FCO perm sec Sir Simon McDonald: “Speed is the hardest part of being a leader today: everything moves so fast that there’s too little time for reflection”

Written by Sir Simon McDonald on 30 December 2018 in Feature

With the end of 2018 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2019 – and tell us who would turn on their town’s Christmas lights.

What was your highlight of 2018? The royal wedding – which I watched in Cambodia, along with nearly a quarter of world’s population.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018? Speed. Everything moves so fast that there’s too little time for reflection.

What are the main challenges facing your department in the coming year? Making a success of Brexit.

Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why? Jane Austen (again – she didn’t turn up last year). Although Winchester Cathedral is the burial place of kings and queens, she is the greatest person buried there. We are all proud she now features on £10 notes, and I am pretty confident she would have something memorable to say – even at a humble Christmas tree lighting event!

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Sir Simon McDonald
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Sir Simon McDonald is the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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