Talent apart, there are other key factors to success, such as being first born or being a single child, suggests Simon Howard
Margery Scardino, chief executive of Pearson, tells a great tale of her first non-executive board appointment. Having been invited to join the board of a firm in the American Mid West, she attended her first board meeting.
"My fellow directors were all white, mid-American males," she says. "At the end of the meeting the chairman said he hoped I hadn't felt too out of place.
"Why no, I assured him, I'm used to often being the only woman. Woman?' he said why no, you're our first Democrat'."
Of course, as a woman, and perhaps a Democrat, Scardino is something of an exception in the ranks of FTSE 100 company CEOs, but ­ and here comes the fascinating fact ­ as with a disproportionate number of other high achievers, she also happens to be the first born.
Believe it or not, studies have found that birth position, height, religion and childhood experiences can all influence your career success.
For a start, high achievers in one study tended to be the first born or only children.

Eldest in the majority
Now I must declare an interest here. As the first born myself, I'd always believed this to be true. What's more I once sat on the board of a company where six out of seven of us were the eldest offspring, and my two current business partners are the first born too. Coincidence?
Other studies have shown that achievers also often suffer isolation or loneliness in childhood, and in some cases abuse. Winston Churchill (an eldest son) wrote on the subject: "Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong." And it has been found that a disproportionate number of high achievers lost a parent in childhood ­ three times greater than the population as a whole.
Perhaps more contentiously, research into religious background found that those with a Catholic education were under-represented while those from a Jewish background were over-represented.
Perhaps not surprisingly, high achievers also tend to come from predominantly middle-class homes, with it being more than likely that one or both parents come from the professions (Richard Branson's father was an accountant).
However, thankfully, no link has been found between talent and family wealth ­ money (as we know) can't buy brains, just influence.

Size matters
But your background is not the only influence; size can come into it too. I was once at a conference of Europe's leading head-hunters. At the drinks reception I realised there was something out of the ordinary about the gathering.
Now, at 6' 2" I consider myself of comfortable height ­ nothing extraordinary .
But it dawned on me that in this room the majority of people were taller, and I was having to look up to (never a good idea with head-hunters) most of my fellow drinkers. So it may come as no surprise that studies have found that your height, too, can influence earnings potential and career success.
The University of Pittsburgh tracked final year undergraduates and found those who were 6'2" or taller got starting salaries 12% higher than their vertically challenged rivals, and these differences widened after two years of work.
A different survey suggests about 90% of chief executives are of above-average height, while another found senior civil servants tended to be taller than their more junior counterparts.
Perhaps most concerning was a study showing recruitment consultants selected the taller of two evenly matched candidates 72% of the time.
I'll leave you with one last thought: think back to your schooldays and to that one person who always came top in everything. Now think on to today and ask yourself what happened in later life to that one genius who was always top.
Happily, the chances (overwhelmingly) are that many other people in that class have enjoyed greater career success. That's because talent has many dimensions and academic brilliance is not the greatest indicator ­ but I'll leave you to decide whether being tall, or the first born, has anything to do with it either.

n Simon Howard is a founder of Work Communications and writes the Jobfile column for The Sunday Times.