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Lifers who climb right to the top

The Times: Lifers who climb right to the top

“A less edifying example of the breed is Sir Philip Watts, chairman of Shell, who was forced to resign after the group admitted to misrepresenting oil and gas reserves.”

By Antonia Senior

August 21, 2004

IN AN era of MBAs and portfolio careers, Sandy Crombie’s rise through the ranks to become chief executive of a firm he joined from school is redolent of another age.

His appointment in January drew fierce criticism, with some analysts calling for fresh blood at a firm tainted by accusations of cronyism.

Standard Life has moved to counter its critics by bringing in new faces to surround its chief executive. The appointment in June of Trevor Matthews, from Manulife, to head up the troubled British life and pensions division, was seen as a sop to prospective shareholders.

But Crombie is not alone in his rise from office junior to chief executive on basic pay of £600,000 a year.

Niall FitzGerald, of Unilever, Gareth Davies, of Imperial Tobacco, and Mike Levett, of Old Mutual, all joined their companies on leaving university and worked their way to the top.

A less edifying example of the breed is Sir Philip Watts, chairman of Shell, who was forced to resign after the group admitted to misrepresenting oil and gas reserves.

Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, famously started out as a shelf stacker. But, unlike Crombie, he gained a degree from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Among the select band who have made it to the top, Nigel Northridge, chief executive of Gallaher, also eschewed university.

Peter Montagnon, head of investment at the Association of British Insurers, said: “There are cases where shareholders feel that fresh blood can help, not necessarily at a chief executive level, but around the board table and at executive director level.”

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