Retail chief executives are the most admired in the whole of UK industry, a study by headhunter Whitehead Mann has revealed.

Five of the top eight chief executives nominated by business leaders as the most respected were store group chiefs.

Home Retail chief executive Terry Duddy, Sainsbury’s boss Justin King, Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy and the grocer’s former supremo Lord McLaurin, and M&S executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose received the greatest number of nominations.

Other retailers to make the list of 100 include Carphone Warehouse founder Charles Dunstone, Arcadia owner Sir Philip Green and WHSmith chief executive Kate Swann, who was the only woman in the top 20.

Whitehead Mann’s retail practice head Sally Elliott believed the findings were testament to the retail industry’s quality of leadership.

She said retail’s representation in the list was partly because of the sector’s high profile and economic importance, but added: “It’s also due to the sector’s ability to provide challenges that engage, and therefore attract and retain, top talent.”

Duddy was described by interviewees as a “great marketer” and as “staying ahead of his market in a mature sector”. King was said to have “focused on delivery and delivered”, while Leahy was “clearly the sort of person you would aspire to be, with a tremendous reputation”.

Interviewees for the study were drawn from the elite of business. They included Barclays chairman Marcus Agius, GlaxoSmithKline chairman Sir Chris Gent and Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey.