CBI boss Tony Danker ‘shocked’ at firing over misconduct claims

The boss of one of the UK’s largest business groups has been fired over complaints about his behaviour at work.

Tony Danker, who will leave the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) following an investigation over his conduct towards several employees, said he was “shocked” by the sacking.

Three other CBI employees have also been suspended pending a probe into other allegations, the group said.

It is also liaising with the police who are looking into the claims.

Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Waight of the City of London Police said: “We approached the CBI following media reports and our investigations are at a very early stage. It would not be appropriate to comment any further at this time.”

Mr Danker stepped aside in March after the CBI hired law firm Fox Williams to investigate several complaints about him. These included a complaint from a female employee in January and complaints from other members of staff which surfaced in March.

The 51-year-old, who was paid £376,000 by the CBI in 2021, has now been dismissed with immediate effect with no severance pay. He is being replaced by Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI’s former chief economist.

Mr Danker tweeted on Tuesday: “I recognise the intense publicity the CBI has suffered following the revelations of awful events that occurred before my time in office. I was appalled to learn about them for the first time last week.

“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.”

The findings of the investigation into him for now remain unpublished.

Last week, the Guardian newspaper reported sexual misconduct claims against CBI employees, including an allegation of rape at a summer boat party in 2019.

Many of the most serious allegations predate Mr Danker’s time as director-general.

Belfast-born Mr Danker took over as head of the CBI in November 2020. He had previously spent 10 years as a consultant with McKinsey, and worked as a special adviser to the Treasury under Gordon Brown’s government. He has also been international director then chief strategy officer at Guardian News and Media.

In its statement on Tuesday, the CBI said: “Tony Danker is dismissed with immediate effect following the independent investigation into specific complaints of workplace misconduct against him.

“The board wishes to make clear he is not the subject of any of the more recent allegations in The Guardian but has determined that his own conduct fell short of that expected of the director-general.”

The scandals have left the CBI facing its biggest crisis since it was founded in 1965.

Some company executives who are members of the group have described it as an existential crisis for an organisation that represents the interests of some 190,000 businesses across the UK.

The lobby group has already postponed its public events and asked Fox Williams to conduct a separate investigation to the one into Mr Danker.

‘Serious failings’
A Downing Street spokesman said the government would keep its engagement with the CBI on hold while the group continued its investigation, adding: “We continue to expect any allegations to be taken seriously and for appropriate action to be taken in response.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Labour had also cut ties with the CBI for now, calling the allegations “incredibly concerning”.

In its statement, the lobby group said the allegations made in recent weeks had been “devastating” and that there had been “serious failings” in how it had handled sexual misconduct complaints. It said it would now begin a “root-and-branch review” of its culture and governance.

This will look at issues such as how employees raise concerns and processes for escalating complaints.

“It is already clear to all of us that there have been serious failings in how we have acted as an organisation. We must do better, and we must be better,” it said.

Mr Danker’s replacement, Rain Newton-Smith, becomes the second woman to lead the group in its history.

Ms Newton-Smith, who spent her early career as an economist at the Bank of England, left the CBI in March to join Barclays bank as managing director for strategy and policy, sustainability and ESG (environmental, social and governance).

She is well known to CBI staff and members but will face a tough job in reassuring members that the lobby group can effectively represent their interests.

Jürgen Maier, the former UK boss of engineering giant Siemens, said Mr Danker’s sacking should be a “wake up moment” for all business leaders.

Mr Maier, who served on the CBI’s president’s committee until 2019, told Radio 4’s World at One programme: “For any leader this is a wake up moment to make sure that we do root and branch reviews of our organisation and make sure that we’ve got the cultures in place that don’t allow these sorts of behaviours to happen.”

Last week the boss of brewing company Adnams said his firm had considered leaving the CBI following the scandals.

On Tuesday, chief executive Andy Wood said a decision would not be made until the full investigation was complete, but added he was encouraged by the action taken.

“The allegations were very serious and there’s clearly no room for that type of behaviour in any workplace,” he told the BBC.

“So it was right that we reviewed [our membership], but it’s also right we give the organisation a chance to put its house back in order.”

The CBI lobbies politicians on firms’ behalf to make policies that benefit UK businesses. It also hosts regular networking events for business leaders, with the UK chancellor typically giving the keynote speech at its annual dinner.

According its most recently published accounts, £22m of its £25m income in 2021 came from membership fees.