Carolyn Fairbairn


Carolyn is an experienced business leader whose responsibilities and achievements span a range of operational and board roles in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, media and banking.

As a McKinsey consultant and partner, she advised companies across the UK on issues of competitiveness and growth and as Director of Strategy and Distribution at the BBC she created and launched Freeview. She also has policy and government experience, and is a strong advocate for UK businesses of all sizes and sectors.

Carolyn has extensive boardroom experience, including as a non-executive director of Lloyds Banking Group, The Vitec Group (a medium-sized photographic and broadcast equipment supplier), global outsourcer Capita, the Competition and Markets Authority and UK Statistics Authority. Between 2008 and 2011, Carolyn was a Non-Executive Director of the Financial Services Authority.

Carolyn was Director of Group Development and Strategy at ITV from 2007-2010. She joined the company at a time of crisis as the advertising market collapsed following the financial crash. She was put in charge of ITV’s emergency cost-reduction programme to cut the company’s cost base by 25%. This enabled ITV to weather the storm and subsequently return to growth.

And as Director of Strategy and Distribution at the BBC, Carolyn ran the BBC’s transmission arm responsible for delivery of the BBC’s services to viewers, including on cable and satellite. She managed a budget of £150 million and negotiated the BBC’s major distribution deals with Sky, Virgin and BT. In 2002/3, she created and launched Freeview, a joint venture between the BBC, Sky and Arqiva, which became one of the UK’s most successful new television services.

Carolyn has spent eight years at as a consultant and then partner at McKinsey & Company where she worked with companies in sectors as diverse as brewing, DIY retailing, computer services, investment management and newspapers, advising on mergers, business expansion, cost control and global competitiveness. Carolyn later became one of the leaders of McKinsey’s UK’s media practice, specialising in digital strategy.

Carolyn also has a strong understanding of Whitehall and Westminster. From 1995-97, she was seconded from McKinsey as a Special Adviser in Number 10’s Policy Unit, where she advised on health and social services.

She began her career as an economist at the World Bank, before joining the Economist magazine as a business and financial journalist.

She read Economics at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, graduating with a double-First (1983). She holds an MBA from the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD) and MA in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania.

Carolyn is married with three children and lives in Hampshire. She is a Trustee of Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Carolyn Fairbairn :

Keynote – What lies ahead for UK business?

Thursday 4 May 2017 10:05 - 10:20

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