Women to watch in business and economic policy in 2022

While women remain under-represented at the very top, the Business desk casts its eye over the biggest hitters

Last modified on Sat 1 Jan 2022 03.03 EST

Rachel Reeves

Luck plays a big part in politics and the shadow chancellor took full advantage of her good fortune when Keir Starmer tested positive for Covid just before the October 2021 budget. According to parliamentary tradition, the leader of the opposition responds to the chancellor’s budget speech, but Starmer’s absence meant Reeves stepped in and, by general consent, delivered a polished reply to Rishi Sunak.

No single speech, no matter how widely praised, will be enough to revive Labour’s fortunes after four successive election defeats, and 2022 will be a crucial year for the party and for Reeves. Although the government has been floundering, the message from byelections, opinion polls and focus groups is that the public still have their doubts about Labour.

The former Bank of England economist’s task as shadow chancellor is to come up with an approach to running the economy that is radical enough to be eye-catching yet also reassuring. She will need to do more than attack the Tories for higher taxes and rising inflation: she will need to start fleshing out Labour’s alternative. Larry Elliott

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The task facing the World Trade Organization’s director general over the next 12 months is simple: to save it from irrelevance or – even worse – from falling apart completely,

When Okonjo-Iweala was appointed last year, much was made of her being the first woman and first African in the role, but it was her reputation as a political operator that decided the contest in her favour.

She will need skills honed as finance minister in her native Nigeria and during 25 years spent at the World Bank to navigate her way through three big issues facing the WTO.

The immediate task is to find agreement to waive patent rights on Covid vaccines so that developing countries can produce their own treatments for the pandemic. Success there would enhance Okonjo-Iweala’s reputation as a political fixer and give her a better chance of resolving two longer-running issues.

When it was created in 1995, the WTO had two core functions: to deliver multilateral trade deals and to settle trade disputes between member states. For the past few years it has struggled to do either under a succession of technocratic leaders. The next year will show whether Okonjo-Iweala can do better. LE

Kristalina Georgieva

When she was selected to succeed Christine Lagarde as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Georgieva was seen as a safe pair of hands, but it hasn’t quite turned out that way.

She has become the latest occupant of her office to be afflicted by the curse of Washington’s 19th Street, the home of the IMF. Like Lagarde and her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Georgieva has been touched by scandal and only just clung on to her job last year.

The row over whether she tampered with a report to give a more favourable impression of China during her previous job at the World Bank was a distraction the IMF could have done without as it sought to deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic.

A slowing global recovery, upward pressure on inflation caused by supply bottlenecks, the threat of financial crisis in two of the bigger middle-income countries – Turkey and Argentina – and the buildup of worrying levels of debt in many low-income states are all pressing issues. Georgieva will have her hands full in 2022 and must show she has put her personal troubles behind her. LE

Emma Walmsley

The chief executive of GSK was masterminding a bold revamp of Britain’s second-biggest drugmaker when the New York activist hedge fund Elliott Management emerged on the shareholder register in April. Since then, Elliott has kept Walmsley – a former L’Oréal executive who took the helm at GSK in spring 2017 – on her toes. GSK has firmly resisted the hedge fund’s public demands that she reapply for her job before the demerger of its consumer healthcare division planned for the middle of next year.

Walmsley has stuck to her plans, and has received a boost lately from a spate of good news. GSK’s long-acting HIV treatment Vocabria, which replaces daily tablets with an injection every two months, was last month recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which decides which drugs are available on the NHS. The company has also agreed a $1bn (£740m) contract with the US government to provide its Covid-19 treatment Sotrovimab, which has been shown to reduce hospitalisation and deaths by 79%.

Yet Walmsley probably needs more successes in the drugs pipeline to keep Elliott at bay and to prove to other investors that GSK’s turnaround is under way. It will be a tense six months until the split of the business is complete. Julia Kollewe

Sharon White

The chair of the John Lewis Partnership has been in her post for less than two years but has already caused quite a stir. The former Ofcom boss has already closed 16 loss-making John Lewis branches, including major Birmingham and Sheffield outlets, cut thousands of jobs and shelved the annual staff bonus for 2020. The staff-owned enterprise’s “partners” are now waiting to see if that bonus can be restored through stronger online sales and new avenues of business including financial services, building homes for rent above some stores and widening distribution with outlets on local high streets.

