Gary Hawkes is chairman of Aramark, a US and European catering company. He spent 20 years with the British firm Gardner Merchant which supplies meals to 900 schools and colleges.
He has been appointed at a time when exam boards face more pressure than ever with plans by the Qualification and Curriculum Authority to publish inspections of ther work.
Mr Hawkes, a self-confessed "academic failure" who left school at 16 with five O-levels, is is also chairman of the council of National Training Organisations, the Government's top industry training advisory body.
He said: "Vocational training changed my life and I want to help to change the lives of others. I want to see a new century where all qualifications are equally recognised and valued."