Insider gets top CBI job

The business organisation has named its deputy director-general as the new chief. But he could be in for a rocky ride.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 13 Dec 2010
The CBI, arguably the UK’s most vocal business organisation, named its new director-general today after Richard Lambert, the current incumbent, said he would be stepping down in July. In line for the top job is John Cridland, who is currently deputy director-general, and has already proved to be a pretty popular choice. But, as Cridland has already pointed out, he’s taking the reins during a ‘critical’ time for British business (as if we hadn’t noticed), so there is likely to be a backlash – not least against the fact that Cridland himself has never had any experience working in business.

Cridland will be taking up the £310,000-a-year post in January, when Lambert steps down at the end of his five-year tenure. The choice has already been applauded by the likes of Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King, who said he is ‘delighted’ with it, and former CBI director-general Lord Digby Jones, who said Cridland’s ‘knowledge, experience, popularity, contacts and prodigious hard work’ will mean the CBI makes an ‘enormous contribution’ to the economy – not to mention the 240,000 businesses the organisation represents (that’s about a third of private sector jobs, since you asked) – in the coming years.

There had apparently been concerns the CBI would bring in someone more gung-ho than Cridland, who has been working for the organisation in various guises since 1982. But Helen Alexander, the CBI’s president, said it wanted someone who had a ‘proven track record, a firm understanding of public policy and a passion for business…. [and] also a clear vision of how the CBI needs to work with Government’. In other words, then, someone who already knows the ropes and won’t shake things up too much.

The organisation is bound to come in for a certain amount of criticism after it emerged that of the 45-strong shortlist, only a handful of the candidates were women. And, while Cridland has been working in business policy for a number of years, he has never actually worked in a business – so some might argue that it’s going to be difficult for him to be able to see issues from a business’ point of view. In fact, they might go as far as to say it could do damage to the organisation’s credibility to have someone who has no experience. And, in his new role, Cridland will need to move away from the mechanics of running the organisation, and toward a leadership role. Can he cast off the deputy’s eye for detail?

All that aside, though, and it’s a fairly obvious choice for the CBI. And Cridland is undoubtedly a safe pair of hands.  

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