Rum­pus over Ro­let’s de­par­ture is go­ing to end badly for all par­ties

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - JEREMY WARNER

Apres moi, le del­uge. That’s what TCI’S Sir Christo­pher Hohn seems to think of Xavier Ro­let’s pend­ing de­par­ture from the Lon­don Stock Ex­change. The French-born Mr Ro­let has been an ex­traor­di­nar­ily suc­cess­ful chief ex­ec­u­tive of the LSE, en­rich­ing his share­hold­ers be­yond the dreams of avarice. Sir Christo­pher, an ac­tivist in­vestor, wants him to carry on in the same vein, and in­deed fears for the fu­ture of the LSE if he goes. Mr Ro­let is char­ac­terised as fin de ligne, a CEO so bril­liant he’s im­pos­si­ble to fol­low.

With 5pc of the stock, TCI has there­fore req­ui­si­tioned an EGM, de­mand­ing the re­moval of the chair­man, Don­ald Bry­don, and the ex­ten­sion of Mr Ro­let’s con­tract. There is no sense to be had from any of the par­ties on what the bust up is re­ally about, so here’s my take on this in­creas­ingly bizarre af­fair.

First, Mr Ro­let is plainly not go­ing vol­un­tar­ily, de­spite last month’s state­ment from the LSE that his de­par­ture by the end of next year was by mu­tual agree­ment. A heavy Bry­don hand was placed on his shoul­der and he was led to the door.

Sec­ond, this was ac­tu­ally in Mr Ro­let’s own best in­ter­ests, if less ob­vi­ously the LSE’S. Out­stand­ing suc­cess as a chief ex­ec­u­tive is as much about tim­ing as any­thing else. It’s al­ways best to leave on a high, rather than hang around long enough for things to go wrong, or oth­er­wise be found out.

Third, but this is al­ways hard for an ul­tra-suc­cess­ful chief ex­ec­u­tive to do. The com­pany be­comes his baby, his fief­dom, and for Ro­let it is par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult, for he has rein­vig­o­rated a fad­ing in­sti­tu­tion, and given it a real voice on the Euro­pean stage. His place in na­tional life is not an easy thing to give up.

Fourth, with the ex­am­ple of Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy to go by, Bry­don is right to worry about the dan­gers of leav­ing a chief ex­ec­u­tive for too long in the job. All com­pa­nies need oc­ca­sion­ally to be re­newed with fresh blood. Fifth, but there are no rules here. Sir Martin Sor­rell has been chief ex­ec­u­tive of the ad­ver­tis­ing go­liath WPP for more than 30 years and is still ap­par­ently go­ing strong.

Sixth, there is plainly an el­e­ment of per­son­al­ity clash. Hav­ing been burnt on his in­vest­ment in Royal Mail, where Bry­don was chair­man, Sir Christo­pher is back­ing Ro­let. For other share­hold­ers, it is an im­pos­si­ble choice, but the way things are go­ing, they’ll end up los­ing both the chief ex­ec­u­tive and the chair­man. Many thanks TCI.

What a Priti pass

On a num­ber of lev­els, it was a shame to see last week’s de­fen­es­tra­tion of Priti Pa­tel. The for­mer de­vel­op­ment sec­re­tary was a ter­rific role model for Bri­tons of In­dian de­scent, and an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of sec­ond gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant suc­cess. Ms Pa­tel is part of a clus­ter of high achiev­ing Ugan­dan Asians that in­cludes Bar­clays’ Tushar Morzaria and Black­rock’s Jitesh Gad­hia. Their coun­try of ori­gin must to this day bit­terly re­gret the mass ex­pul­sion un­der Idi Amin of its en­tre­pre­neur­ial, Gu­jarati mid­dle class. They have been a credit to Bri­tain ever since.

What Ms Pa­tel did was un­doubt­edly stupid, but she was also shame­fully hung out to dry by a For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice long jeal­ous of the ever grow­ing over­seas aid bud­get, and a For­eign Sec­re­tary des­per­ate to di­vert at­ten­tion from his own blun­ders. What is it about these com­mit­ted Leavers? Like ri­val per­son­al­i­ties on the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Left, they seem keener on knif­ing each other than de­liv­er­ing a suc­cess­ful out­come, per­haps be­cause the process is go­ing so badly.

The se­ri­ous point here is that there is still a de­plorable lack of joined-up think­ing be­tween the diplo­matic, trade and over­seas aid arms of the UK Gov­ern­ment. By rights they should all be merged into one de­part­ment, so as to al­low for a holis­tic ap­proach to Bri­tain’s na­tional in­ter­est that com­bines geo-po­lit­i­cal, com­mer­cial and hu­man­i­tar­ian goals. In­stead of which we have three sep­a­rate units, each headed by a Brex­i­teer ap­par­ently more in­ter­ested in their own ad­vance­ment than work­ing to­gether for a com­mon pur­pose. Good­ness knows what the rest of the world makes of it all. Well I do know, ac­tu­ally; they find it in­creas­ingly hard to un­der­stand what’s be­come of this once prag­matic na­tion. A bold, well thought through Bud­get might still sal­vage some­thing from the wreck­age, but I’m not hold­ing my breath.

An­swer came there none

I once used to dab­ble in so-called “in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism”, so I know how soul de­stroy­ing it can be to spend months beaver­ing away at some sup­posed great scan­dal in pub­lic life only to find that the more you look into it, the less of a story it turns out to be. The temp­ta­tion to ramp it up into some­thing it’s not is hard to re­sist. I there­fore have some sym­pa­thy with the BBC Panorama team and their work on the ex­ot­i­cally named “Par­adise pa­pers”. We were promised a se­ries of rev­e­la­tions that would blow the lid on sup­pos­edly ram­pant in­ter­na­tional tax avoid­ance; what we ac­tu­ally got didn’t add up to a hill of beans. Ah, Lewis Hamil­ton: that re­ally was an eye opener. Ap­par­ently he paid no VAT on a pri­vate jet. But what about the Queen? Now you’re talk­ing. As it turns out, she’s got a few mil stashed away in her over­seas ter­ri­to­ries, where, by the way, she is, as in Bri­tain, head of state. There’s more; those mon­strous ne’er do wells of the cap­i­tal­ist world, Ap­ple and Nike, ap­par­ently ar­range their af­fairs so as not to fall vic­tim to dou­ble tax­a­tion – that’s pay­ing tax twice on the same prof­its. Then, glo­ri­ously, a real rev­e­la­tion – that ac­tors em­ployed on the BBC’S Mrs Brown’s Boys were up to their necks in elab­o­rate tax avoid­ance. Bren­dan O’car­roll, the lead ac­tor in the se­ries was not in­volved in the scheme.

Try as it did, the BBC failed to demon­strate any­thing sig­nif­i­cantly un­to­ward, and yet it left the im­pres­sion of shame­ful mis­use by multi­na­tion­als of off­shore havens to avoid pay­ing their share. I’m all for more trans­parency, but you can see why com­merce prefers to keep its af­fairs pri­vate when sub­jected to this kind of knock­ing and sub­stan­tially ig­no­rant, anti-busi­ness treat­ment.

‘For oth­ers, it is an im­pos­si­ble choice, but the way things are go­ing, they’ll end up los­ing both the chief and the chair­man’

Xavier Ro­let, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Lon­don Stock Ex­change, with Don­ald Bry­don, chair­man, in 2013 at the Royal Mail flota­tion

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