White is betting that retail alone will not deliver the kind of profit margins capable of keeping staff well remunerated, but there is a fear that her team’s new ideas are riskier bets than shops and could be a distraction.

Meanwhile, back at the retail coalface there are plenty of challenges ahead. John Lewis, under attack from cheaper rivals, is expected to ditch the brand’s “never knowingly undersold” policy – a key part of its pitch to shoppers for almost a century. It’s not clear how shoppers will react. The first step towards that aim was the introduction of the cheaper Anyday range, which some see as a misstep downmarket and others as vital in recalibrating its image for younger shoppers.

Waitrose is also facing tricky times. Having cut ties with the online specialist Ocado, giving new life to Marks & Spencer, the supermarket faces a battalion of cheaper rivals during a period of high inflation. Finding cash to expand its newly independent online business could be a challenge. Sarah Butler

Alex Mahon

The chief executive of Channel 4 faces the biggest challenge of her tenure this year when the government’s push to privatise the broadcaster comes to a head.

Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, will publish her final decision on whether to sell off Channel 4 in the new year, dampening its 40th anniversary of being set up as a publicly owned, commercially funded alternative to the BBC and ITV.

Mahon has her work cut out to fend off what looks to be a political fait accompli, despite widespread criticism that any new owner would have to make large cuts to its programming budget and scrap much of its commercially unattractive content to boost profits.

But Mahon may yet win the day, with Channel 4 having survived about half a dozen attempts to push the privatisation agenda over the years. The most serious came under David Cameron’s government in 2016. Against what seemed insurmountable odds the broadcaster survived, with the government able to save face in a “levelling up” deal that has resulted in significant operations and more than a third of staff moving out of London, as well as the opening of a new national headquarters in Leeds and creative hubs in Bristol and Glasgow.

Mahon appears to have no such sweeping strategy changes to offer that might appease ministers this time around. However, with mounting opposition from TV producers in the nations and regions arguing that privatisation is diametrically opposed to the government’s agenda of spreading wealth across the country, the battle is not over yet. Mark Sweney

Debbie Crosbie

Crosbie has become a dominant figure in the mid-tier banking sector, becoming the first woman to lead for two major UK institutions: TSB and, in 2022, the UK’s largest mutual lender, Nationwide.

She joined TSB in 2019 from the Clydesdale Bank owner CYBG – since rebranded as Virgin Money – where she had worked for more than 20 years, becoming its chief operating officer in 2015.

Crosbie since led a turnaround at TSB, after an IT meltdown in 2018 that left 1.9 million customers locked out of their accounts tarnished the bank’s reputation and led to the ousting of her predecessor, Paul Pester.

During her tenure, Crosbie has cut nearly 1,000 jobs and shut nearly half of branches as part of a gruelling restructuring programme. But after three years at the helm, Crosbie leaves TSB in good stead, having led the bank back to a profit in the half year to June.

She is due to replace Joe Garner as chief executive of the Nationwide building society in the first half of 2022. She joins a small cadre of female bosses in the City, which is still grappling with a male-dominated sector where men make up about 70% of senior management positions, according to the Women in Finance Charter’s latest annual review. Kalyeena Makortoff

Leena Nair

The appointment of the Indian-born executive as CEO of the luxury brand Chanel in December was greeted as a sign of much-needed diversity coming to fashion. The hope is that Nair’s appointment will provide an example for other brands in the industry.

Nair moves to Chanel from Unilever where she was used to firsts – she was the company’s first Asian, first female and youngest ever chief HR officer.

She will have challenges at Chanel, a private company that has been owned by the same family since the 1920s. Nair will take over from Alain Wertheimer, the grandson of Pierre who originally invested in Chanel. Wertheimer will remain involved as global chair.

Nair will face problems familiar across fashion: the pandemic led to sales at Chanel falling by 18% in 2020. While the company rallied, with revenue growing in the first half of this year, she will want to keep that trajectory up in 2022.

Some of her focus will undoubtedly be on Chanel’s workforce. Speaking to Time in 2021, she said: “Human capital is as important as financial capital.” At Unilever, Nair oversaw about 150,000 people in 190 countriesand worked on its diversity and inclusion programme. Last year it was announced that Unilever was gender balanced at management level globally. Lauren Cochrane

Source: Read Full Article