Crisis-hit CBI turns to Smith & Nephew’s Soames as next president

Crisis-hit CBI turns to Smith & Nephew’s Soames as next president
  • PublishedDecember 6, 2023

Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson will take over from Brian McBride, the CBI president, at the troubled business lobbying group’s annual meeting next June.

The crisis-hit CBI has turned to Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson to help steer it back from the brink of financial oblivion.

The business lobbying group confirmed a Sky News report on Tuesday that Rupert Soames, the former boss of Aggreko and Serco, has been lined up to succeed Brian McBride as its next president.

Mr Soames will take on the role next year after the CBI’s 2024 annual meeting.

He will join months after the CBI was brought to the verge of collapse after a sexual misconduct scandal which prompted corporate members to desert it in droves.

Smith & Nephew, the FTSE-100 medical devices maker which Mr Soames now chairs, is re-joining the CBI having paused its membership earlier in the year.

Rupert Soames, CEO of Serco Group Plc poses for a photograph at their offices in London, Britain, July 3, 2018
Image:Rupert Soames is pictured in 2018

The group rushed out an announcement following an enquiry by Sky News, claiming it was now “back influencing at the highest levels across the UK again”.

Mr Soames said he was “pleased and honoured to have been nominated to be the next president of the CBI”.

“After a decade of disruption and distraction due to Brexit, COVID, inflation and labour shortages, business and government need to work closely together to deliver a prosperous future where economic growth will lift living standards and sustainably fund the UK’s vital public services.

“The CBI is needed more now than at almost any time in its history, and it will be a privilege to lead the organisation in the coming years.”

Mr Soames’s appointment comes days after Sky News revealed that the CBI had informed members that it may need to renew an emergency funding facility next year.

According to the business lobby group’s annual report and accounts, which was circulated to members late last week, it was able to survive the aftermath of a sexual misconduct scandal “through the backing of key members, the use of reserves, support from creditors and with bank financing”.

“The bank financing is due to terminate on 30 September 2024, after which it is the board’s current intention to look to renew the facility if required.

“The exceptional costs from the past year have now been paid and the organisation has been reshaped so that salary costs are appropriate given the expected level of income.”

At this week’s annual meeting, the CBI will ask members to swallow a 5% rise in fees even after cutting its range of services and closing overseas offices.

Self-styled as “the voice of British business”, the CBI has been slowly rebuilding its reputation, staging a slimmed-down version of its annual conference last month which featured an address by Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor.

The group has been slashing costs by axing a chunk of its workforce and closing most of its overseas offices following several rape allegations against former employees, which triggered an exodus of members including Aviva and John Lewis Partnership.

Tony Danker, its director-general – who was accused of inappropriate behaviour but had nothing to do with the more serious allegations – stepped down in April weeks after being suspended.

The CBI briefly entertained autumn talks about a merger with Make UK, the manufacturers’ body, but these have now been curtailed.


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