Obituary: Dame Helen Alexander, business pioneer who became the first female head of the CBI

Dame Helen Alexander, trailblazing businesswoman. Born: 10 February, 1957. Died: 5 August, 2017 aged 60.

Dame Helen Alexander, a trailblazer for women in business, has died at the age of 60. Picture: PA
Dame Helen Alexander, a trailblazer for women in business, has died at the age of 60. Picture: PA

Dame Helen Alexander was hailed as a trailblazer for women in business, having held a number of prominent directorships and executive roles across the City.

She was most widely known as the first female president of the UK’s biggest business group, having led the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in the shaky years following the financial crisis, from 2009 to 2011.

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Born in 1957, Dame Helen started her career in publishing at Faber & Faber but went on to work at the Economist Group in 1985.

There, she worked her way up from her role as a marketing manager to become managing director of the Economist Intelligence Unit from 1993 until 1997, when she took over as the group’s chief executive.

The Economist saw circulation surge nearly 50 per cent and operating profits rise by a whopping 75 per cent under Dame Helen, who served in the role until 2008.

By 2004, she had been awarded a CBE for services to publishing, and would go on to gain a DBE for services to business in 2011.

Before launching her business career, Dame Helen gained an MA at Oxford and an MBA in INSEAD, setting her up for a professional life that saw her leave a lasting mark on the UK’s business community.

She would go on to serve on the boards of Rolls-Royce, Centrica and Northern Foods, and took up non-executive directorships at the likes of PA Group, BT Group and Huawei UK.

Dame Helen was also chairman of business-to-business events firm UBM from 2012, having been deputy chairman of insurer esure for the three years to 2015, and chairman of the Port of London Authority between 2010 and 2016. Her contribution to the female business community was bolstered through her role as deputy chair of the Hampton Alexander Review, which explored the issue of women’s representation in senior roles in business, published in 2016.