Former Standard Life boss to lead Edinburgh International Festival recovery efforts

The Edinburgh International Festival has appointed ex-Standard Life Aberdeen boss Keith Skeoch as a new figurehead to lead its recovery from the pandemic.

The Edinburgh International Festival's headquarters at The Hub on the Royal Mile. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Mr Skeoch, who was chief executive of the fund managers until the autumn, will chair the board of the festival as it reboots this summer following its Covid-enforced cancellation in 2020.

The 64-year-old Yorkshireman will also be at the helm for the 75th anniversary of the event, which was instigated in the aftermath of the Second World War.

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He said he would be leading the board and the festival “through a period of significant change” as the event emerged from the pandemic.

Keith Skeoch stood down as Standard Life chief executive in the autumn after five years in the role. Picture: Graham Flack

Mr Skeoch, who is part of an internal EIF diversity and inclusion working group, pledged to “strengthen” the festival’s links with both the international and local arts community in the next few years.

Mr Skeoch, who was one of the key figures behind the £11 billion merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017, left his role as chief executive last September as part of a management overhaul. He was chief executive of Standard Life when it struck a major sponsorship deal with the EIF in 2015.

The new company’s asset management arm, Aberdeen Standard Investments, is still one of the festival’s main corporate backers. Mr Skeoch is also still chair of the research institute at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

An official announcement from the festival hailed Mr Skeoch, who has been on the EIF board since 2019, as “a highly respected industry leader with deep expertise in the financial sector, public policy, regulatory affairs, and purpose led organisational change.”

It said Mr Skeoch was “invested in diversity and inclusion, mentoring female, and minority ethnic executive leaders to support their development across different sectors.”

He has been appointed weeks after another financial heavyweight, Benny Higgins, the former Tesco Bank chief executive and an adviser to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, was revealed as the new chair of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

Leonie Bell, the director of V&A Dundee, who sits on the EIF board and chaired its nominations committee, said: “Keith’s passion for and understanding of the festival spirit, its rich history and its role in Edinburgh and Scotland’s recovery is unrivalled.

"His experience in leadership and navigating organisational transformation is matched with a deep understanding of the significance of the current moment, and what lies ahead, for the festival, society and the arts at large.

"He steps up to lead an ambitious and diverse board that is enormously invested in the festival’s local relevance, national role and international success.”

Mr Skeoch said: “It is an honour to lead such a capable board and a talented organisation through a period of significant change as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I've been connected to the festival both personally and professionally for many years.

"The next few years will offer a much-needed opportunity for us to strengthen the role that the festival plays both within the

international and local arts community as we recover from the pandemic.”

Mr Skeoch will take over as chair of the EIF board in June from Niall Lothian, a former professor at Heriot Watt University’s business school and a past President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, who has held the post for the last four years.

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