Meet the new Director General of the CBI

Carolyn Fairbairn has the unenviable/super exciting task of steering the business lobby group through the EU referendum.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 29 Jun 2015

It’s either a nightmare or one of the most exciting gigs around. The person with the task of steering the CBI through the impending EU referendum is Carolyn Fairbairn, whose CV is packed with more big names than London’s Pride parade.

Fairbairn, who will take over as Director General of the business lobby group from John Cridland in November, has a huge range of economic, political and business experience. She started out as an economist at the World Bank and was then a journalist at The Economist, a member of the Downing Street Policy Unit pre-Blair and a consultant at McKinsey for seven years.

She has also been head of strategy for both the BBC and ITV. Most recently, Fairbairn has done the non-executive rounds, as an independent director of Lloyds, outsourcer Capita, the UK Statistics Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority. Phew.

‘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,’ said CBI president Sir Mike Rake, who is being replaced by Paul Dreschler, the chairman of family-owned conglomerate Bibby Line Group.

‘The debate around Britain’s relationship with the European Union 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,’ said Fairbairn, the first woman to hold the CBI top job (they must have been reading MT).

It’s an understatement bland enough to walk the fine line of not offending too many of the CBI’s 190,000 members. Rake and Cridland had been outspokenly pro-EU, but have had to tone down their rhetoric when it became clear businesses weren’t all singing from the same hymn sheet when it came to supporting membership of the single market.

The CBI has been criticised as concentrating on representing the views of big businesses, rather than the medium-sized companies that make up a sizable chunk of its membership. Nonetheless, British business needs a strong voice, which the CBI has been rather lacking in recent years (we here at MT believe that should be a pro-EU voice, although many businesspeople do disagree). Fairbairn’s CV fits the bill, let’s hope her lobbying does too.

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