The Times: 'The year has not panned out as well as it might at several of my little jobs': “FEBRUARY: My old friend Philip Watts is still being blamed for some trifling errors at Shell. A few oilfields are misplaced and the stock market overreacts in its usual, tiresome way. It is only the fifth such warning, after all." : “NOVEMBER: My good friend Philip Watts has been cleared of all wrongdoing by the Financial Services Authority, and one must rejoice. The outcome was predictable from the start. When has the FSA ever successfully taken on anyone so senior? Their job is to go after minor fraudsters and insider traders, not to interfere in the boardroom.”: Saturday December 31, 2005
By Sir Peter Pickles
The former Whitehall mandarin who now bestrides Britain's boardrooms looks back at the movers and shakers of 2005
HARD times for our embattled retailers as Allders collapses into administration. There will be more before this miserable year is out, I fear.
My own Bloomberry’s novelty goods chain, whose distinctive, candy-striped fascias grace many a high street, is in dire trouble. There is a perverse refusal on the part of British consumers to part with hard cash in return for goods they may not realise they need. The Chancellor must act.
Through the usual Whitehall channels, I have suggested some sort of tax relief on non-essential goods — perhaps a scrapping of VAT? — to get the tills ringing again. Any lost tax could easily be made up by increasing duty on goods such as food and clothes that people actually need to purchase. But the response is sadly discouraging.
My old friend Philip Watts is still being blamed for some trifling errors at Shell. A few oilfields are misplaced and the stock market overreacts in its usual, tiresome way.
It is only the fifth such warning, after all. The science behind oil prospection is bewilderingly complex — I have never really understood the proper state of affairs at TransNational Gas and I am, after all, the chairman.
If executives such as Philip are to be held responsible for every single mistake made on their watch, it will become impossible to find the right people to run our big companies.
It is already necessary to pay them salary and pension packages that inspire misplaced envy and malice on the part of the misinformed and ignorant. A culture of blame and recrimination can only make life more difficult in the country’s boardrooms.
I was, naturally, invited on to the informal working party that helped to draw up the Gambling Bill. No one can doubt that the time has come to bring some sense to our outdated laws on gaming and allow in respectable overseas firms, not all of them necessarily with connections to organised crime, to operate giant casinos here.
The first to open here will be developed by Gambaccini Enterprises of Las Vegas, Nevada, a family owned operator with whom I have a discreet consultancy agreement.
(Later.) It seems that there has been a pusillanimous U-turn on the part of the Government, which is limiting the number of new projects. The Gambaccinis will not be happy. And they are not people one would wish to cross.
My efforts to rescue MG Rover, our last decent-sized carmaker, have come to nothing. There is some bad-tempered carping about the amount of money the four executives there are taking away, and the usual whines from the Moaning Minnies about the loss of a vital strategic industry.
Entrepreneurial spirit such as that shown by the Phoenix Four must always receive the appropriate reward. And in a business climate where companies of the quality of my own Bloomberry’s can be threatened with collapse, no one is sacrosanct. There can be no feather-bedding or special treatment.
I knew Clive Hollick well before he became a media grandee. (Curious, some of those whose careers take this path. Who would have thought Gerry Robinson, another old friend, would have made anything of himself in the world of television? And as for Luke Johnson . . .)
But I digress. Shareholders in United Business Media have marked his departure by treacherously voting against some entirely reasonable bonus payments. This sort of ignoble barracking from the sidelines can only make it harder to attract executives of the proper calibre. How many City fund managers’ own salary packages would stand up to public scrutiny, I wonder?
It also encourages ill- mannered interference in the running of companies by investors. Boardroom matters are best left to the boardroom, in my experience.
There is a fashion for floating on the stock market various websites that allow sensible gamblers to indulge in their passion on their home computers. The latest, PartyGaming, is apparently huge, and is destined for greater things.
One has to admire the ingenuity of entrepreneurs who come up with so many clever ways of parting idiots from their cash. I shall buy a large chunk of PartyGaming shares in the impending float. It is hard to see how anything can go wrong.
But one does wonder again at the Government’s short-sighted refusal to allow in foreign-owned casinos, when one can easily bankrupt oneself from the comfort of one’s own sitting room.
Gordon Brown has decided to alter the starting date of the economic cycle to allow the country to remain solvent. Some ignorant commentators have complained that this is merely an exercise in fiddling the books, with the aid of a compliant Office for National Statistics.
I must take issue. By massaging the nation’s accounts, after first ensuring that the accountants are fully onside, our Chancellor is merely fulfilling earlier new Labour promises to learn from the world of business.
My old friend Gerry Robinson has lined himself up to sort out Rentokil, a business that has fallen on hard times since Clive Thomson ran it with a rod of iron. Hard to see how Gerry can fail, and his reward is a modest one, by venture capital standards, whatever his foolish critics may claim.
The two top men at GCap Media, one of our biggest chains of radio stations, have fallen out. Media types make poor businessmen, in my experience. They fail to understand the bottom line and are prone to the most disagreeable fits of temper if crossed on creative matters.
Margaret had the right idea when she put the whole of the commercial sector out to competitive tender 15 years ago. It is not as if the quality of programming has suffered since, I am told.
Gerry Robinson has backed away from Rentokil. I never gave the venture much chance of success. He didn’t even return my calls.
Takeover fever in the City, with £25 billion of deals announced in one day. My colleagues at Central Bank, where I have the privilege of serving as a non-executive director, are already counting their bonuses.
There is a lot of nonsense being kicked up by the Moaning Minnies about the number of British firms being taken over by foreign concerns. This is the nature of a truly globalised economy. And it does mean boom times for one sector of British business, the big City investment banks. Nearly all now in foreign hands, as I reflect . . .
My good friend Philip Watts has been cleared of all wrongdoing by the Financial Services Authority, and one must rejoice. The outcome was predictable from the start. When has the FSA ever successfully taken on anyone so senior? Their job is to go after minor fraudsters and insider traders, not to interfere in the boardroom. I trust the meddlers will have learnt their lesson.
Vodafone has broken off a sponsorship deal with Manchester United. I never have anything to do with football clubs, on a matter of principle. Much like media types, but with lower IQs.
Another Christmas, and a time to reflect. The year has perhaps not panned out as well as it might at several of my “little jobs”. No actual receiverships, though, which makes a pleasing change. Though I can’t see at least three making it through to this time next year.
It is also a time for the family. I shall be visiting my Surrey home for the first time in several months. The children have declined the invitation, and Celia’s little problem means that celebrations must necessarily be muted.
I may stay a couple of days before returning to London. I have several schemes for the new year which might best be prepared while most of the City is away.
Ah, the busy life of a serial executive . . .
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