Howard Davies

By Davidson, Andrew | Management Today, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Howard Davies


Davidson, Andrew, Management Today


Clever man, Howard Davies. After stints at the Foreign Office, the Treasury, McKinsey's, the Audit Commission and the Confederation of British industry, this month he starts at the Bank of England as deputy governor at only 44. He is, you would imagine, a headhunters' dream: all sharp intellect, clubbable manner and itchy feet long used to treading the corridors of power. `Send for Davies' went the cry when the last deputy governor, Rupert Pennant-Rae, was forced to resign after a prolonged indiscretion with a financial journalist. This time Eddie George, the Bank's governor and Davies's former boss from the Treasury, must be pretty intent on pegging his man down for good.

Too many moves? Davies, sitting casually on a sofa in his brown box of an office at the CBI's Centrepoint headquarters in London, shrugs. Earlier he had explained that he had no truck with the traditional British attitude that you choose your career at 22 and then stick to it. `America', he points out, `is full of people who re-invent themselves all the time.' If you keep moving, you keep fresh, the argument goes. And Davies could not resist the call from his old chief in his hour of need. Even so, it always surprises people that so able a manager, cutely dubbed `boss of bosses' by Radio 4 recently, has never really had a proper job in business at all.

When we met he still had a couple of months to go at Centrepoint before the latest move. His is a familiar face from conferences and platforms around the country: the bald pate, the flash of grey hair above the ears, the stem features. In photos he often carries the look of a startled deer, all regal alertness and watchful eyes. In person, the impression is softer. He is warm and charming to interview, patient and astute in all the right places.

Only occasionally is there a hint of tetchiness if a question or subject irritates him, a trait which those who know him say he has to keep under control. No one doubts that being director general of the CBI is an arduous task, not least because it carries for the holder the considerable risk of `repetitive dinner syndrome': in other words, continual travelling, speech-making, and listening to people who, occasionally, you might prefer to avoid. If, like Davies, you have a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, you swiftly have to learn not to show it.

Is he sad to be leaving? Not to be leaving Centrepoint, he says, which he doesn't like. His office is perched on the 10th floor of the famous tower block, high above Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road. He says it's certainly convenient for his west London home but as an office it's hopelessly designed for modern needs, with little space for wiring and with few places where you might bump into the rest of your staff. But he is sad to be leaving the CBI itself. He is only three years through a five-year term of office, and still in the middle of an overhaul of the internal management structure.

All who know him give him credit for boosting the CBI to a new position of influence, aided by his unique ability, as his predecessor, Sir John Banham, puts it, to `get in the back door' of policy-making. That has been partly a matter of style, and partly experience, making Davies exactly the right man for the job over the past three years. The ability to influence policy-making in Whitehall and Brussels, he explains, has to be the key expertise of a CBI director general, hence why both he and his predecessor have come from the public sector. If businessmen and women knew how to do it themselves they wouldn't need a CBI anyway.

But Davies is more than just a lobbyist, of course; he is a sound front man who tooks plausible on television with the right mix of brains and charm - but most of all brains. Talk to any of the captains of industry who have worked closely with him and the first thing they always remark upon, apart from his wide range of interests - Davies has views on everything from football and the arts to macro-economics - is just how clever he is. …

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