One is, one supposes, the non-Executive Chairperson of rather a large enterprise (“World-class and punching above its weight internationally” is a favourite line from our wretched PR people).
The shareholders last had a major shake-up of the Board in 1997, and after a fairly steady run of good growth figures, we’re now rather hitting the buffers.
Last year the Board recommended that the Chief Executive be replaced by the Finance Director (or “CFO” as one’s other-half tells one one must refer to that position). The old Chief Executive was past it, no longer charming the shareholders, apparently. He had made some unfortunate decisions in the International Division. Strategic trans-Atlantic alliances weren’t yielding satisfactory dividends, or so one was told.
Well, one doesn’t like to contradict one’s Board. Chairpersons who do that can come unstuck, rather (although thankfully that hasn’t happened since 1936 in our case). Initially, all seemed well. Shareholders were delighted, one was informed, with the new chap, and despite all sorts of short-term crises (which had been sorted out without too much difficulty) the general opinion was very favourable.
One can’t quite put one’s finger on when the rot set in, but it’s now pretty clear that promoting the Finance man has been a catastrophic blunder. The Board are quietly seething at his dreadful inter-personal skills (which they unaccountably forgot to mention when seeking one’s approval for the appointment in the first place). The dividend is looking rather doubtful and the shareholders are selling, sending down the share price at a quite alarming rate.
The new CFO seems to understand that the books he has inherited are a trifle adrift, but can’t really come up with any solutions that don’t make his predecessor look either incompetent or crooked. There’s a good deal of blaming of “credit crunches” (which sound like some sort of slimming biscuit, but aren’t, one gathers) and “the international financial situation” (where one thought one was punching weights, or something, but not so, one is gravely informed).
Everyone seems agreed that yet another Chief Executive is needed (goodness, the expense of all that, again!), but no-one is prepared to tell the current incumbent that more time with the family is on the cards. And of course, having seen his performance, no other organisation will take him off one’s hands with a better offer.
One suspects he knows the game is up, but his staff are spending a good deal of time pointing out the fine print of his contract and the difficulties in making him quit if he doesn’t feel like it. Thank goodness the contract has a fixed term, but one isn’t sure one could stand waiting for June 2010 to come around.
The role of non-Executive Chairperson is always delicate, particularly in a family firm such as ours. One had hoped to see out one’s term without this sort of grief, and it’s so long since one took over that there are few precedents of any real use.
Frankly, an entirely new Board is probably the best solution, but quite how to engineer that quickly is unclear.
Meanwhile, there seems to something of a row developing with the International Director, and the Chief Legal Officer seems to have gone to ground, rather unhelpfully. And the Chief Executive himself is pretending to be on holiday somewhere, leaving the Head of Personnel “minding the store” (such a vulgar phrase!) in his absence.
Oh dear. It’s all so disagreeable. And one was just about to pack for Scotland.
What would you or your readers advise?
Mrs W., SL4
Friday, August 01, 2008
Ask Uncle Iain: Episode 94
Some time ago I ran an Agony column (which, quite frankly, didn't work). I wonder if I can ask my readers to give their sage advice to Mrs W from Slough, who has just sent me this heartfelt epistle...