Profile: Former Marconi FD John Mayo

When John Mayo, former finance director of troubled Marconi, attended the Accountancy Age awards last Wednesday, he was asked how things were going since leaving his former employer.

‘Very well, very well,’ he was overheard to say. Within two days it was revealed that Mayo was suing his former paymasters for £1.6m. For a man generally thought of as being supremely ‘confident in his own abilities’, the thought of such a large future payout could possibly explain his optimistic demeanour.

Many will be surprised that Mayo, indelibly associated with the undignified near collapse of what was one of the country’s proudest companies earlier this year, will have turned on it now. But those who know the man will doubtless regard this as another example of someone who has become renowned for being ‘prepared to publicly stand up for his point of view’.

Mayo’s story is one of the most gripping among what has been a year of dramatic corporate events. He was FD at Marconi when its shares were suspended last year, prompting a collapse in the price.

Mayo then displayed what has come to be his trademark ballsiness – he promptly bought 200,000 more shares in the company. It was an act that could have been many things. It could have been a selfless act to shore up investor confidence, but on the other hand, the price was by that time so low, Mayo may have calculated that in the long run he couldn’t lose.

But that was just the first round in the drama. Mayo’s departure from Marconi became enmeshed in acrimony as accusers moved to point the finger of blame at the former financial director.

Mayo was at Marconi when it transformed itself from engineering concern to telecoms manufacturing giant. Since the deals that facilitated that transformation, Marconi has seen its debts rise to around £3bn and is struggling to make the repayments after customer demand fell for its products.

But the accusers forced Mayo into striking a deal with the FT to allow two full pages to write his own account of what happened at Marconi. Always ready to stand its ground, Marconi hit back hard with a detailed account of the decision-making at the company.

That head for detail is one of Mayo’s strengths. He is always well briefed and as a consequence is not the sort of man that rolls over and dies in an argument.

Those who have worked with him describe him as having ‘absolute belief in his own abilities’, a trait that will no doubt put him in a good position for the court hearing that could follow his lawsuit.

Mayo wants money he believes he is owed from the Marconi pension fund.

Marconi will no doubt be loath to give any more to the man, if only because such a payment would again attract howls of complaint.

But Mayo appears relaxed. As he ate his dinner at the awards function last week, there was no hint of the kind of nervousness that might precede what could turn out to be a huge and demanding legal battle. But that said, Mayo has never given any indication that he’s afraid of a fight.

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