Is the CBI making yet another mistake by bringing back Rain Newton-Smith, its former chief economist, to take over the scandal-hit lobbying group as its next director general? That’s certainly the view from several CBI members who are privately astonished that the board, which today sacked its director general, Tony Danker, over sexual misconduct allegations, has brought back in an insider to sort out the mess.
After eight and a half years at the CBI, Newton-Smith only left recently to take up a new role as managing director of strategy, Strategy and Policy, Sustainability and ESG for Barclays, a job she started last month.
One member said: “This is madness. What the CBI needs is a new broom to clean up the mess and get on with the day to day job of managing the organisation, even if its on an interim basis. The board should have brought in a big-hitter from another trade organisation who knows his or her stuff so they can hit the floor running.”
Another member added: “You need someone there who has no prior connection to the group or its employees. A fresh face. Newton-Smith is not the one to do the job that’s now needed to help rebuild the CBI’s reputation. She’s going to have a difficult task ahead showing that she represents members’ interests and not those of the CBI.”
Danker was fired earlier today after the results of an independent review from law firm Fox Williams which was hired by the CBI to investigate the sexual misconduct complaints against him in March when he stepped down.
However, it’s clear that Danker was shocked to have been sacked – without any redundancy. He tweeted this morning: “I was nevertheless shocked to learn this morning that I had been dismissed from the CBI, instead of being invited to put my position forward as was originally confirmed. Many of the allegations against me have been distorted, but I recognise that I unintentionally made a number of colleagues feel uncomfortable and I am truly sorry about that. I want to wish my former CBI colleagues every success.”
One of the ironies of this sorry episode is that Danker, once a special adviser to the Treasury under Gordon Brown, was previously international director and then chief strategy officer at the Guardian News and Media, owner of the newspaper which first published the allegations against him.
Another three CBI employees have also been suspended pending further inquiries into a number of other ongoing allegations which were made to the board by more than ten CBI female staff, including one of rape at a CBI party. The group is also liaising with the police.
Since the allegations of sexual harassment were made against Danker – and then fresh accusations brought by other staff which emerged last week – the CBI has had to pause all its public events. This followed the decision by Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, to pull out of the CBI’s annual dinner next month because of the allegations.
Both the government and the Labour party have also suspended all engagement with the CBI until these inquiries are complete.
In its statement on Tuesday announcing Danker’s sacking, the CBI said there had been “serious failings” in how it had handled sexual misconduct complaints and it would now begin a “root-and-branch review” of its culture and governance. It has appointed one of its board members, Jill Ader, and recent Global Chair of the leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder to handle the review as well as creating a new “elevated position of Chief People Officer.”
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Hmm. Some might say that new fancy titles are not the answer to sorting out what female employees describe as a deeply “toxic and macho culture” at the very top of the organisation.
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