New CBI boss Carolyn Fairbairn understands what matters in life

After the first demale director-general of the group's comments about black-tie dinners, she will not lack for friends

New Director-General of The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn
New Director-General of The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn

Carolyn Fairbairn, the first female director-general of the Confederation of British Industry in history, has had a torrid baptism in the job. The Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, at a CBI dinner, overshadowed the news of her appointment to attack its pro-EU stance. She had yet to start the role when The Daily Telegraph charged the organisation with fostering “cosy corporatism” and shoring up the status quo in “the interests of a select group of companies”. This, the newspaper said, was “no way to spread the wealth-creating benefits of competition across the UK economy as a whole”.

Ms Fairbairn has moderated the CBI’s Europhile tone and, in this newspaper today, has warm words for George Osborne’s austerity agenda. For the Tories, this may be too little, too late – with her background at The Economist and the BBC (among many other companies), they seem to have marked her down as a bleeding-heart Liberal Democrat. “She seems to miss [the ex-Business Secretary] Vince Cable,” the Telegraph sneered. And Labour under Jeremy Corbyn seems scarcely more enamoured of her: no one from the party bothered to show up for the CBI’s annual conference.

But after her comments today about black-tie dinners, she will not lack for friends – among female British executives, at least. The woman who in 2004 left her job as the BBC’s director of strategy and distribution to travel around the world with her family is clearly blessed with a sense of what really matters in life – not an outstanding trait among the masters and mistresses of the universe. She enhances that reputation today, saying: “I have never been a fan of the business dinner. A lot of women aren’t. They’d rather go home to their families in the evening … Maybe the business dinner is a vestige of old business life.” We applaud this voice of sanity.

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