Whipping boy: Centrica boss Iain Conn
There are some jobs out there that attract so many brickbats they should come with a custom-built flak jacket.
Ryanair’s customer services manager during August, perhaps, or phone flinging Naomi Campbell’s maid.
Some mornings Iain Conn may well feel his position could do with its very own nuclear fallout shelter.
As head of Centrica, owner of our biggest household energy supplier British Gas, Conn is the energy industry’s whipping boy, a public piñata wheeled out onto the airwaves every six months or so for a ritual thwacking.
When the wholesale cost of fuel goes down, rarely, if ever, do Conn and his contemporaries in charge of our ‘big six’ energy providers pass on the benefits.
But at the first sign of costs increasing, you can guarantee our energy bills will go soaring.
Such matters have been happily removed from most people’s minds of late, what with this glorious summer we’re enjoying.
Then, just as a thin layer of dust gathers on our thermostats, up pops Conn this week to warn us in his solemn-sounding Scots burr that prices may yet be hiked again in the near future. Burn him!
Colleagues say Conn has skin thicker than whale blubber, which is just as well. Broad of shoulder and cherubic of cheek, his surname has been a gift to waspish city commentators and headline writers everywhere.
Like whoever is in charge of state-owned RBS, guffawing at the Centrica boss’s annual remuneration has become something of a national sport.
His predecessor, Old Etonian Sam Laidlaw, was dubbed ‘Sammy Two Pools’ when it was discovered he was building a second swimming pool on the grounds of his Cotswolds Estate.
Conn got his own tabloid pasting in 2016 when it was revealed his pay had hit £4.1million.
The Sun photographed him collecting three pints of milk from the driveway of his £2.7million home in Buckinghamshire with the headline: ‘Fat Cat’s Got the Cream.’
Conn at least saw the funny side. He keeps a framed copy of the headline on his office wall at Centrica’s Windsor headquarters.
Born in Edinburgh and raised in the Borders, his father, a doctor, died when Conn was 12.
He was enrolled at the time at Loretto boarding school, where fellow pupils included broadcaster Andrew Marr, and assumed he would have to leave. Thankfully, his father’s stepfather came to the rescue and offered to pay the bills.
Colleagues say Conn has skin thicker than whale blubber, which is just as well
After undertaking a chemical engineering degree at Imperial College, he took a position at BP.
He would spend the next 29 years there, hopping all over the world. As well as stints in Zambia, Russia and the Caspian Sea, he played a key role on the oil giant’s takeover of American rival Amoco in 1999.
When Conn rose to become one of Lord Browne’s treasured assistants – dubbed the ‘ninja turtles’ as they were required to appear on the scene whenever needed – it was clear he was set for big things.
Plum seats on the boards of blue-chip firms such as Rolls Royce and BP followed.
After Browne passed over the reins to Tony Hayward in 2007 it was widely assumed Conn would be next in line as BP’s chief executive. But the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in 2010 put paid to that plan.
When the subsequent PR fiasco saw Hayward depart, looking like he’d just endured a 12-round battering from Anthony Joshua, BP decided it would be more politic to appoint an American, Bob Dudley, than another Brit. Career salvation arrived in 2015, when he landed the Centrica job.
Conn spends as much time at home as possible with wife Caroline and their three children. Weekends are spent fly-fishing or tootling on his tenor saxophone. As well as being a big blues fan, he’s also a certified car nut.
He owns a beautiful 1967 Jaguar Mark II, the car TV detective Morse used to drive, and loves nothing more than retreating to his garage to fix up old motors.
Customers will hope it’s just car engines the refined Scotsman keeps tinkering with this winter, rather than their energy bills.