Carolyn Fairbairn, 54, who has worked as a journalist, economist and management consultant, will take over from John Cridland in November, the lobby group said yesterday.
She holds a number of non-executive directorships with firms including Capita and Lloyds as well as the Competition and Markets Authority and the UK Statistics Authority.
She will step down from the roles, apart from remaining a trustee of the charity Marie Curie.
Fairbairn is a former director of strategy at both the BBC and ITV and was a member of Number 10’s policy unit, advising on health and social services between 1995 and 1997. There were 46 candidates for the top job, with a final short-list of six.
CBI president Sir Mike Rake said: “Carolyn is a remarkable business leader with an impressive background as an economist, journalist, management consultant and policy strategist.
“Carolyn’s CV speaks for itself. Her wealth and breadth of experience will be critical in steering the CBI through choppy political and economic waters, including an EU referendum. She will take over the reins from John in November and will lead a formidable team at the CBI.”
Fairbairn said: “The CBI has an outstanding track record of championing the conditions that enable British businesses to flourish.
“The debate around Britain’s relationship with the European Union and the productivity challenge facing our economy will be two of the defining issues of the next few years, and I greatly look forward to representing the voice of British businesses of all sizes on these questions and many others.”
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said: “Carolyn Fairbairn has been appointed on her own merits to head the CBI but that shouldn’t stop us warmly welcoming her as its first female director general.”