The Confederation of British Industry has appointed Carolyn Fairbairn, a former head of strategy at the BBC and ITV, as its first female director general.
Fairbairn, 54, will replace John Cridland, who has led the CBI since January 2011, in November.
She began her career as an economist at the World Bank and then worked as a journalist at the Economist and a management consultant at McKinsey & Co.
Fairbairn was also a Downing Street policy adviser from 1995-97 and ITV’s director of strategy between 2007 and 2010.
She spent seven years at the BBC where, as the director of strategy, she helped launch Freeview. Fairbairn quit the BBC in late 2004 to take a year off travelling with her partner, Peter Chittick, who is now her husband, and their children.
Her decision took the BBC by surprise when the broadcaster was in the middle of a tough charter review process. Chittick had just cashed in on the £66m sale of the Hotel Du Vin chain he helped launch 10 years earlier.
Fairbairn was also a non-executive director at the Financial Services Authority for three years from 2008 and worked on the FSA’s separation into two regulators.
The CBI, which is the UK’s main business lobby group, said she was chosen from an initial list of 46 candidates that was whittled down to a shortlist of six.
Cridland was a CBI veteran when he became director general but the organisation has opted for an outsider in Fairbairn. Katja Hall, the CBI’s deputy director general, was thought to be a strong candidate for the job.
Fairbairn will be the first woman to lead the CBI, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The government has tried to encourage greater numbers of women at the top of business and economic life by setting targets for female representation on boards of directors.
Frances O’Grady became the first female general secretary of the Trades Union Congress when she was elected in January 2013.
One of Fairbairn’s main tasks will be to shape the CBI’s view for the coming referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Cridland and Sir Michael Rake, the CBI president, have supported Britain remaining in the EU but have been criticised for representing the view of big companies over smaller businesses.
Fairbairn will also have to steer the CBI’s response to a further round of spending cuts planned by the chancellor, George Osborne. Cridland has broadly supported austerity measures though the CBI has called for more infrastructure investment to support growth.
Rake said: “Carolyn is a remarkable business leader with an impressive background as an economist, journalist, management consultant and policy strategist.
“Carolyn’s CV speaks for itself. Her wealth and breadth of experience will be critical in steering the CBI through choppy political and economic waters, including an EU referendum.”
Fairbairn is a non-executive director at the outsourcing company Capita, Lloyds Banking Group, the manufacturer Vitec, the Competition & Markets Authority and the UK Statistics Authority. She will stand down from these posts before taking up her job at the CBI.
She said: “The debate around Britain’s relationship with the EU and the productivity challenge facing our economy will be two of the defining issues of the next few years, and I greatly look forward to representing the voice of British businesses of all sizes on these questions and many others.”
This article was written by Sean Farrell, for theguardian.com on Monday 29th June 2015 12.37 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010