuclear energy group, with 59,000 employees worldwide.

Lauvergeon has two young children, a girl and a boy - and famously was back at her desk 12 days after the birth of her first child.

This year

Lauvergeon was reappointed Areva’s chief executive in June. She has long been preparing for part-privatisation, but Areva’s supervisory board, along with prime minister Dominique de Villepin and finance minister Thierry Breton, shelved her plans at the time of her reappointment because going to market would be against France’s long-term nuclear energy strategy.

This decision dashed Lauvergeon’s hopes of reducing state control in the company but the renewal of her mandate did mean she could see off a proposed merger with turbine manufacturer Alstom.

Areva’s timetable for the next few years includes construction of the first European Pressurised Reactor in Finland for 2009, followed by another in France scheduled for 2012. International expansion into China, the US and India is also on the agenda.


Chief executive, BUPA

Gooding has been running Bupa, Britain’s largest provider of health and care services, since 1998, and this year won a lifetime achievement award from the CBI for her part in broadening women’s opportunities in business.

Gooding says the lack of a structured career path early on in her career has turned out to be an advantage because it helped her gain experience in different fields. "It wasn’t planned... I had to make a lot of sideways moves." She began her career at British Airways as a reservations agent in 1973 and rose to be head of cabin services, looking after 10,000 cabin crew. By 1993 she was director of business units. She left in 1996 to join Bupa.

Gooding also attributes her success to persistence, determination and a genuine passion for her work: "If you have a lot of pressure in your life and are overwhelmed by your workload, you won’t want to carry on unless you love what you do."

Gooding is the mother of two teenagers.

This year

Gooding has presided over the sixth year of successive growth at Bupa, with customers increasing to 8.2 million, and revenue up 8 per cent to ₤3.9bn in 2005. The company employs 42,000 staff in 180 countries. It is a provident, so all surplus is reinvested back in the business. In the past year, ₤150m was paid out on cancer care, ₤117m on hospital, care homes and systems upgrades, and ₤4.7m on charity and community projects.

Gooding is clearly happy where she is:

"I don’t have any career plans apart from continuing to make Bupa successful."


Chairman, Axel Johnson

Ax:son Johnson, born in New York and educated in the US and Sweden, is the fourth generation of the Axel Johnson family to head the business started by her great-grandfather in 1873.

Initially concentrating on coal, steel and shipping, Axel Johnson has diversified into areas including retailing, IT and real estate. It is now a worldwide operation with more than 15,000 employees and subsidiaries in 30 countries.

Ax:son Johnson succeeded her father as chairman in 1982, and runs the company - divided into three independent corporate groups - with her husband, Goran Ennerfelt.

Her values include "doing business in an environmentally correct and sustainable manner" and "being in direct contact with people’s everyday lives". Ax:son Johnson is politically active in Sweden’s liberal party (Folkpartiet) and is a trustee of the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation, which supports independent research into the humanities and social sciences.

This year

Having acquired various companies in 2005, operating profits in the first half of 2006 rose from SKr113m to SKr201m. Sales - mainly due to acquisitions - rose by 51 per cent to SKr8.2bn. The biggest acquisition the company has made so far this year has been 29 per cent of Mekonomen, Scandinavia’s leading auto-parts chain.

Ax:son Johnson describes the steady profit and acquisition-making progress of her company as proof that "we have good, clear concepts and are well liked by our customers".


President of management board, Agora

In the early 1990s, with a psychology PhD and Yale business degree, Rapaczynski left her job with Citibank in New York to join old friends in Poland who were publishing the country’s first independent newspaper.

Gazeta Wyborcza was first published in 1989 and helped the Solidarity movement to victory in the country’s first semi-free elections in 44 years. It has since become Poland’s biggest-circulation quality daily.

Under Rapaczynski’s direction, Agora has also become the biggest media conglomerate in central Europe. As well as owning two national newspapers, 13 magazines and 27 radio stations, Agora has diversified into book publishing and outdoor advertising, and runs one of Poland’s leading internet portals.

