Wanted: rising management talent to head major corporations. Candidates must currently hold an officer-level position, be less than 53 years old, and have never been a chief executive of a large company. Likely start date: anytime between now and 2002.

That, in a nutshell, was the assignment John R. Sibbald gave his fellow headhunters. The Chicago executive recruiter polled his colleagues to locate the hottest executives around these days. Call the result a list of America's most-hunted heads, the managers whom recruiters identify as the most likely future CEOs of large U.S. corporations.

The list includes 250 up-and-comers in manufacturing, services, communications, health care, and nonprofits. Sibbald gave BUSINESS WEEK a "short list" of the 50 most-cited executives in manufacturing, services, and communications (table). He figures that most of them will grab the top spot at a major company--not necessarily their current employer--in the next five to eight years.

FAVORITE PICKS. If he's right, then Corporate America's corner office will soon be occupied by a more diverse bunch. The top-50 list includes eight women, such as Merck & Co. CFO Judy C. Lewent, Mattel President Jill E. Barad, and Seagram Beverage Group President Ellen R. Marram. Women also account for 14% of the spots in the full catalog of 250, which will be published in the latest edition of Sibbald's book on headhunters, The New Career Makers. The list also includes a handful of black executives, including Kenneth I. Chenault, president of American Express Travel Related Services; A. Barry Rand, executive vice-president of Xerox Corp.; and Richard D. Nanula, newly named president of Disney Store Worldwide, Walt Disney Co.'s retailing arm. At 34, Nanula is also the youngest on the list, where the average age is 47.

To assemble his collection, Sibbald asked headhunters to identify their personal choices of potential CEOs, either for their current employers or other organizations. More than 600 handed over their favorite picks. To make the full list, a candidate needed six separate nominations. It took eight votes to make the top-50 tally, and the most-cited executive--whom Sibbald won't name--got 14. "This is not exactly a heavyweight prize for accomplishment, but it's an authoritative recommendation in a semi-serious format," says David A. Lord, editor of Executive Recruiter News. "Executive recruiters are good judges of talent."

They're also good judges of the fairly obvious. The list includes some of Corporate America's most familiar names, such as PepsiCo's Roger Enrico, Coca-Cola's M. Douglas Ivester, and RJR Nabisco's H. John Greeniaus. But there are some surprises--chief among them that General Electric Co., which has long been considered a top breeding ground for future chief executives, has just three contenders among the 250. The company boasting the most management talent, according to Sibbald: PepsiCo Inc., which has no fewer than nine up-and-comers.

So, are the phones of executives at Pepsico and other hunting grounds about to start ringing off the hook? "They're going to be approached by a lot more executive recruiters and other employers," says Sibbald. "They're going to be on everybody's call list." And that means their employers may need to work harder to ward off poachers, figures Steven A. Seiden, president of New York-based recruiters Seiden Associates Inc. "It might put boards and CEOs in a more appreciative mood of their in-house talent," he says.

Many of Sibbald's rivals, though, say his list won't have much impact. These prospects, they note, landed on the tally because they're already desirable targets. "These people are probably getting so many calls already they might not even notice the difference," says Lord. Nor are employers likely to see them differently, says Dayton Ogden, CEO of SpencerStuart. "Nobody is going to take more or less account of somebody's ability to run a company based on this book," he says. "It's interesting and it's fun, but I don't think it will have a major impact on anybody's career or on any company's succession plans."

"FOCUSED." The winners of Sibbald's CEO-to-be pageant seem to agree. "It's flattering, but it has very little significance," says D. Travis Engen, 50, executive vice-president of ITT Corp. "Quite frankly, I've been so focused on what's going on inside the company that I didn't have any sense that I'd be visible to that group of people." Engen admits that he already gets frequent calls "generally aimed at filling a job" but shrugs them off. William J. Razzouk, a 47-year-old executive vice-president at Federal Express Corp., was clearly pleased to hear he was included. "Anybody that would tell you that it wouldn't make them feel good to see their name on this list would be lying," he says.

