Former CBI boss trades blows with president over dismissal
The crisis at the scandal-hit Confederation of British Industry has burst into open conflict, as its recently sacked director general and current president argued over the grounds for his dismissal.
In separate interviews broadcast on Wednesday morning, Tony Danker – who was dismissed earlier this month as head of the CBI after allegations about his workplace conduct – said his reputation had “been totally destroyed”, while its president, Brian McBride, accused Danker of being “selective” in his account of his departure.
In his first interview since he was let go with immediate effect on 11 April after having led the body since November 2020, Danker told the BBC he believed he had been made “the fall guy” for a wider scandal at Britain’s most prominent business lobby group.
McBride, a former chief executive of Amazon UK, meanwhile, told the BBC that Danker had been dismissed after the CBI’s board “lost its trust and confidence in his ability to lead the organisation and represent the CBI in public”.
In early March the business lobby group hired a law firm to investigate complaints about Danker’s workplace conduct after it was approached by the Guardian about a formal complaint made against him in January. This was in addition to a number of alleged informal reports of concerns over his behaviour.
The board of the CBI said at the time of his dismissal it had determined that Danker’s conduct “fell short of that expected of the director general”. It added that there had been “serious failings” in how it had “acted as an organisation”.
After his dismissal, Danker apologised to colleagues and said he was “truly sorry” for making colleagues “feel uncomfortable”.
Speaking publicly on Wednesday for the first time since his dismissal, Danker argued that his name had been unfairly associated with separate complaints first reported by the Guardian, made by current and former CBI employees, arising from incidents that he claimed pre-dated his arrival as CBI boss.
However, some of the separate allegations about other CBI figures overlap with Danker’s tenure as the organisation’s boss and three current members of staff have been suspended. A board member has been appointed to oversee what it said would be a “root and branch” review of its culture.
The separate claims by more than a dozen women allege various forms of sexual misconduct by senior figures at the organisation, including an allegation of rape during a staff party in 2019. None of the allegations were made against Danker.
The City of London police have launched an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct at the CBI in the wake of these complaints, while three members of staff have been suspended by the organisation.
Danker told the BBC that his termination letter listed four reasons for his sacking, including: organising a secret and private karaoke party for 15 people; viewing the Instagram accounts of CBI staff; sending non-work related messages to staff and inviting junior staff members to breakfasts, lunches or one-on-one meetings. He said of the messages and invitations that these were addressed to a large number of staff and individuals were not singled out.
Danker acknowledged he had made some staff feel “very uncomfortable” but added: “The CBI knew about all these things, and never once raised them with me as a disciplinary issue, until suddenly they all became grounds for immediate dismissal.
“I have been made the fall guy. Not only did they throw me under the bus, they reversed it back over me.”
However, McBride told the broadcaster that Danker had given a full statement to the law firm Fox Williams, which is conducting the investigation into the allegations about his conduct. The CBI president conceded that Danker had not seen Fox Williams’ final report, because the CBI employees who came forward had been promised confidentiality.
“If Tony Danker feels that we have acted inappropriately, he has of course got full redress and he knows that and we knew that before we dismissed him,” McBride said, adding any employee who feels they have been unfairly dismissed can take their complaint to an employment tribunal or to court.
He added: “It’s a matter of due legal process; it would be unfair for me to go through all of the grounds for his termination in public”.
Danker is understood to have left his ?376,000-a-year role at the CBI without any severance payment. He will be succeeded by Rain Newton-Smith, the group’s long-serving former chief economist.
McBride said the CBI recognised that the fact staff members had chosen to share their complaints about sexual misconduct with the Guardian rather than with the organisation itself was a sign of the problems within the organisation.
“People decided to go to the newspapers and not speak to us directly, which in itself points to something wrong with our culture,” he said. “Why is it that people felt that they couldn’t stand up and come forward?”
The government paused most of its engagement with Britain’s most prominent business lobby group after the reports about Danker’s conduct and the separate allegations relating to other senior figures, plunging the CBI into its biggest crisis since it was founded in 1965.
It is expected that the police investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct could take months to conclude.
A Downing Street spokesperson previously told reporters that it would not resume relations with the lobby group until Fox Williams had completed its investigation.