This year

Profits leaped from €17.7m in 2004 to €31.6m in 2005, but the past year has proved more troublesome for Rapaczynski.

In February, poor sales forced the closure of Agora’s daily Nowy Dzien (New Day) after just three months. Its launch was a gamble for Agora, as it was pitched between the tabloids and the quality dailies, and Nowy Dzien struggled to find its niche. Rapaczynski, asked about her feelings on the risk that accompanies change, says "recklessness is a very important and positive feature of corporate life. You have to be a little reckless."

In April, Agora was hit again as German media giant Axel Springer launched a new Polish national daily in direct competition with Wyborcza; Agora’s response was to reduce its paper’s cover price. The resulting decrease in revenue, combined with losses from Nowy Dzien, has sent 2006 first-half net profits plunging by 89.6 per cent. Agora’s performance in other areas is still strong, but there is talk that Rapaczynski may be heading back to the US.


Chief executive, London Stock Exchange

Born in Canada to Dutch parents, after an itinerant childhood Furse read economics at the London School of Economics. She started as a derivatives broker, initially trading agricultural futures, joined Phillips and Drew/UBS (now UBS Warburg) in 1983 and became chief executive of Credit Lyonnais Rouse in 1998.

She was appointed the first female chief executive of the London Stock Exchange in 2001. Since then, Furse has steered it through some rocky patches. She took over straight after a failed merger attempt with the Deutsche Borse, and then lost out to to Paris-based rival Euronext in the battle to buy Liffe, the London futures exchange where she was once deputy chairman.

A mother of three, she is said to be disciplined, tenacious and an expert at compartmentalising her life.

This year

Furse sticks to the rule that family holidays are sacrosanct, and not to be interrupted. But fending off a series of proposed takeover attempts has kept her unusually busy in the past 12 months. Macquarie, Euronext and Nasdaq all came courting, and all have been rebuffed. However, Nasdaq bought 25.1 per cent of LSE earlier this year and is now free to bid again.

First-quarter performance revenues increased by 25 per cent to ₤84.3m and it has already been a record year for money raising through IPOs (₤17.8bn so far).

In May, Furse made headlines when she wrote to Russian president Vladimir Putin to warn him of the consequences of barring William Browder, head of activist hedge fund manager Hermitage Capital Management, from entering Russia. Her intervention was unsuccessful, but is an indication of her mettle.


President and chief executive, Nobel Biocare

Canepa was appointed chief executive of Nobel Biocare, the Swiss-Swedish manufacturer of dental implants, in 2001. After business school, she started work in production and book-keeping at Schneider Worldwide, a start-up medical technology company. Eighteen years later, she was its chief executive, and it was worth SKr3bn. Nobel Biocare seems similarly buoyed by her energy; it is the global leader in its field.

In a recent interview with Swiss business magazine Finanz und Wirtschaft, Canepa announced her intention to double revenue within three years.

Famous for her brilliant marketing skills - and her smoking habit - she lives with her husband in Gothenburg and Zurich. In an interview with Metro newspaper in Sweden, she shared a secret of her long-running success: "Life is too short to have a job that you do not like. Find a job that really fascinates you. Then long days do not feel long."

This year

Nobel Biocare dominates a market with huge growth potential. People in the US and Europe are expected to spend vast amounts on cosmetic dental improvements as they age.

Canepa has strengthened links between research and business - she is spearheading Nobel Biocare’s World Tour 2006, which takes in 17 cities worldwide, and showcases the latest information on the company’s surgical innovations with conferences, workshops, hands-on demonstrations, and the occasional party.

Her influence over the company’s product range and marketing continues to pay off - sales for the first half of 2006 were up by 24 per cent on 2005. In April Nobel donated $4.28m to the University of British Columbia to establish the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre.


Chief executive and chairman, Wolters Kluwer

McKinstry graduated in economics from the University of Rhode Island, has an MBA in finance and marketing from Columbia University and is an honorary doctor of law. Following a stint as a management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, she rose to chief executive of CCH Legal Information Services, a US company acquired by Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer in 1996. She has been with the multinational publishing and information services company for more than a decade, excepting a brief period as chief executive of the medical information company SCP Communications.

