Business high-flyer quits from top job at the British Museum after just two years

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The Independent Online

Suzanna Taverne, the former investment banker appointed two years ago to reorganise the British Museum, quit yesterday as managing director only days before the £120,000 top job at the museum was to be advertised.

Ms Taverne has been running the museum in tandem with Robert Anderson, who was the sole director before she arrived. The combination of a traditional curator figure, Mr Anderson, and a City figure, Ms Taverne, was heralded as the future for Britain's national museums and galleries.

An ambitious high-flyer and the daughter of the former Labour MP Dick Taverne, she was head-hunted from the Pearson media group to become the first person in the history of the British Museum to hold such a senior post with no museum experience. Before joining Pearson she was at the heart of the coup that ousted the Saatchi brothers from their own advertising empire. She had also worked for the investment bankers Warburg, and was former finance director of The Independent.

The appointment of Ms Taverne came after the 1996 Edwards report, which criticised the museum's management and noted the institution did not employ an accountant. A finance director was appointed and plans were drawn up to appoint a managing director with business sense.

But earlier this year Ms Taverne let it be known she wanted to run the institution singlehandedly when Mr Anderson retired next year.

She has been told the job will not be hers. The trustees are unwilling to entrust the world's most celebrated museum to someone with no curatorial background, whatever her financial acumen. Sources at the museum say the trustees were also unhappy that Ms Taverne had been so transpar-ent in making clear she hoped to be offered the job.

The fact that the trustees are advertising the job in The Economist shows they may still be placing as high a priority on the winning applicant's ability to keep finances in order as on curatorial and museum experience. What is clear is that they have abandoned the experiment of two people running the institution. The advert will be for one person with "academic and managerial experience".

Sir John Boyd was elected chairman-designate of the museum's board of trustees so he could chair the search committee before taking over from Graham Greene as chairman next July. Sir John said: "The trustees are seeking a director who combines cultural authority and managerial capability. We want strong and active leadership together with strategic vision."

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