Arthur D. Collins Jr., COO of Medtronic Inc., a maker of cardiovascular devices, chuckled at the news. "I guess first of all I'm surprised and flattered," he says. Collins, 47, came to Medtronic two-and-a-half years ago after working at Abbott Laboratories for 14 years. "I've got a big job to do right now, and I'm not even looking at the future."

Disney's Nanula was also surprised to be on the list. A Harvard University MBA who joined Disney in 1986, he became CFO in 1991 and was recently named president of Walt Disney's 335-store retail operations. Of Sibbald's book, he says: "It sounds like awfully boring reading." But think how much more boring it will be for executives whose names aren't on the list.

                The Top 50 Hot Prospects
      Executive recruiter John Sibbald asked more than 600 colleagues to name the managers most likely to become CEOs. To make this list, an executive needed at least eight nominations.
      
      EXECUTIVE            TITLE              COMPANY
      HERBERT ALLISON      Executive VP       Merrill Lynch
      JILL BARAD           President and COO  Mattel
      BRENDA BARNES        COO                Pepsi-Cola N.A.
      ROBERT BARNUM        President and COO  American Savings Bank
      LARRY BRADY          President          FMC
      DANIEL BURNHAM       President and CEO  AlliedSignal Aerospace
      KENNETH CHENAULT     President          American Express Travel Rel. Svces.
      LEWIS COLEMAN        Vice-Chairman      Bank of America
                           and CFO
      ARTHUR COLLINS       COO                Medtronic
      GARY DICAMILLO       President          Black & Decker Power Tools and Access.
      JOHN EDWARDSON       President          United Airlines
      D. TRAVIS ENGEN      Executive VP       ITT
      ROGER ENRICO         Chairman and CEO   PepsiCo Restaurants International
      LAURA ESTES          Senior VP          Aetna Life Insurance & Annuity
      THOMAS FAULDERS      VP and CFO         Comsat
      LUCIE FJELDSTAD      President and CEO  Fjeldstad International
      CHRISTOPHER GALVIN   President and COO  Motorola
      H. JOHN GREENIAUS    President and CEO  Nabisco Foods
      JANET GURWITCH       Executive VP       Neiman Marcus
      THEODORE HALL        Director           McKinsey & Co.
      FRED HASSAN          Senior VP          American Home Products
      M. DOUGLAS IVESTER   President and COO  Coca-Cola
      DURK JAGER           Executive VP       Procter & Gamble
      LESTER KNIGHT        Executive VP       Baxter International
      SUSAN KRONICK        President and COO  Rich's/Goldsmith's
      RICHARD LAPPIN       President and COO  Farley Industries
      JUDY LEWENT          Senior VP and CFO  Merck
      PAUL LUSTIG          President and CEO  Sara Lee Bakery Worldwide
      ALEX MANDL           Executive VP       AT&T
      PHILIP MARINEAU      President and COO  Quaker Oats Company
      ELLEN MARRAM         President          Seagram Beverage Group
      HAROLD MCGRAW III    President and COO  McGraw-Hill
      MARTIN MCGUIN        Vice-Chairman      Mellon Bank
      JAMES MCNERNEY       President-Asia     General Electric
      LEO MULLIN           President and COO  First Chicago Corp.
      ROBERT NAKASONE      President and COO  Toys `R' Us
      RICHARD NANULA       President          Disney Store Worldwide
      WILLIAM PEREZ        President and COO  S.C. Johnson Consumer Products
      FREDERIC POSES       President          AlliedSignal Engineered Materials
      COURTNEY PRATT       Executive VP       Noranda
      A. BARRY RAND        Executive VP       Xerox
      WILLIAM RAZZOUK      Executive VP       Federal Express
      GARY ROGERS          President and CEO  General Electric Plastics
      STEPHEN SANGER       President          General Mills
      RICHARD SEVCIK       Group GM           Hewlett-Packard Systems Tech. Group
      EUGENE SHANKS JR.    President          Bankers Trust
      KEVIN SHARER         President and COO  Amgen
      CHRISTOPHER SINCLAIR President and CEO  PepsiCo Foods & Beverages
                                              International
      CHRISTOPHER STEFFEN  Senior Executive   VP Citicorp
      RICHARD WAGONER      President-NAO      General Motors
      DATA: JOHN SIBBALD ASSOCIATES INC.
      
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