Her 2003 appointment as chairman and chief executive took her from New York to the company’s Amsterdam headquarters. She says she doesn’t talk to her husband and children about work, but admits she gave her 15-year-old son this career advice: "Focus on a speciality that really interests you, and focus on results. And be aware that many things in life happen by accident. Sometimes you have the luck of being in the right place at the right time."

This year

McKinstry is in the final stages of a three-year programme to restructure WK.

She has centralised operations, focused on strategic acquisitions, reduced staff by 8 per cent (1,800 jobs) and poured €800m into product development and enhancement.

Late last year, McKinstry told Fortune magazine that despite initial investor scepticism and revenue losses, her plans are proving successful overall: "The most important factor was getting people across businesses to work together to build shared services."

Company revenues for the second quarter of 2006 were €916m, compared with E834m for the same period in 2005.


Chairman, Sabanci Holdings

Described as "tough" and "unpretentious", Sabanci is the first woman to head a major Turkish corporation. She began work at her family’s tyre factory in Izmit 28 years ago and now presides over Turkey’s second-biggest business conglomerate, Sabanci Holdings. Its interests include banking, insurance, chemicals and tobacco.

Sabanci has a degree in business administration, and was president of Sabanci’s tyre and tyre reinforcement materials group for five years. She took over as chairman after her uncle Sakip died in 2004. He chose Sabanci as his successor ahead of his brothers and other male family members.

This year

The company plans to invest $3bn in power stations and electricity distribution systems to raise Sabanci’s share of the electricity produced in Turkey from 2 per cent to 10 per cent over the next five years.

Sabanci is confident that "Turkey is starting a new era [of economic growth] and I can see plenty of opportunities ahead." She says her company must lead the way in the energy sector.

She is keenly aware of how much her company’s future hinges on Turkey’s progress to joining the EU. She recently told the Financial Times that Turkey was "on track" to do so in about 10 years.

In a recent speech to students at Sabanci University, where she is chairman of the board of trustees, she encouraged them to "think critically and independently", and be "self-assured, self-aware and purpose-oriented".


President and chief executive, SEB

Falkengren joined the Swedish financial institution SEB as a trainee in 1987 after graduating from the University of Stockholm. She started in trading and capital markets and has moved up through the ranks, including global head of trading and head of merchant banking, before being appointed chief executive last November. She now presides over assets worth SKr1bn and a staff of 20,000.

Her appointment is often portrayed in the Swedish media as an example of the country’s commitment to equality and increasing the presence of women in the boardroom.

This year

SEB posted a 6 per cent increase in second-quarter operating profit this year up from the previous quarter, and 31 per cent up from the same time in 2005.

Falkengren is not entirely satisfied, still seeing a need to increase the bank’s efficiency by integrating operations, particularly IT and other support services. Her chief concerns are reported to be overhauling the bank’s middle management structure and cutting costs.


Chief executive, Trygvesta

Bosse joined the insurance group TrygVesta in 1987. She has been head of claims and human resources director, and became chief executive in 2001. She has a masters degree in law from the University of Copenhagen and management degrees from Insead and the University of Pennsylvania.

In an interview earlier this year, Bosse said she had never had a career plan, and she told the FT that her success can be attributed to her "curiosity to explore new ideas" and "finding inspiration from others". She is very interested in "giving credit to the people that really make the difference day-to-day".

Bosse has four children and relaxes by working on her husband’s farm.

This year

Tryg has been performing robustly under Bosse’s leadership, and is taking steps to extend its reach in Nordic markets. Over the past year, it has moved into the non-life insurance market in Sweden in partnership with Nordic banking and financial services group Nordea Bank. Bosse is aiming for an 8 per cent market share in Sweden by 2012. TrygVesta also intends to start selling commercial insurance in Finland in 2007.


