Leading businessman and scientist Sir Andrew Mackenzie has been selected as business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s preferred candidate for the chair of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Sir Andrew was chief executive of mining company BHP from 2013 to 2020 and is now company chair of oil and gas multinational Shell. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 2014, and last year was knighted for his services to business, science, technology, and Anglo-Australian relations. He was educated at the University of St Andrews and the University of Bristol and began his career as an academic geochemist.
Subject to a possible pre-appointment hearing by the House of Commons science and technology select committee, Sir Andrew is expected to take up his new post at UKRI this summer and will succeed outgoing chair, Sir John Kingman. He will work alongside UKRI chief executive Dame Ottoline Leyser and chief finance officer Siobhan Peters.
The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored our dependence on research and innovation – Sir Andrew Mackenzie
“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,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “I look forward to working closely with Sir Andrew as we unleash the firepower of UKRI to drive an innovation-led recovery across the United Kingdom.”
Sir Andrew 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.”
This decision is like putting a tobacco industry magnate in charge of health research – Professor Keri Facer
In his new role at the UK’s primary public funding body for research and innovation, Sir Andrew will be responsible for “keeping the UK at the forefront of research and innovation to tackle the biggest industrial and societal challenges facing the world today and to help create the successful British companies of the future”. He will also help to oversee the organisation’s funding programmes and research infrastructure.
Sir Andrew’s background in fossil fuels has raised questions within the research community.
“It is strange that a fossil fuel magnate, with a long history in the extractive industries, would be chosen to head up the funding body responsible for the green innovation and research needed to address the great challenges facing the UK today,” said Keri Facer, a professor of educational and social futures at the University of Bristol, author of a Hepi report on higher education and climate change and, until 2020, Zennström Chair of Climate Change Leadership at The University of Uppsala, Sweden.
“This decision is like putting a tobacco industry magnate in charge of health research. It is almost as though the government doesn’t believe that climate change is happening. I look forward to seeing how the new chair will prioritise green innovation above business as usual.”
UKRI has a budget of £7.9 billion for the 2021/2022 financial year.