The Human Factor

By wheatcroft, patience | Management Today, June 2001 | Go to article overview

The Human Factor


wheatcroft, patience, Management Today


Like a modern married couple, a company separating from its chairman should favour the clean break. No matter how happy, or otherwise, has been the partnership, both parties must be strong and walk away without a backward glance when it ends.

This is not easy, particularly when an individual has spent most of their working life in a company, but it is essential. To have the former chairman hanging around is at best an irritant to the successor and at worst a threat.

So it will have done nothing to ease the task of the headhunters in search of a new chairman for Dixons when a company spokesman revealed that Sir Stanley Kalms intended to maintain 'a continued closeness' with the company after his retirement.

Kalms' reluctance to sever his links is understandable. From a single camera shop, he has built a formidable business over the past 46 years. He is taking time to adjust to the idea of retirement: it will be autumn next year when he officially bows out, aged 71. But although he says he is giving up the day job to devote more time to campaigning against Britain's entry into the single currency, he will be president of Dixons and may well keep an office at corporate headquarters.

These are danger signals. An outgoing chairman should be shown off the premises; giving him a title, however empty it is intended to be, can be misinterpreted. This became horrifyingly clear when Sir Iain Vallance was finally winkled out of his role as chairman of British Telecom. In what was surely intended only as a gesture to salve Vallance's dignity, the company conferred on him the title of president emeritus.

Given BT's parlous state, most onlookers were reminded of the title's conventional explanation -- 'e' because you're out and 'meritus' because you deserve it -- but Vallance seemed intent on taking his new job as an elevation to even greater heights.

As the City greeted the news of his departure as a welcome sign of change, the man who has steered BT into a bog of [pound]30 billion debts was busily explaining that he would still be there to make available to the firm 'the best global contacts in telecommunications'. Sir Christopher Bland may well feel that, judging by what those global contacts have done for BT so far, he can manage without them.

Vallance obviously feels attached to BT, having worked there since it was part of the Post Office. …

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