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I've always been amused by the fuss that is generated by that most practical of executive toys, the corporate jet. Think of a boardroom bust-up and the chances are that there is a Learjet lurking in there somewhere.

Big Food Group, formerly known as Iceland, has been taken to task by shareholders over its Cessna Citation. A shameful waste of money, they cried. The irony is that the jet was bought 20 years ago, making it a well-utilised asset. Everyone forgets it’s there, and the row breaks out every few of years.

Company jets have become a symbol of corporate greed. But used properly, they are an efficient tool. Mining companies use them to reach private strips in locations not served by commercial services.

Some executives have not helped their cause. Tiny Rowland, the founder of Lonrho, used the company Gulfstream for flips to see buddy Robert Mugabe.

Shareholders were not expected to baulk at the £2m annual running costs: they were lucky to have him.

Greg Hutchings quit as chief executive of Tomkins amid allegations that he used four jets for his personal recreation. Peter Clowes, the 80s fraudster, kept personalised ‘his and hers’ Learjets for those flips down to Spain – paid for by unsuspecting investors.

Anyone remember Robert Montague? He stepped down as chief executive of Tiphook amid a furore over the use of a leased Hawker Siddeley 125.

RJR Nabisco gave its directors the run of a fleet of jets dubbed the RJR Airforce. On one occasion, the passenger manifest referred to a certain G Shepherd – the chief executive’s alsatian dog, Rocco.

All good fun – unless, of course, you’re having to face down irate shareholders at the annual general meeting. What would the rabble know about such things anyway?

  • Jon Ashworth is business features editor at the Times

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