James shows again how the son also rises in UK plc

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The Independent Online

James Murdoch will be the youngest chief executive of a major publicly listed British company by some distance, but UK boardrooms are becoming more youthful.

In the media sector, even listed companies are often family controlled, leading to members of the family joining the board at a relatively young age. Viscount Rothermere was just 30 in 1998 when, on the death of his father, he became executive chairman of Daily Mail & General Trust, the newspaper group his family controls.

At Independent News & Media, publisher of The Independent, Gavin O'Reilly, the son of executive chairman Sir Anthony O'Reilly, was appointed chief operating officer at the age of 35 in December 2001.

In other sectors too, if you want to make it to the board in your thirties, it certainly helps if your father runs the company. Simon Wolfson was the youngest UK chief executive, at 33, when he was made chief executive of the retailer Next in 1999. At the time his father, Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale was chairman.

At Associated British Foods, George Weston, of the founding family, was appointed (executive) deputy chairman, in 2000, at the age of 36. British Land elevated Nick Ritblat, son of chairman and chief executive John Ritblat, to the board of the property giant in his late twenties, in 1991.

Those who got to the top without family connections include Toby Courtauld, who became chief executive of Great Portland Estates, a sizeable FTSE 250 property business, last year at the age of 34.

In the retail sector, Belinda Earl was 38 when she became chief executive of Debenhams in 1999. And 38-old-year Kate Swann was appointed chief executive of WH Smith this year. Charles Dunstone, co-founder and chief executive of Carphone Warehouse, is only 39.