John Cridland is definitely a company man. He has been with the CBI for nearly 30 years and has the reputation for being something of a 'backroom fixer': while erstwhile Director General Richard Lambert tours the speaker circuit and hobnobs with captains of industry, Cridland was back at CBI HQ drafting policy documents.
Cridland is now stepping into Lambert's highly polished brogues - but what will this mean for British businesses? Well, Cridland is known to be something of a right-winger. He has previously called for a higher worker ballot threshold to toughen strike laws and has been a vigorous if soft-spoken advocate of the need to reduce corporation tax. Music to the ears of business owners everywhere. But does Cridland have the chutzpah to make his message heard?
A 'softly softly' approach has become standard issue at the CBI. But back in 2000 - 2006, Digby Jones ruled the roost. Compared to the dulcet tones of the new order, Lord Jones was a foghorn. This is the man who announced that his time as junior minister was "one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences" anyone could have. He demanded that half of civil servants be sacked. In short, he was simply marvellous. We were hoping that the new appointment might spark a return to form for the CBI. It is, after all, supposed to be a lobbying body, and no one can lobby in a whisper. It just defeats the onomatopoeia of the thing.
Helen Alexander, CBI President, understands the need for a powerful voice for business. She says: ""With all eyes on the business community to lead our country's economic recovery, the role of CBI Director-General has never been more important. The nomination panel and I were looking for someone with an extraordinary mix of communication, influencing, intellectual and leadership skills."
Alexander seems certain that Cridland is the man for the job: "We wanted someone with a proven track record, a firm understanding of public policy and a passion for business. The candidate also needed a clear vision of how the CBI needs to work with the Government and wider society to achieve growth and economic stability. His motivation, energy and appetite for change meant that John Cridland was, without doubt, the best person for the job."
High praise indeed. And there's no doubt that Cridland, with all his policy experience (he joined the CBI as policy advisor back in 1982), has a very firm grasp of the business landscape. His first press briefing since the appointment was announced is fairly typical: "There are many challenges ahead in getting the economy growing and no one thinks that securing the UK's economic future will be easy. But business people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the job," he says.
"Under my leadership, the CBI will be working to create high-quality, workable solutions that promote competition and allow all businesses, both new and established, to thrive and prosper, serve their customers, and create jobs. I strongly believe that a combination of innovation, dynamism and plain hard graft will help re-build the UK's international reputation and will ensure that the UK is the best place to invest."
This sounds like war-time propaganda. Let's hope it rings true when Cridland assumes his new post in January. Don't forget - it's always the quiet ones.
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