12 to watch in 2012

As the world of big business braces itself for another tumultuous year, these are the 12 rising stars who are set to take the City (and, in one case, Wall Street) by storm. Mark Leftly profiles the soon-to-be big names

Liv Garfield

Chief executive, BT Openreach

Fast-talking, 36-year-old mother of two, Garfield is responsible for BT's "last mile" – the copper wire that links business and homes to the phone network. She has also been charged with connecting UK homes to superfast broadband.

"We have an opportunity to transform how people live their lives; if that doesn't motivate you then nothing will," says the staunch Everton fan, who took over the £5bn-turnover division in April. "Five years from now, we could have 90 per cent of the country fibre-enabled, maybe more."

The Cambridge University graduate describes herself as "a resilient little character". But her heady success for one so young is down to a work ethic that has seen her travel all over the country for six-to-eight roundtables with staff each week.

Those meetings have resulted in a 30-point plan to improve the business, including making sure the senior team follow her lead and get out at least six times a year to "meet with the frontline".

Tom Enders

Chief executive, Airbus

Barring a major shock, Enders should soon be confirmed as chief executive of pan-European aerospace group EADS.

Insiders suggest the board will ratify his position as Louis Gallois' successor in March or April. Enders gave up the co-chief exec role in 2007, but was given Airbus to run to compensate for the political decision to move to one boss.

Alex Vanselow

Outgoing finance director, BHP Billiton

It's a brave man who quits arguably the world's most celebrated mining group after 23 years.

But, with chief exec Marius Kloppers not going anywhere soon, Vanselow leaves in February in search of a top job. His links with the credit markets means he won't be idle for long, with mutterings he could succeed Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American.

Katie Bickerstaffe

Group director marketing, people and property, Dixons Retail

Bickerstaffe is on the verge of landing one of the biggest jobs in UK electricals.

She is one of two internal candidates in the frame to lead Dixon Retail's UK business early in 2012, which will free up the group's chief exec John Browett to focus on strategy. Bickerstaffe played a key role in refreshing the Currys and PC World brands and she is spearheading the cut in its UK stores from 600-plus to about 450 shops.

Nick Cooper

Chief executive, Ophir Energy

Successful flotations were not a feature of 2011, but Lakshmi Mittal-backed Ophir raised £300m on its stock market debut.

Cooper stuck to a realistic price, earning praise from fund managers, sick of companies overvaluing their assets and business models. Ophir's prospects in Africa are already rumoured to have interested BP, unsurprising given that Cooper insists the company's assets could propel it into the FTSE 100.

Simon Dingemans

Finance director, GlaxoSmithKline

Dingemans will leave 2012 as either a hero or villain in the eyes of GSK's institutional investors.

The former Goldman Sachs rainmaker is overseeing the sale of GSK's non-core, over-the-counter healthcare brands and is under pressure to get big money: the cash will be returned to shareholders. The 48-year-old has agreed the $660m sale of North American brands, but shareholders want well over $2bn for what remains. His dealmaking savvy could see him recognised as a chief exec in the making.

Bruno Guillon

Incoming chief executive, Mulberry

Frenchman Guillon joins Mulberry from Hermes in March, and he knows his priority will be to expand the British luxury handbag maker into global markets.

Expectations are high, with analysts talking about Guillon growing revenue from £120m to more than £1bn. The 46-year-old was once international director of LVMH's watch and jewellery division. Luxury brands are all the rage among the elite in the Asia Pacific, so expect Guillon to build on agreements signed by predecessor Godfrey Davis in the region.

Sheryl Sandberg

Chief operating officer, Facebook

Across the Atlantic, one of the most eagerly anticipated listings of any year is expected in 2012: Facebook.

The flotation is expected to value the social media phenomenon at $100bn and will force reclusive founder Mark Zuckerberg into the public more often than he would like. However, Sandberg, the 42-year-old former Google star should be the big winner, having made the operation profitable. Users will look to Zuckerberg; Wall Street to Sandberg.

Ari Mervis

Chief executive, Foster's

Foster's is precious to SABMiller, having spent a cool £6.5bn on the Australian amber nectar in one of 2011's most spectacular deals.

Shortly after getting regulatory approval for the deal in November, SAB replaced Foster's boss John Poellars with 46-year-old Mervis, one of the company's most trusted lieutenants.

For the previous four years, Mervis headed up SAB's Asia empire, a role he retains on top of his responsibility to integrate Foster's with the rest of the $28.3bn-turnover giant.

Nathan Bostock

Head of restructuring and risk, RBS

Already off with stress, Lloyds Banking Group boss Antonio Horta-Osorio's mood surely darkened when Bostock decided to stay at RBS.

The toxic loans specialist changed his mind about heading up Lloyds' wholesale banking in November amid claims, since denied, that RBS stumped up extra cash to keep him. Some analysts have tipped Bostock to succeed the man who recruited him to sort out RBS's bad assets, chief executive Stephen Hester.

Martin Wheatley

Chief executive designate, Financial Conduct Authority

Wheatley, the former head of the Hong Kong stock exchange watchdog, will become arguably the UK's most powerful regulator this year.

The FCA will be one of two successors to the oft-criticised Financial Services Authority. Wheatley's tasks will be to restore confidence in financial services, protect consumers and regulate the retail and wholesale markets. The Prudential Regulation Authority will oversee banks more directly.

Andrew Owens

Chief executive, Greenergy

Greenergy is the UK's least-known big company: it supplies 10bn tonnes of diesel, petrol and biofuel every day, is part-owned by Tesco – also a customer – and has the third-highest revenue among private firms.

In the firm's 20th year, 49-year-old founder Owens is finalising future plans, after speculation that he wants to take it public. Bankers are reviewing options, including building through acquisition or issuing bonds. But staff will be offered share options before the company's year-end in April, suggesting listing is still the preferred choice. "A flotation is a growing-up stepping stone for a business," admits Owens. The problem is that Greenergy runs on thin margins – just £17m profit off a £9.8bn turnover in 2010/11 – so it will struggle to get a strong valuation in a volatile market. "The company is in good shape for public markets, but markets are not in good shape for the company," sighs Owens.

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