How is soft power affecting the rising global urban economy?

Global cities, global talent

In a transforming digital world, global cities are in direct competition for talent and business. These cities now need to attract, welcome, retain and export the right talent and skills to ensure sustainable economic growth.

Are London and other global cities well-placed to meet this challenge? We highlight how leaders can take effective steps to build and enable the business arenas of tomorrow.

Is soft power shaping our future global cities?

This study is intended to stimulate the thinking about the way in which soft power has the potential to shape the economic and social progress of global cities. We have used data supplied by BoardEx to understand and quantify the dynamic flows of leadership capital through the top seven global cities:

  1. London
  2. New York
  3. Tokyo
  4. Hong Kong
  5. Paris
  6. Singapore
  7. Sydney

We've investigated the movements of more than 50,000 business and public sector leaders from over 40,000 organisations in 160 countries using observations of where people have been educated, their nationality, gender and the roles they have occupied, as well as the sectors in which they have worked.


Global cities, global talent: London's rising soft power

Understanding global leadership flows

  • Diversity drives economic prosperity in the world’s global cities  

London’s executive alumni, for example, are the most ethnically diverse of the top seven global cities we’ve studied

  • Cross-border flows will sustain growth and employment 

With a continuing skills crunch, global cities will depend increasingly on cross-border flows in the future global economy, especially in terms of higher level cognitive and technical skills

  • Global cities are home to ‘super-connectors’ 

People and organisations whose expansive networks provide spring-boards for future leaders.

Which global city is winning global talent? Hover and click over the cities to see more data.


Total high-skills jobs:1.16 m

Total exec alumni:24,650

Proportion of whom are women:11.9%

Global reach:120 countries



Degrees of separation:2.74


Total high-skills jobs:1.71 m

Total exec alumni:20,153

Proportion of whom are women:10.5%

Global reach:134 countries



Degrees of separation:2.88


Total high-skills jobs:0.76 m

Total exec alumni:3,491

Proportion of whom are women:11.6%

Global reach:79 countries



Degrees of separation:2.42


Total high-skills jobs:0.63 m

Total exec alumni:6,198

Proportion of whom are women:10.5%

Global reach:108 countries



Degrees of separation:2.23


Total high-skills jobs:0.73 m

Total exec alumni:2,627

Proportion of whom are women:11.5%

Global reach:70 countries



Degrees of separation:2.34


Total high-skills jobs:0.57 m

Total exec alumni:1,726

Proportion of whom are women:12.3%

Global reach:57 countries



Degrees of separation:1.91


Total high-skills jobs:N/A

Total exec alumni:3,609

Proportion of whom are women:2.2%

Global reach:55 countries



Degrees of separation:3.10

Sorry New York, London is the world's high skills capital

  • Executives linked to the UK's capital city by education or employment are the most ethically diverse of the seven global cities in our analysis
  • London is home to more than one-third of all European Fortune 500 firms and attracts three times more corporate headquarters than any other city in Europe
  • London has over 1.7million people who are employed in high-skill knowledge based jobs which has grown by 235,000 in two years
  • London has the largest number of top-ranked universities and business schools of any other global city.

In comparison, New York is falling behind.

This is largely due to London's dramatic growth in the computer programming sub-sector, management, scientific and technical consulting services. However, New York has increased employment in financial services, moving ahead of the UK capital. 


London: Key challenges and recommendations



  • Rising inequality 
  • Cost of city living 
  • Lack of flexibility 
  • Complexities of immigration.

Key recommendations

Here are three practical recommendations for city officials, business leaders and educators to implement:

  1. City officials: Develop a 'soft power dashboard' 
  2. Business leaders and educators: Use executives as mentors and businesses at universities
  3. For all: Create new and affordable creative zones.
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