Executive director, Shell Gas and Power

Cook won a scholarship to study chemical engineering at the University of Kansas, but then she came across petroleum engineering, which had "exactly the right combination of math, chemistry, geology, engineering and economics". She was hooked. She has worked for Shell since university. After 18 years in exploration and production in the US, she moved to the Netherlands to be director of strategy and business development. Since 2004 she has been executive director for gas and power.

Her husband gave up his career as a gas trader because Cook’s promotions have taken the family - they have three children - all over the world. Cook acknowledges: "I’ve just been fortunate to have a great husband."

This year

Gas and power is the smallest of the four main businesses in Shell, but Cook oversees operations in 25 countries, and net earnings in 2005 were $1.6bn. Global gas demand is projected to increase by 2.4 per cent per year in the next five years, and Shell is well placed to benefit as it has invested in producing liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is easily distributed.

This year she spearheaded the opening of Qatargas 4, producing approximately 1.4bn cu ft of natural gas per day, most of which is destined for North America.


Vice-chairman, Investment Kinnevik

When Swedish media magnate Jan Stenbeck died in 2002 aged 59, his daughter Cristina was handed control of the family’s empire. Her appointment was greeted with scepticism - how could a 24-year-old, whose experience largely consisted of two years working for Ralph Lauren in New York, run a business that stretched from investment portfolio management to the Metro newspaper group and telecoms?

Since then she has consolidated Kinnevik’s two holding companies into one, Investment Kinnevik. She has also strengthened the boards of both Kinnevik and its media arm, Modern Times Group, by hiring experienced chairmen - Pehr Gyllenhammar, the former chief executive of Volvo, was appointed Kinnevik’s chairman, and David Chance, former chief executive of BSkyB, took the top place at the MTG board.

Stenbeck, who married British millionaire Alex Fitzgibbons last year, avoids interviews. Her challenge now is to consolidate her own reputation by proving that she has - like her father - an eye for both profit and innovation.

This year

For the first six months of 2006, the market value of the group’s listed holdings increased by 13 per cent to SKr 28.7bn, and profit after tax was SKr3.7bn.

Two of Kinnevik’s businesses have been growing particularly strongly in the past 12 months - Millicom and Metro. Millicom, nearly 40 per cent owned by Kinnevik, provides mobile phone services to 10.9 million customers in 17 emerging markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Discussions about selling to China Mobile were shelved in July, which caused surprise, but received support from Stenbeck and Kinnevik, as Millicom’s growth remains impressive. The Metro group publishes 69 free newspapers in 21 countries worldwide.


Vice-chairman, Morgan Stanley

A London-based Bostonian with degrees in history and law, and admitted to the New York Bar in 1984, Fawcett is considered one of the most powerful players in the City. She joined Morgan Stanley in 1987 and in 2002 was appointed vice-chairman. She has been instrumental in developing and implementing the company’s business strategy in Europe.

Fawcett finds time for activities outside banking - she is deputy chairman of the National Portrait Gallery, a member of the council of the University of London, on the board of the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall, a trustee for the Young Foundation, and was chairman of the London International Festival of Theatre.

She was awarded a CBE in 2002 for services to the financial industry.

This year

In June, Fawcett set sail across the Atlantic in a 47ft yacht to raise money for the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer. As the four-person crew set off, Fawcett celebrated by tossing her BlackBerry and mobile phone overboard.

Now back at work, Fawcett recently became a director of the board of Business in the Community, and received an honorary degree from the American University in London.


President, Teliasonera Sweden

Ehrling, whose academic background is in business administration and economics, came to Finnish-Swedish telecoms group TeliaSonera in 2003 after spending 20 years at the state-owned airline SAS.

At SAS, she had risen to deputy chief executive and chief operating officer. At TeliaSonera she is in charge of the Swedish division of the company, with more than 10,000 employees and SKr38.7bn of net sales in 2005.

