Mining exec named next chair of research funding body

Sir Andrew Mackenzie will provide "strong, commercially-minded leadership" to UK Research and Innovation, Kwarteng says
Photo: The Royal Society/CC by 3.0

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has chosen a mining executive to be the next “commercially-minded” head of the government’s research funding body.

Sir Andrew Mackenzie, who spent seven years as chief executive of global mining company BHP and is now company chair of the fossil-fuel firm Shell, is the preferred candidate to become chair of UK Research and Innovation.

Mackenzie is an organic geochemist who had an early academic career before spending 22 years at the energy giant BP. He later had senior posts at the mining group Rio Tinto, before moving to BHP.

He is a fellow of the Royal Society, with his nomination in 2014 describing him as “one of the world's most influential applied earth scientists”. He has won awards including the Geological Society of London's 2002 Aberconway Medal for his contributions to understanding of the formation and entrapment of oil, and was knighted last year for services to business, science, technology and UK-Australia relations.

An advert posted in February for the public appointment, which is paid £29,500 a year, said the next UKRI chair would “play an integral role in guiding this young organisation along its path to corporate maturity”.

The umbrella body was formed in April 2018 and brought together the UK’s seven existing research councils, including the Medical Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council; Research England, which provides grant funding to English universities; and the innovation agency Innovate UK.

UKRI distributes some £8bn in public funding for research every year.

The one-day-a-week role includes responsibility for formulating UKRI strategy, working with its chief executive to advise ministers on its priorities and Spending Review allocations, and building relationships with business and academic communities, government departments, other organisations and the public.

The ad called for “strong links” to industry and business, as well as “distinctive leadership skills” and a passion for the role R&D can play in the UK’s economy and society.

Announcing Mackenzie as his preferred candidate to become chair, Kwarteng said: “Sir Andrew’s impressive track record at the top tier of business will offer UKRI the strong, commercially-minded leadership it needs to cement our position as a global science superpower.”

He said the agency’s outgoing inaugural chair, Sir John Kingman, had left behind an “excellent legacy to build upon as we move forward”. Kingman, a former second permanent secretary to the Treasury, is chair of Legal and General and Tesco Bank.

Mackenzie said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored our dependence on research and innovation, and the exceptional contribution the UK has made to solutions the world can embrace.

“Meanwhile we continue to address the enormous challenge of climate change, which will define our generation and the world we leave for our children. I am honoured to be offered the opportunity to help guide the work of UKRI and steward the extraordinary talent available in our universities, research institutions, charities, business and governments across the UK.”

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