ALEX BRUMMER: The hard lessons to be learned from Carillion’s collapse


There can have been few more excoriating reports into a company failure than the select committee probe into Carillion.

All parties get it with both barrels, including chairman Philip Green, unkindly described as ‘cheerleader in chief’, and former finance director Richard Adam who was allegedly involved in some creative accounting and left the scene and disposed of shares before the balloon went up.

The adjectival count is impressive with Carillion directors described as delusional, misguided, deceitful and rotten and much more. 

The report also roundly attacks auditors KPMG (no surprise there) and the guardians of the public interest, the toothless Financial Reporting Council and the Pensions Regulator.

There can have been few more excoriating reports into a company failure than the select committee probe into Carillion

There can have been few more excoriating reports into a company failure than the select committee probe into Carillion

There can have been few more excoriating reports into a company failure than the select committee probe into Carillion

After so many fumbles, the chief executives of both organisations – Stephen Haddrill at the FRC and Lesley Titcomb at the Pensions Regulator – should do the right thing for once and resign without further ado.

In more reflective mood, the MPs on the business committee draw some startling conclusions from the short-termist way in which Carillion was run and the recent Melrose Industries hostile takeover of GKN. 

The report argues that Melrose won with promises of higher returns to shareholders and a model of relatively short-term ownership. It contrasts this with the longer-term record of GKN.

The report laments that there is nothing in law or governance codes that requires investors, who eventually rallied around Melrose, to do anything but look after their own interests.

The Government, it argues, needs to take steps which align the interests of get-rich-quick directors and investors with employees, suppliers, the long-term aspirations of the sector and industrial strategy.

One trusts the Hooray Henrys running Melrose, without much regard to governance codes, are listening.

Long goodbye

Going the full distance of a decade is quite a thing for a chief executive. Even rarer, as in the case of Vittorio Colao, is for the share price to fall on departure.

Under his predecessors, Vodafone was a serial acquirer and the group has spent several decades getting out from the huge amounts of goodwill in the accounts.

Colao’s contribution was two major disposals – the sale of the minority stake in Verizon’s mobile arm in 2013 for £110billion and a retreat from the nasty, over-competitive market in India. 

A concern has been that he would use the cash from the Verizon sale to splash on mega-deals. He resisted, but could be accused of under-investing.

Smartly he avoided any expensive ventures into content rights in the manner of BT, which put football ahead of fibre and broadband. 

Colao has focused on networks, buying Cable & Wireless and linked with City Fibre in the UK to deliver super-fast broadband to Britain’s secondary cities where there is less danger of running into BT.

Colao did engage in a long, on-off negotiation with Liberty Global, which came to a conclusion last week with a £16.2billion takeover. 

But it has taken five years to come up with a big idea and it is by no means clear that European Union competition overseers will give it the nod. Successor Nick Read will have the job of making the Liberty deal work. 

The departing chief executive deserves credit for showing restraint but, in a fast-growing sector, performance has been less than dazzling and customer service rubbish. Read has space to deliver improvement.

Green pound

How appropriate that the Philip Green with a knighthood is able to come up smelling of roses on a day when his namesake is in the naughty chair.

With BHS now behind it, Taveta, owner of Arcadia and much else, is managing down the group’s pension deficit with a doubled contribution of £50million and the use of a better discount rate.

The struggle for the King of the High Street is online. Green is responding with a distribution centre at Daventry and investment in the digital platform, which soaked up £124.9million last year and plans a spend of £81.5million this time around. 

Stores are being trimmed with 47 closures last year, as an opportunity to cut costs is taken.

The success of Topshop, Wallis and the rest under Green’s stewardship has been fast fashion. But others have crowded in, such as runaway winner Asos. Green thinks he has the answers by going global and using new media such as Netflix.

Hopefully it is not planning a docudrama on BHS.

 



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