What glass ceiling?

In a world traditionally dominated by men in grey suits, Rona Fairhead has
made an impression at an early stage in her career by breaking into The Times
Power 100 of the most influential people in business.

The financial director for Pearson is a new entrant at number 87 in the
latest listings. At the age of 44 she is also the youngest woman in the list.

She is also unique in that she forms one half of the FTSE100’s only
all-female finance director and chief executive partnership. They were the first
to achieve that double-act landmark back in 2002.

Her role as non-executive director at HSBC actually lifts her above her boss,
Dame Marjorie Scardino, who, surprisingly, doesn’t feature in this year’s Power
100. As Scardino has topped a list of the world’s most powerful businesswomen in
the past, and been dubbed the ‘first lady of the Footsie’, this is quite an
achievement for her more junior partner.

Fairhead joined Pearson four years ago as deputy finance director, rising to
finance director in June 2002 when John Makinson was named chairman and chief
executive of the company’s Penguin Books division.

She had previously spent six years at ICI, latterly as executive
vice-president, and has also worked in the aerospace industry.

Outside work, she relaxes with dangerous pursuits, including skiing, scuba
diving and flying planes.

Pearson’s recent success was shown when the Financial Times, one of the gems
in the company’s portfolio, announced it was on track to break even this year
after a 6% rise in revenues. This helped Pearson record a 20% increase in
profits in the first nine months of the year.

A few years ago profits suffered as the newspaper made a huge investment in
internet ventures. But now the investment has paid off with contributing
to the company’s commercial success.

Fairhead had to ride out a storm in 2003 when the FT suffered a £15m
operating loss after a big fall in advertising revenue. She stood side by side
with her boss in denying all claims that Pearson would sell its flagship title,
even though it had pushed the company into the red.

Fairhead was quoted as saying: ‘Marjorie says the FT would be sold over her
dead body and she’s still very much alive.’

She hit the headlines last year when her pay packet soared to nearly £1m. Her
salary was £907,000 compared with £493,000 in 2003. The news was surprising
given Pearson’s static financial performance in 2004. It was also reported that
she owned 12,710 shares, worth more than £83,000.

She was one of only three women cutting it as an FD in a FTSE100 company at
the end of 2004. Shell’s FD Judy Boynton had already resigned to take a more
back-seat role. Her resignation was prompted by an oil reserves crisis that
forced the company to downgrade its barrel estimates by four million. Alison
Reed had also left the Marks & Spencer board by then after a management

Fairhead has been rewarded with a place among the elite list of the most
powerful business people in the UK, a place she looks set to consolidate over
the next few years.

Related reading