First female president of the CBI

Born: February 10, 1957;

Died: August 5, 2017

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DAME Helen Alexander, who has died of cancer aged 60, was a businesswoman whose many influential roles including promoting more women at the top of business.

With her husband Sir Philip Hampton, she undertook the independent Hampton Alexander Review, which looked at increasing the representation of women in senior business roles. She also struck a personal blow for the cause when she became the first female president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Dame Helen’s long career in business also included boardroom roles at companies including Rolls-Royce and British Gas parent Centrica and between 1997 and 2008 she was chief executive of The Economist Group.

Oxford-educated Dame Helen was also a non-executive director of PA Group, the parent company of the Press Association, and at BT Group and Huawei UK.

Paul Drechsler, the president of the CBI, said Dame Helen was a brilliant leader who had been determined in making the case for diversity during her tenure in the role between 2009 and 2011.

He said: “More than that, people will remember Helen for being a great listener with a thoughtful sense of humour."

Dame Helen began her career in publishing at Faber & Faber, before moving to the Economist Group in 1985, where she became managing director in 1993 before taking the helm in 1997.

In 2004, she was awarded a CBE for services to publishing, and gained a DBE for services to business in 2011.

The Economist described her as self-effacing but a world-class networker. “Her success owed much to a leadership style that lacked fireworks and did not seek fame, but deserved more recognition, for both its humanity and effectiveness,” the newspaper said in an article on its website.

“Helen relied on a quiet wisdom: listening not lecturing. No name was ever forgotten, no thoughtful personal gesture was too small.”

Since 2011, Dame Helen had been chancellor at the University of Southampton. University president and vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, said: “Dame Helen was very popular across the university, especially at graduations, where her friendly and caring character was most evident.

“She was always keen to help the university and its members and would regularly ask me about news of our successes.”

Dr Gill Rider, chairman of the University of Southampton council, said: “Helen was a wonderful role model to a generation of men and women who followed her career and was always approachable, happily offering her support and mentoring. It was a delight and privilege to know her.”

Dame Helen, who was married with three children, had been fighting cancer for several years.