Whoever gains the new post will work alongside the museum's director Dr Robert Anderson. But, crucially, the new managing director could earn more than Dr Anderson and he or she will be in charge of all financial and business matters.
Senior sources say the appointment of a managing director to one of the world's best known museums and Britain's leading tourist attraction has been demanded by Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, in discussions with the museum's chairman, Graham Greene.
It marks something that many in the museum world have long feared - the separation of responsibility for finance and curatorship.
The desire for business expertise is demonstrated by the fact that the job is not being advertised in arts publications but in The Economist. Robert Anderson is on a salary of pounds 81,000. A spokesman for the British Museum said that the new managing director's salary would be arranged "by negotiation" but would be in line with Dr Anderson's salary. However, he did not rule out the possibility that it could be more.
There have been particular worries about the British Museum following a report by a former Treasury official in 1996 which revealed that the museum didn't then have a qualified accountant, and urged that its displays be more eye-catching.
Mark Taylor, director of the Museums' Association, the professional body for museums and their staff, said yesterday: "You don't have to be a football observer to note that having two managers at Liverpool didn't work.
"I personally wouldn't rule out people with non-curatorial skills running museums provided they understand the ethos of the museum. But it is very worrying if it means a shift towards a more commercial attitude, away from the unique selling point of the British Museum which is its collections."Reuse content