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Fairhead named BBC Trust chair

September 1, 2014

By Colin Mann

Rona Fairhead CBE is the Government’s preferred candidate for the BBC Trust Chairman, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid has announced.

The non-executive director of HSBC and PepsiCo has been selected as the Government’s preferred candidate following an open recruitment process, overseen by an independent Public Appointments Assessor.

She will now appear before parliamentary members of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for pre-appointment scrutiny on September 9.

Javid described Fairhead as “an exceptional individual” with a highly impressive career history. “Her experience of working with huge multinational corporations will undoubtedly be a real asset at the BBC Trust. I have no doubt she will provide the strong leadership the position demands and will prove to be a worthy champion of licence fee payers. I am sure that under Rona’s leadership, the BBC will continue to play a central role in informing, educating and entertaining the nation.”

Describing the BBC as “a great British institution packed with talented people”, Fairhead said she was honoured to have the opportunity to be the Chairman of the BBC Trust. “I am under no illusions about the significance and the enormity of the job but I am excited to have the chance to lead the BBC through the coming years.”

If Fairhead’s appointment is ratified, Fairhead will replace Lord Patten, who stood down as BBC Trust Chairman in May this year on health grounds after three years in the position.Fairhead is a former Chairman and CEO of the Financial Times Group, and former non-executive director of the Economist Group.

She was a non-executive member of the board of the Cabinet Office, but stood down after being selected as the preferred candidate for the BBC Trust Chairman. She is also a British Business Ambassador.

The independent public appointments assessor, who has overseen the appointment process, has confirmed he is satisfied that this competition met the requirements of the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies.

Under the terms of the BBC Royal Charter, appointment of the BBC Trust chair and members is made by HM The Queen on recommendation from Ministers (the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, through the Prime Minister).

Fairhead is an independent non-executive director of HSBC Holdings plc and non-executive chairman of HSBC North America Holdings Inc. She is also a non-executive director of PepsiCo Inc.

She served as chairman and chief executive officer of the Financial Times Group for seven years until 2013 and as non-executive director of The Economist Group from 2006 to 2014. She was an executive director of their owners, Pearson plc, from 2002 to 2013, serving as Pearson’s chief financial officer from 2002 to 2006. She was chairman of Interactive Data Corporation (an NYSE-listed company) from 2006 to 2010.

Prior to joining Pearson, Fairhead held a variety of leadership positions at Bombardier Inc., in the Aerospace division, and at Imperial Chemical Industries plc, a specialty chemicals company, where she ultimately served as executive vice president of strategy and group financial control.

Fairhead was awarded a CBE in 2012 and was appointed a British Business Ambassador in 2014.

She has an MA in Law from St Catharine’s College, Cambridge where she is an Honorary Fellow and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Teesside University in 2010.

Names linked with the position included London Olympics 2012 head Lord (Sebastian) Coe, long considered the front-runner, who was said to be the government’s preferred candidate, but decided to concentrate on his current commitments and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) election. Also tipped were Dame Marjorie Scardino, the former chief executive of Pearson and Channel 4 chairman Lord Burns; former Sony Chairman Sir Howard Stringer; Sir Richard Lambert, the former head of the CBI and a former editor of the Financial Times; Lord Myners, the former City minister .

Vice Chairman Diane Coyle, who has been serving as Acting Chairman until a successor is appointed, was another possibility. Another strong potential candidate was Dame Patricia Hodgson, current Chairman of Ofcom.

The BBC Trust sets the strategic direction of the BBC.  It holds the Executive to account for its performance of its functions, and for its compliance with the law, with regulatory requirements, and with the policies, guidelines and codes that iy sets. It sets the Corporation’s objectives – both public service and commercial arms. It formally assess proposals from the BBC to change or to establish new services.

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