Too many young people were being turned off the world of work by placements which often amounted to "shovelling paper in the trash can or shredding machine", said Richard Handover.
Mr Handover, chief executive of WH Smith and chair of education at Business in the Community, admitted his own company was not blameless. He called on the Government to produce guidelines for firms.
Mr Handover told a London conference on business-education links organised by BiC: "The vast majority of students going on work experience have a pretty grim time.
"They do not experience work as we want them to experience it. It's a real challenge for the business community to provide serious opportunities for children to engage in a positive way with what work feels like.
"It's not just shoving paper in a trash can or a shredding machine, which is what frequently happens."
Mr Handover also attacked as "pretty bloody pathetic" the fact that only 5,000 school managers were being mentored in leadership skills by business people. The National College for School Leadership believes 100,000 can benefit from such programmes.
School standards minister David Miliband admitted later that there was a "mixed" picture nationally.
He told the conference at a London comprehensive that too many young people, especially boys, in the first three secondary years were bored.
Some 90 per cent of those achieving level 6 in key stage 3 tests at 14 later gained five good GCSEs. Among those achieving level 4, the figure was less than 10 per cent.
Mr Miliband said: "Boredom is the recruiting sergeant for disaffection, truancy and bad behaviour."
Teachers should promote active learning, he said, adding: "If education seems simply about the notes of the teacher being passed to the notebook of the student without going through the mind of the student then it really does not achieve anything."