Sometimes described as the most powerful businesswoman in Sweden, Ehrling strongly believes in taking the time to contemplate and assess her situation: "My present job is incredibly stimulating as it covers both financial issues and people management in a fast-changing technical environment, but occasionally I must mentally remove myself from day-to-day issues to reflect on the big picture, and where the world is going." She spends her free time relaxing with friends and family - she has one grown-up son.

This year

TeliaSonera Sweden saw continued strong growth in subscribers to its mobile and broadband services, but its fixed line business shrunk dramatically. Laying off more than 1,000 employees did not compensate for sales decline, and Ehrling sees her company’s future in its mobile telephone and internet service provider strategies.

According to market data, 54 per cent of Swedish households have broadband access compared with an average of 30 per cent across Europe, and TeliaSonera has 34 per cent of that market. Ehrling has also been lobbying for deregulation of the Swedish telecoms industry, in order to attract more investors and develop infrastructure in rural Sweden.


Chief executive, Drax Power

Thompson has been at the helm of Drax, the UK’s largest coal-fired power station, since last September. Drax provides 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity. Drax chairman Gordon Horsfield said at the time of Thompson’s appointment: "Dorothy has the ambition, drive and detailed sector knowledge to take the business forward."

She has a distinguished background in the industry, having joined Powergen in 1993 as an assistant group treasurer, then moved to Intergen, the power generation subsidiary of Shell and Bechtel, where she rose to become head of its European business.

After graduating from the London School of Economics in 1983, she worked as a banker. She has two teenaged children, and is described by colleagues as being both nurturing and "tough as steel".

This year

Three months after Thompson joined as chief executive, the company floated on the London Stock Exchange and it has now entered the FTSE 100. Thompson played a large part in rejecting takeover bids and getting the company floated. An increase in general electricity prices contributed to excellent revenues at the end of 2005, and Drax’s share price has been rising since; listed at 500p, and has been reaching 885p.

Thompson has faced flak from environmental protesters because of Drax’s carbon dioxide emissions, but she told the FT: "I can see that we were targeted because we are so big, but we are certainly not the worst emitter in the UK."


Chair and chief executive, KFW Bankengruppe

Matthaus-Maier’s background is unique in this list - she has spent the past three decades in politics. A former lawyer and judge, she joined Germany’s Free Democratic Party in the late 1960s after being active in student politics, and in 1976 became a member of the German Bundestag. In 1982, she switched allegiance to the Social Democrats, became deputy chairman of their parliamentary group in charge of finance, and in 1995 joined their executive committee.

In 1999 she resigned from the Bundestag and took a seat on the board of the state-owned banking group KfW Bankengruppe. Her appointment as chief executive (she officially took over on October 1) received nods from Chancellor Angela Merkel and vice-chancellor Franz Muntefering.

She is married to a mathematician and has two children.

This year

In the run-up to becoming head of KfW, the main question surrounding Matthaus-Maier has been how she would deflate the prejudice that, as a politician, she would be out of place in the highest echelons of the banking world.

While her predecessor, Hans Reich, had decades of banking experience, Matthaus-Maier offers a distinctly different approach. One advantage she has is close connections with politicians in Berlin. Commentators consider it likely that she will put an emphasis on appealing to middle-sized businesses (Mittelstand) to take KfW loans, since they are vital to the German economy.

18. SLY BAILEY, 44

Chief executive, Trinity Mirror

Bailey worked as a shop assistant after leaving school, and her first media job was in advertising sales for The Guardian. Her current position at Trinity Mirror comes after a high-flying two decades, which have seen her move up from a junior managerial job at The Independent in 1987 to chief executive at IPC in 1999.

At IPC she played a large part in its ₤1.2bn sale to AOL Time Warner. Her appointment at The Mirror in February 2003 prompted some critics to worry about her limited newspaper experience, but Sir Victor Blank, then Trinity Mirror chairman, felt her ability to build businesses and brands, and to please shareholders, made her an inspired choice to lead Britain’s largest regional newspaper group.

This year

Bailey has cut hundreds of jobs in regional papers - which earned her a vote of no confidence from the National Union of Journalists - and in April she came under scrutiny when she was awarded a 12.9 per cent increase on her ₤620,000 salary when circulation and revenues were falling and hundreds of staff were being made redundant.

