Mining executive Mackenzie to be ‘commercially minded’ UKRI chair

Shell chair and former BHP chief executive nominated to succeed Sir John Kingman

June 8, 2021
Andrew Mackenzie

The former chief executive of the world’s biggest mining company has been nominated to be the “commercially minded” chair of the UK’s main research funder.

Sir Andrew Mackenzie has been named the preferred candidate to be the next chair of UK Research and Innovation by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

Sir Andrew was chief executive of BHP – formerly BHP Billiton – between 2013 and 2020. He is now the chair of Shell.

Prior to his time at BHP he worked for BP, including as vice-president for petrochemicals, and for Rio Tinto, including as chief executive of its industrial minerals division.

He began his career as an academic geochemist, working for the Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany, and he has also served as a trustee of the thinktank Demos.

Sir Andrew, whose selection may be subject to a pre-appointment hearing by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, is due to succeed Sir John Kingman, UKRI’s founding chair, over the summer.

Mr Kwarteng said that 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”.

“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,” the minister said.

“I’d also like to thank the outgoing chair, Sir John Kingman, for leaving an excellent legacy to build upon as we move forward.”

Sir Andrew was chief executive of BHP at the time of the Mariana dam disaster in Brazil in 2015, where the collapse of an iron ore tailings dam operated by Samarco, a subsidiary of BHP and Vale, resulted in flooding that overwhelmed downstream villages with toxic mudflow. Nineteen people died, and hundreds were displaced. The following year BHP and Vale agreed a $1.6 billion (£1.1 billion) settlement with the Brazilian authorities over the tragedy.

Commenting on his appointment, Sir Andrew said that he was “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”.

UKRI, with a budget of £7.9 billion for 2021-22, coordinates the activities of the UK’s main research funding councils.

Dame Ottoline Leyser, UKRI’s chief executive, said that Sir Andrew’s “depth of experience, his leadership and his expertise will be a huge benefit to the organisation”.

Sir Andrew’s appointment comes as the UK promises big increases in research spending, with the government pledging to invest £22 billion annually in research and development by 2024.

But UKRI’s budget for this year is down 5 per cent on the previous year, with cuts to research funds supported by the overseas aid budget driving the decline.

A new “high-risk, high-reward” funder, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, is to be set up and will sit outside UKRI, in what some see as a defeat for the umbrella organisation.

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