Who is Carolyn Fairbairn? Meet the first female director-general of the CBI

Lauren Fedor
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Carolyn Fairbairn will take up the role as director-general of the CBI in November
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has appointed Carolyn Fairbairn, a former director of strategy at both the BBC and ITV, as its first female director-general.
Fairbairn will take the reins of Britain’s biggest business group from John Cridland later this year, the CBI announced yesterday. Cridland has led the CBI since 2011.
Fairbairn, 54, began her career as an economist at the World Bank before joining the Economist magazine as a journalist. She later worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, and was a member of the policy unit at Number 10 in the 1990s.
Since then, Fairbairn has not been a member of, or donated to, a political party, the CBI said yesterday.
The non-profit business group, which prides itself on being politically independent, came under criticism earlier this year when a frontrunner for its presidency, Paul Walsh, signed a letter along with 100 other business leaders backing Conservative party policies.
Walsh was ultimately overlooked for the job, as the CBI announced earlier this month that Paul Drechsler, chairman of Bibby Group, would succeed BT chairman Sir Mike Rake in the role.
Fairbairn is expected to work closely with Drechsler, lobbying for British businesses in the UK and overseas.
Following her appointment yesterday, Fairbairn said: “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.”
She added: “Now perhaps more than ever, thriving British companies hold the key to the future prosperity of our country.”


Commenting on the appointment of Carolyn Fairbairn as the next director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), outgoing CBI president Sir Mike Rake said: “Carolyn’s CV speaks for itself.” To be sure, the business group’s first female chief has had an impressive, varied career spanning strategy, economics, policy making, management consultancy and journalism.
After earning a double first in economics from Cambridge, she started out as an economist at the World Bank before becoming a journalist for the Economist magazine. Fairbairn eventually moved on to management consulting, spending six years at McKinsey & Company. During that time, she worked in Number 10’s policy unit, advising then-Prime Minister John Major on health and social services.
In the late 1990s, she left management consulting for media, becoming responsible for strategic planning at BBC Worldwide. Fairbairn later returned to McKinsey before taking up the post of director of group development and strategy at ITV. In the wake of the financial crisis, she was a non-executive director of the Financial Services Authority, and has since served in various non-executive positions.
Fairbairn currently holds non-executive positions with Lloyds Banking Group, Capita, Vitec, the Competition and Markets Authority and the UK Statistics Authority, but the CBI said yesterday that she would step down from those positions upon joining the business group.

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