A fall in first-half profits - ₤98.1m this year compared with ₤112.5m in the same period last year - has highlighted the need for a strategic review of the ailing Trinity group’s businesses. Selling off titles, including the Daily Mirror, is a possibility. Bailey has said she refuses to "rule anything in or anything out".


Chief executive, Printemps

Since 2001, Danon has overseen the French department store group Printemps, which owns 27 stores. Among the attractions at its flagship store in Paris is the world’s largest beauty department, occupying 4,000 sq m over two floors.

Danon’s background is in science - she graduated from the elite training school Corps des Mines, holds a degree in organic chemistry, and began her career in 1984 at the French Ministry of Industry. She then switched to business, as many French civil servants do, and worked in the chemical industry for Elf and Bostik Findley.

She is married and has two children.

This year

In early August, parent group Pinault Printemps Redoute confirmed the sale of Printemps for €1.075bn to a consortium headed by Italian businessman Maurizio Borletti, who heads retailer La Rinascente, and RREEF, the property fund of Deutsche Bank.

The possibility of branch closures and restructuring following the takeover looms in the air, but recent reports confirm that Danon will keep her position, in charge of more than 5,000 employees and €750m of revenue.


Executive vice-president, BP

Cox joined BP in 1981 after leaving Oxford University with a chemistry degree. Now the most senior woman in the company, she has a strong combination of business skills (including an MBA from Insead) and a broad knowledge of the business.

According to BP’s magazine, she has become "something of a role model when it comes to balancing home and work". She became vice-president of gas, power and renewables in 2004, and gets home in time to put her two children to bed at least three nights a week.

This year

Cox is in charge of strategies to make BP as "great a gas company as it is an oil company". She is responsible for BP’s development of renewable energies, spearheading its initiatives in solar energy.

In 2004 she won the Harper’s Bazaar/Chanel Businesswoman of the Year award, and added to her accolades by winning the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year award in April.

BP chief executive Lord Browne recently announced that he will retire in 2008 after 42 years at the company - Cox may not be one of the frontrunners to replace him, but she is definitely a contender.

21. KATE SWANN, 41

Chief executive, WH Smith

WH Smith, one of the most familiar names on the high street, has lost its way in recent years. Competition from price-slashing supermarkets, online retailers and cheaper bookshops has caused huge problems for the retailer, founded in 1792.

Since 2003, it has been Swann’s mission to reverse the chain’s lagging fortunes. She has a solid retail background - she started her career at Tesco as a marketing executive, before moving on to Homepride Foods, Coca-Cola Schweppes and Dixons. She was managing director of Homebase and Argos before being appointed to WH Smith.

This year

Swann is halfway through a planned three-year turnaround programme for WH Smith, and the demerger of its retail and news distribution businesses went ahead recently. Swann is now head of WH Smith Retail, while Mark Cashmore, previously sales director of its news distribution arm, became chief executive of Smiths News.

With her focus now firmly on retail, Swann aims to develop the WH Smith "travel stores" - those in stations and airports that sell reading matter for a long journey. These stores, rather than high street branches, have proved the most profitable in the past year. Newly separated WH Smith Retail shares have been rising steadily, but Swann’s work is far from done.


Chief executive, Northern Foods

Northern Foods’ fortunes may be ailing, but Pat O’Driscoll knew what she was getting into when she left Shell for her current job in 2004. She moved quickly to close factories, cut jobs and consolidate operations at the chilled food supplier.

At Shell she had been responsible for turning around the retail business as its global strategy vice-president, but O’Driscoll also knew her way around the food world. After graduating from Exeter University, she trained as a chartered accountant, then joined the Marks and Spencer trainee scheme. She has also worked in senior positions at Tesco and Safeway.

This year

Since O’Driscoll took over in 2004, rationalisation has continued. After issuing three profit warnings, the group announced in May that it would sell businesses accounting for 40 per cent of its revenue in order to raise about ₤200m, which will be used to reduce debt and the pension deficit.

