THE bosses of Australia's biggest companies are most likely to be men in their 50s who have studied economics, business or engineering, a new survey has found.
The snapshot of the people running the 50 biggest firms on the sharemarket, to be published today, says the typical chief executive is a 53-year-old man who has probably worked his way up within the company.
In a sign of the low number of women in top management jobs, there are only two female chief executives among the 50 bosses included in the list, compiled by Suncorp.
The universities that had educated the highest numbers of chief executives were the University of NSW and Monash University, which were both attended by five of the chief executives, followed by the University of Western Australia.
The undergraduate degrees held by the business elite were mostly in economics, business and engineering, followed by arts. Only four of the bosses had studied degrees in law or medicine.
"If you want to make it to the top of the corporate business ladder a commerce, economics or engineering degree appears to be the most common ticket to success, with the prestige degrees of medicine and law taking a back seat among this group," an executive manager at Suncorp Craig Fenwick said.
While companies defend multimillion-dollar executive pay packets by saying there is a global market for talent, the report said two thirds of the bosses were internal appointments.
The only two female chief executives among the group were Gail Kelly at Westpac, and Kerrie Mather at Sydney Airport.
The latest figures also show the proportion of women who sit on boards of ASX 200 companies is low, at just 15.7 per cent.
About two thirds of the business leaders in the survey were in their 50s, with the chief executive of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, the oldest boss, at 81.
The chief executive of the National Australia Bank, Cameron Clyne, was the youngest, at 44.
Most of the chief executives had also worked overseas at some point in their careers, and one in four had an MBA.