You can’t open the Financial Times, it seems, without reading about
the latest pride of British business announcing it’s being taken over. Notable
aquisitions include, of course, BAA, where Margaret Ewing, an Accountancy
Age award winner, presided over the accounts.
Personally, I find it difficult to say whether selling up is right or wrong.
We have a free market so if investors want to sell, then they are free to do so.
It’s difficult to blame directors when they operate within a system we all seem
happy with. Unless, of course, we want to roll back the clock and instigate some
old fashioned market intervention.
Of course, the long-term economics might be dodgy. All those profits leaving
these shores and all that lost corporate tax can’t be a good thing for the UK
One company that’s holding out against an aggressive foreign investment is
the London Stock Exchange where, ironically, it is the much lauded Dutch CEO
Clara Furse who has told Nasdaq where to stick its offer. This is a turnaround
for Furse who, some time ago, attracted little more than derision for her
running of the LSE. I myself have heard stinging criticism of Furse from some
very senior City people.
But defending the line she is. What I’d like to point out though is that you
can’t hold out against such pressure without support and one likely source of
that is her finance director Jonathan Howell. A former PricewaterhouseCoopers
man, Howell would be relied upon to produce the numbers that shore up the
argument against a sell out. He’d also be behind the recent efforts to mount a
£250m share buyback as part of the Nasdaq defence.
Put another way, if you haven’t got your FD on side, you’re probably on the
Gavin Hinks is editor of Accountancy Age
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