Britain’s biggest business lobbying group is kicking off the search for its next chief, days before a general election that is likely to have profound implications for the country’s economic future.
Daily Week News has learnt that the CBI, which speaks on behalf of 190,000 companies employing millions of people, has hired Russell Reynolds Associates, the search firm, to help identify a successor to Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, its director-general.
The appointment of headhunters comes just under 12 months before Dame Carolyn’s five-year term expires.
It throws open the race for arguably the most high-profile job in British business, and comes at a time of intense strain between the private sector and both the Conservatives and Labour.
Dame Carolyn, a former BBC executive and one-time journalist for The Economist, took up the role in November 2015, replacing John Cridland.
CBI staff are understood to have been briefed that the search was getting under way by Dame Carolyn on Wednesday morning.
The job is expected to be publicly advertised next week, with an appointment expected during the spring.
A number of senior CBI figures, such as Josh Hardie, the deputy director-general, will be seen as credible candidates to succeed her, although it is unclear if he intends to apply for the role.
It is also likely to draw applications from heavyweights in corporate and policy-focused positions.
Current CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie could be among the contenders
An insider said the beginning of a succession process had been communicated to CBI employees in order to keep them informed, but emphasised that it did not indicate any change in the pace or direction of the lobbying group’s work.
John Allan, the CBI’s president, and his colleagues on the group’s board will be responsible for choosing the next director-general.
Lord Bilimoria, the crossbench peer who is expected to succeed Mr Allan next year, is also expected to influence the decision.
The outcome of the general election will play a critical role in shaping the CBI’s agenda under Dame Carolyn’s successor.
“I cannot remember a more frustrating time in business, and I’m talking decades,” she told the Financial Times ahead of the CBI’s annual conference last month.
She added that the next government would need to “reset” its relationship with the private sector, describing 2020 as “the most important year in a generation”.
Dame Carolyn is understood to have not given a thought to her next role beyond the CBI
An outright Tory victory next week would return the spotlight to the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, with a UK-European trade deal widely regarded as impossible to achieve within 12 months of Boris Johnson’s January 31 deadline for leaving the EU.
Dame Carolyn has been vocal since the 2016 referendum in urging the government to rule out leaving the EU without a deal.
Under Mr Johnson’s premiership, the Conservatives have sought to rebuild bridges with the private sector that were damaged by his utterance of an expletive in connection with their interests.
If Labour wins a majority next week, Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to implement plans to nationalise a swathe of British industry, including energy suppliers, water companies and Royal Mail.
The CBI has vigorously opposed the plans, although it insists that it shares many of Labour’s objectives, such as reducing income inequality, improving the UK’s skills base and clamping down on misconduct by errant employers.
A source close to Dame Carolyn said she had given little thought to her career after her CBI term expires, adding: “She is laser-focused on a critical 12 months for the economy and the country.”
A former member of the 10 Downing Street policy unit, she has also been a board member of companies including Capita and Lloyds Banking Group.
The CBI declined to comment.