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The corridors of power ...

It is curious how many business leaders were set for a different career before fate intervened.

Ian MacLaurin was an excellent cricketer who could easily have turned professional. Instead, during a school cricket tour, he was introduced to Jack Cohen, the founder of Tesco. Cohen told the young cricketers to give him a call if they ever needed help with a job.

MacLaurin took him up on his offer, and ended up running Tesco.

I was reminded of this during a recent trip to Edinburgh to interview Sir Angus Grossart, that scion of the Scottish business establishment.

At university, Sir Angus spent all his spare time on the golf course. He could easily have turned ‘pro’. Instead, he studied accountancy and law, and spent several years practising as a barrister.

Advising on corporate finance deals, he was struck by the absence of a homegrown Scottish merchant bank.

He left the Bar and set up Noble Grossart with Iain Noble, an entrepreneur, in 1969.

Sir Angus, 67, has been criticised by the corporate governance lobbyists over his vice-chairmanship of Royal Bank of Scotland. He has been a director of RBS for 19 years. The other vice-chairman, Lord Vallance, formerly of BT, has been on the board for 12 years. Both men are to step down from the RBS board in April.

The argument is that non-execs who spend too long on a board lose their independence. I’m not so sure that a blanket rule should apply.

A case can be made for the continuity that a long association brings, particularly in Scotland, where the business community is more closely-knit. But any such call risks being shot down as PR ‘spin’.

No doubt the politics of golf – or cricket – can be just as vicious.

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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