Magazine article Management Today

PATIENCE WHEATCROFT: The Human Factor

Magazine article Management Today

PATIENCE WHEATCROFT: The Human Factor

Article excerpt

If a novelist had drafted the plot for the Six Continents I saga, it could hardly have been better crafted. Here was a tale of David and Goliath brought up to date: lone entrepreneur attacks mighty corporation.

The human dimensions were apparent. A previously apathetic chorus sprang into life, pointing accusing fingers at the villain. One man was fighting for his reputation; another desperately battling for the career advancement he had wanted for so long - and the future of many thousands could depend on the outcome.

Then there was the money. Billions of pounds of it, with personal as well as corporate fortunes at stake. And the drama looks set to continue over many months.

Entrepreneur Hugh Osmond spotted a worthy target in the sillily named Six Continents but left his attack too late.

The company once known as Bass had not delivered as expected for shareholders. After exiting from brewing, it had bought expensively into hotels and maintained a huge pub portfolio. Investors were getting restless but had been too lazy to make much of a fuss.

At the Bass head office, where Sir Ian Prosser had been in charge for far longer than Derek Higgs would approve of, it dawned that something should be done to cheer up the share price. Demerger would be the solution. Having fudged its image with the Six Continents label, the firm would divide into Mitchells and Butler pubs and Inter-Continental hotels.

Demerger would be expensive, with all the fees, but the board felt it would benefit shareholders. It would also benefit Richard North, the finance director, who finally saw his chance to become chief executive. He had been tipped to succeed Prosser as CEO of Six Continents, but the title went to Tim Clarke.

Whether the role actually went to Clarke is less certain. Prosser did not noticeably loosen his grip on the business and Clarke, a clever but not pushy individual, might have found it difficult to make his mark. This may be why he is happy to accept the job of chief executive of the smaller of the two businesses after the split. When Osmond seemed intent on scuppering the demerger plan, it was North who fought him most vehemently. He was fighting for the chance that many finance directors aspire to and few are granted: that of running his own company. Examples of those who have made the leap are few and have generally involved a change of employer. …

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