Magazine article Management Today

Destructive Aspiration

Magazine article Management Today

Destructive Aspiration

Article excerpt

For CEO Hermelin, the noisy arrival of Danon at Capgemini must be awkward.

Some people cannot hide their ambition. When BT announced that Pierre Danon, head of its retail division, was leaving for Capgemini, that organisation's chief executive, Paul Hermelin, was forced into a rebuttal that he would shortly be leaving. So naked has been Danon's desire for the top job that the popular assumption was that he must be about to fulfil it.

No matter that Danon's new job is significantly better paid, nor that it is in Paris, where his wife works, or that it is a truly international business. The immediate reaction to his appointment as chief operating officer was that he must have been assured that the chief executive's role would be his before long.

Hermelin tried to stamp out that theory, but the fact that Capgemini's share price was only just clambering back from all-time lows in October did not add credibility to his case. He insists Danon is to be an important part of his turnaround team, but with investors feeling restive, he would have reason to be nervous about his future colleague's ambitions.

From a journalist's point of view, Danon would be wonderful chief executive material. He is happy to heighten his profile by giving affable interviews and speaking his mind, rather than merely reiterating the latest corporate statement. More recently - presumably, only after he had secured his new job - he has publicly taken issue with BT's strategy. The company preferred to view exchanges between Danon and his superiors as healthy dialogue, but to observers it seemed more like serious disagreement.

Most companies experience boardroom discord over strategy, but they don't want to see it spilling into the public domain. Internal debate is healthy, but if a company cannot present a united front to investors, they are unlikely to feel confident about its prospects. In corporate life, the rules of cabinet government apply. David Blunkett seems to have felt that those rules did not apply to him, when he savaged his Government colleagues in interviews with his biographer. But it's now apparent that there are many other rules by which he does not feel bound.

Directors who are deeply unhappy with a company's direction have the options of alerting investors privately (which hardly ever happens); noisily resigning (another rarity); or quietly resigning. If they don't feel strongly enough to follow any of these routes, then, like cabinet members, they must be seen to back all company decisions. …

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