Former Director General, MI5
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Before taking charge of the UK’s Security Service, Andrew had a 30-year career in national security and intelligence, specialising in areas of international terrorism, extremism, and serious and organised crime. He reflects on his experiences and his insights into leadership, making tough decisions under pressure, and dealing with complex change.
Andrew Parker was Director General of MI5 for seven years, the culmination of over 30 years working for the Security Service. After leading through some of the most formidable challenges any leader could encounter, Andrew recounts key incidents in the security of the nation and the lessons in leadership applicable to any area.
As DG, Andrew built a reputation for modernising MI5’s leadership culture, with a focus on calm, people-centred responses to even the most dramatic of crises. He aimed to clarify the Service’s goals, establish trust, accountability, honesty and integrity throughout, and help create a strong sense of leadership that valued purpose and collaboration over individual agendas.
Andrew’s belief is that showing exemplary leadership and adherence to core values day-to-day is the best way to prepare for a crisis and navigate future difficulties. When challenges inevitably come your way, the best leaders and organisations look outwards, to colleagues, peers and others, rather than closing ranks or becoming insular. He reflects on the necessity of building excellent teams, and how leaders need to resist confusing the importance of their role with their own ego. He also looks at the importance of understanding diversity, and that the goal is not for homogeneity but for tolerance, understanding and respect for sometimes diametrically opposed ideas.
Andrew’s work has encompassed responsibly for countering organised crime, hostile state action and espionage, and terrorism. Throughout he has sought to balance the Service’s crucial work with a need to reassure the public and submit to media, Parliamentary and judicial scrutiny. Within weeks of heading up MI5’s Counter Terrorism section he had to lead the team through the events of 7/7. His time in charge of the Service also coincided with events including the Salisbury poisonings and the London Bridge terror attacks. He also led MI5’s early response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Prior to serving as Director General, Andrew was Deputy DG, Director of Counter Terrorism and Hostile State Activity, and Director for Northern Ireland, Protective Security and Serious Crime. He also spent time with HM Customs & Excise, represented MI5 in the US, and in a series of advisory roles tackling the Security Service’s public profile and internal culture. He has served as an NED on the main board of another Agency and is currently pursuing a portfolio career.
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