News Column

Rona Fairhead: chairmanship of BBC Trust part of venerable ascent to the top

September 1, 2014

Josh Halliday, theguardian.com



It was at a conference earlier this summer when the former Financial Times chief executive Rona Fairhead was asked for tips on how to climb the greasy pole of business. Her advice? Keep in touch with previous bosses.

With a formidable CV like hers, spanning more than a decade at the FT owner Pearson and a seat at the government's Cabinet Office board, it is quite possible that Fairhead took advantage of her own advice when positioning herself for the BBC Trust chairmanship.

Confirmed on Sunday as the government's preferred candidate for the role, her formal appointment will cap a distinguished rise to the top.

Fairhead, 53, was chairwoman and chief executive of the Financial Times Group between 2006 and 2013. She left the role last year after being overlooked for the top job at Pearson, following the departure of Dame Marjorie Scardino.

In her six years at the FT group, Fairhead oversaw a number of large sell-offs, including the sale of French newspaper group Les Echos in 2007 for 240m (190m) and the sale in 2010 of Pearson's 61% stake in Interactive Data, a financial market data firm, for $2bn (1.2bn). In 2011, Pearson sold its 50% stake in FTSE International, a stock market indices and data services provider, for 450m.

But her final year at the group was dominated by industry rumours that Pearson was looking to sell the FT. The speculation was only put to rest last February by the new Pearson chief executive, John Fallon.

Towards the end of her time at the FT, Fairhead underwent treatment for breast cancer. Since leaving the group last April taking home a reported 3.1m in salary, compensation and future share awards the work has not stopped. Alongside commitments as non-executive director of HSBC, she sits on the board of drinks conglomerate PepsiCo and has a seat at cabinet minister Francis Maude's board of high-flying business leaders who advise on government strategy. A fortnight ago she was also linked with the vacant Barclays chairmanship.

Before joining Pearson, Fairhead held senior roles at Bombardier, hi-tech weapons company Short Brothers and chemicals firm ICI.

Born in Cumbia in 1961, Fairhead began her education at Yarm grammar school in Stockton-on-Tees, before studying at St Catherine's College, Cambridge, where she picked up a double-first in law while also acting in a light entertainment group and coxing in a rowing eight.

Today Fairhead's hobbies include skiing, scuba diving and flying. A member of Bournemouth Flying club, she is almost certainly the first BBC Trust boss with a pilot's licence useful if she has to make a hasty exit.

Little is known about her politics but her husband, Tom Fairhead, was a Tory councillor for Earl's Court in west London for 16 years until he chose not to seek re-election in 2010. He is an honorary alderman of the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The couple, who have three children, live in Notting Hill, a short walk from the BBC's now-closed television centre at White City.


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Source: Guardian Web


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