When Richard Lambert took over as director-general of the CBI in 2006, not everyone was convinced he had what it took to succeed the high-profile Digby (now Lord) Jones. But although his style is very different from his exuberant predecessor, he was clearly an inspired choice: during the financial crisis, the ex-FT editor's gravitas and intellectual heft undoubtedly boosted the CBI's reputation and furthered its policy aims, particularly with the new Government in place.
The announcement that he will stand down next year comes as a bit of a surprise, particularly as he says he has ‘no definite plans’ for the future. But here at MT we think a government post would be a natural move.
He's been widely praised for the job he's done at the CBI: more considered than the voluble Jones, he's nonetheless managed to keep the CBI's profile up whilst also boosting its credibility thanks to thoughtful contributions to the post-crash debate.
He's also clearly influenced the policy of the new Government; George Osborne says Lambert was his first phone call when he got the job as Chancellor. And although CBI D-Gs are appointed for a five-year term, his predecessor had set a precedent by staying on for a double shift. Many thought Lambert might do the same.
However, he said this morning it was the 'right time in the political and economic cycle' to hand over the reins. And he's clearly right that fresh challenges await in the coming years. 'We've been through a period of government spending as the driver, now it's the economy and trade,' he told MT in last month's big interview.
Which means creating a business-friendly environment: 'If we say we will treat big companies harshly and we're hopeless, then this will not be a place where businesses will want to come and where their employees will want to work.' So his successor will still have plenty on his to-do list when he takes office.
But what next for Lambert? Well, although he insists he has no party affiliation (despite being the first FT editor to come out for Labour), he's a self-confessed politics wonk, and on issues like the deficit reduction and business taxation, he's clearly on the same page as the new Government.
He also has strong views on what our top priorities should be: energy security, bank lending, and public sector reform (as well as boosting science teaching).
In other words he's just the sort of person business needs to be setting the setting policy agenda in Whitehall. Time for another Downing Street phone call, and it should come from Number 10 this time…
In today's bulletin:
Lambert to leave CBI in 2011 (whence Government?)
Government commission calls for new Green Investment Bank
New sop to China in Google censorship row
Don't expect so much from the board, says Northern Rock chairman