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The Museum has announced the intention of its current Director, Sir Michael Dixon, to retire on 31 March 2021, the end of the 2020/21 fiscal year.
An international search for his successor will start this summer with a view to them joining as Director Designate in late 2020.
A search committee of Trustees, led by the Chair of the Board Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, has been appointed to lead the process of identifying Sir Michael's successor.
Sir Michael joined the Museum as Director in 2004 following four years as Director General of the Zoological Society of London and 20 years in the scientific, technical and medical publishing industry.
He was knighted in the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours in recognition of his services to museums.
Chair of the Board, Lord Green said, 'Sir Michael has been an outstanding Director of the Natural History Museum. Under his leadership, the Museum has seen record attendance numbers, doubling to around 5.5 million visitors a year, and developed its global relationships and scientific expertise to tackle major scientific challenges from biodiversity loss to the spread of diseases and the supply of scarce minerals.
'As guardian for our globally-important collection of more than 80 million specimens, Sir Michael has made mass digitisation and open access images and data a priority, enabling everyone from schoolchildren to specialists to draw on this great global resource. The Board is grateful to him for these and his many other significant achievements as Director of the Museum.
'My colleagues on the Board and I will be undertaking a comprehensive recruitment process over the next months to ensure that the Museum continues to have outstanding leadership into the future.'
Sir Michael said, 'It has been an enormous privilege to lead an institution whose globally-important collection and more than 250 years of accumulated expertise and research capability makes it a trusted authority on the natural world as well as one of the world’s most-visited Museums. I feel honoured to have steered the Natural History Museum through the most recent period of its long and distinguished history.
'I have had the good fortune to work with very talented colleagues and well qualified and committed Trustees. Between us we have enjoyed many successes as I am sure the institution will continue to do in the future.'
During his tenure as Director, Sir Michael has overseen the delivery of the Museum's biggest capital development in decades, the Darwin Centre, which opened to the public to widespread acclaim in 2010.
In 2017 the Museum unveiled its beautifully reimagined largest public gallery, Hintze Hall, with Hope the blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling as a reminder of humanity's responsibility to protect our planet.
Sir Michael has overseen major international and national touring exhibitions such as Treasures of the Natural World which has recently opened in Quebec following stints in Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. Meanwhile Dippy, the Museum's beloved Diplodocus cast, is breaking attendance records at all the venues so far on his three-year tour of the UK.
The scientific achievements under Sir Michael’s tenure are numerous and include the coordination of SYNTHESYS+, a €10m initiative to create a Europe-wide collections infrastructure.
They also include the Museum leading a major international project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. DeWorm3 is undertaking large-scale experimental treatment to combat neglected tropical diseases caused by parasitic worms which blight the lives of nearly 1.5 billion of the world's poorest people in Africa and Asia.
The Museum is launching its bold new Strategy to 2031 this year which will culminate in the 150th anniversary celebration of the opening of the Waterhouse building in South Kensington. Sir Michael will lead the first full year of this new plan before handing the baton to his successor.
The Natural History Museum exists to inspire a love of the natural world and unlock answers to the big issues facing humanity and the planet. It is a world-leading science research centre, and through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling issues such as food security, eradicating diseases and managing resource scarcity.
The Natural History Museum is the most visited natural history museum in Europe and the top science attraction in the UK; we welcome around five million visitors each year and our website receives over 850,000 unique visitors a month. People come from around the world to enjoy our galleries and events and engage both in-person and online with our science and educational activities through innovative programmes and citizen science projects.