In early August it sold its chilled distribution arm for ₤51.2m, and a few weeks later closed its Manchester bakery, with 690 job losses and a ₤12m one-off blow to its interim profits. The slimmed-down Northern Foods intends to focus on brands such as Goodfellas pizza and Fox’s biscuits and the development of "ready-to-cook" products. But pre-tax profit was down from ₤62.4m in 2004-05 to ₤45.1m in 2005-06.


Group MD, TNT Express

Paris-born Lombard trained at Chemical Bank (later taken over by Chase Manhattan). She then worked as an investment banker in New York and Paris, before moving to the French express delivery company Jet Services as its financial adviser. She rose to become managing director, and when TNT bought the company in 1998, Lombard became its head of express business in France.

Since early 2004, she has been group managing director.

In a recent interview Lombard, the mother of two teenagers, highlighted the importance of women with children being treated as equals in the business world. Pointing out the hard work involved in raising children and having a successful career, she argued that women need to insist on having supportive and flexible working environments: "If women are successful in business, they must be so as women, not as a copy of the men."

This year

Lombard is in the spotlight as a result of the sale of TNT’s logistics division, which went ahead in August for €1.25bn.

The onus for the company’s growth now lies much more with her delivery division, and in the next few years she will need to increase its market share against stiff competition from FedEx, UPS and DHL.

She is at the helm of its aggressive global expansion plan, overseeing moves into the Asian express-mail market in China and India. TNT is currently acquiring businesses and building infrastructure in the region - including a road network from Singapore to northern China - and Lombard is optimistic about further expansion.


Chief executive, RTL Television

Schaferkordt began her career at RTL’s owner, the media company Bertelsmann, in 1988. After a year as an executive assistant for sales and planning, she took over the department. She was later put in charge of business affairs at VOX, RTL’s hip young sister channel, which airs documentaries and US sitcoms, and became its chief executive in 1999. In February 2005, she moved back to RTL as deputy chief executive, and in September 2005 she took over the top job.

Schaferkordt’s channel has the highest viewing figures in Germany. Its success can be put down to formats such as Germany’s Pop Idol equivalent, and Wer wird Millionar?

This year

Schaferkordt’s focus is on building audience figures and consolidating RTL Germany’s position. Her astute moves this year include securing the rights to show films made by US studio 20th Century Fox in a deal that allows RTL to screen some films before their cinema release.

Last month she also announced three new niche channels - RTL Living, RTL Passion, and RTL Crime. These will show DIY, cookery and gardening programmes, tear-jerking romances and detective thrillers.

RTL’s audience share dropped slightly in 2005, which was attributed to the unexpected success of soap operas shown on rival channel Sat.1. Both RTL and Sat.1 have recently launched new soap operas giving viewers across the two channels the choice of five soaps each day.


Executive Chairman, Euro RSCG Worldwide

Spanish born, Sorbonne-educated Erra, known for her platinum blonde hair and tireless energy, is one of the most flamboyant and respected executives in France. Previously managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi France, she co-founded advertising agency Euro RSCG in 1994. She is now on the board of directors of its owner, Havas, which appointed her co-chair of RSCG Worldwide last August. She is also president of RSCG France.

Her energetic approach is being met with approval. David Jones, global chief executive of RSCG Worldwide, describes her as "an amazing woman; the person in the media I admire most".

Erra has four children and is prominent in the French media as an advocate of equality and diversity. She believes that women need to "stop underestimating themselves" and have nothing to lose by becoming more "determined and audacious". In 2002 she was elected president of the AACC (French Advertising Agencies Association), the first woman to hold the post.

This year

In April, Erra was named a Chevalier de la legion d’honneur for her contribution to the French economy and to the "evolution of the role of women in French society". Her involvement with creating campaigns for global brands including Volvo, Louis Vuitton, Danone and Pfizer for her agency, the fifth-largest in the world, continues with her customary zeal. New clients include Orange and Disney.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006