MoD science lab launches hunt for new chief exec

Campaign starts three months after former boss Gary Aitkenhead quit to return to private sector
Porton Down Credit: Google Maps

By Jim Dunton

16 Jul 2021

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has kicked off its hunt for a new chief executive, three months after Gary Aitkenhead quit the Ministry of Defence executive agency to return to the private sector.

Dstl is offering £146,000 a year plus a performance bonus worth up to £17,500 to Aitkenhead’s successor. The agency’s job advertisement noted that a reward package worth more could be agreed for an “exceptional candidate”, subject to the nod from HM Treasury and ministerial approval.

Former chief exec Aitkenhead is now senior vice president for Europe and the Middle East at global data-centre operator Equinix. He had a base salary of £140,000-£145,000 and a non-consolidated performance award banded at £30,000-£35,000 according to Dstl’s 2019-2020 annual report and accounts, the most recent currently available.

Dstl is based at Porton Down in Wiltshire. It has more than 4,500 staff, predominantly civil servants who are scientists and engineers, and an annual turnover of “circa £700m”. Last month it announced plans to hire an additional 300 staff – including physicists, scientists, engineers, technologists and leaders over the coming weeks. 

It said the chief executive of the organisation was a “highly visible role” that would “suit an outstanding senior leader who is both experienced and credible at the board level”.

Dstl said the successful candidate did not necessarily need experience of operating in defence and security, but should have a track record of running a large, complex organisation or business unit of similar size, scale, and ambition.

MoD chief operating officer Mike Baker said science and technology had never been more important for the defence sector and the nation. In the candidate pack for the chief-exec job he pointed to the government’s vision for the UK to become a “science and technology superpower” in the recently published Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy.

“Dstl has provided critical support and expertise during some of the most high-profile events the United Kingdom has seen in recent years, including the response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“As chief executive, you will play an invaluable role in contributing to the defence and security of the United Kingdom.”

In addition to possessing proven leadership skills and the ability to “set an inspiring vision and strategy for the future”, Dstl said its next chief exec would need to demonstrate experience of building high-quality organisational capability and driving a culture of diversity, inclusion, innovation and collaboration.

It said the successful candidate would also need “highly developed interpersonal and influencing skills” to use on a range of internal and external stakeholders, including those at the top of government, industry and academia.

Further desirable qualities include a “track record” of leveraging advances in emerging technology areas such as quantum technology, cyber and artificial intelligence.

Applications for the chief exec role are open until 23:55 on 30 August. The recruitment process is being handled by consultants Odgers Berndtson.

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