BusinessCorporate FinanceOn the money

On the money

Mike Weston, the chief executive of BAE, can claim to be one of Britain’s most successful chief executives, given the turnaround he has executed at the defence manufacturer in the relatively short time he has been in charge.

Reflecting this success, he was asked which businessmen he most admired.
There was no point, he said, in naming people like Sir Richard Branson whom he
barely knew, or likewise Lord Browne of BP. So he opted for Sir John Parker.

This is an interesting choice for two reasons. First, Parker is not one of
those big name businessmen who regularly make the news, even if he has been more
prominent in recent weeks because of the bid for P&O where he is chairman.

Secondly, Weston gave remarkably down-to-earth reasons: ‘He knows what he is
talking about, he is very smooth, has common sense, and is fantastic at dealing
with people.’

There was nothing about strategic vision, cutting through the numbers,
understanding the business, creating value, or any of the things they teach in
business school.

Interestingly this ties in with the visit to London the other day of a former
professor of Harvard Business School who quit last year because she reckoned
most of what was being taught was actively damaging.

It was delivering the wrong set of values, moulding graduates who believed
that business was about process rather than about people and who, therefore,
failed to position the business to reach its full potential.

Her message was that numbers have their uses, but knowing when to ignore them
is a more useful skill than being able to hit them.

Finance directors often aspire to become CEOs, but struggle when they get
there. Perhaps this is the message – if you want to keep the top job, play up
your innumerate side.

Anthony Hilton is the financial editor of the Evening Standard

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