The corridors of power…

No, not those jet-setting chief execs, already sunning themselves on some
faraway beach. I’m talking about corporate icons here. Giants of their day.

Few were bigger than the mighty GEC led by the parsimonious but brilliant
Arnie Weinstock. It is just as well that Lord Weinstock (as he became) is not
around to see what became of his company.

This year, three years after his death, GEC’s disintegration was completed
when Ericsson, the Swedish telecoms group, swallowed the renamed Marconi.

The restructuring of GEC under Lord Simpson and his finance director
side-kick, John Mayo, remains unmatched in the league of UK corporate disasters.
Simpson and Mayo took Weinstock’s £2.6 billion cash pile and turned it into £4.4
billion of debt. That takes some doing.

So, farewell GEC. But this was not the only departure in 2005. The year
brought the death, at the age of 87, of Lord King, cantankerous former chief
executive, later chairman, of British Airways.

He made a huge success of BA’s 1987 privatisation only to run up against Sir
Richard Branson over allegations of a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against Virgin

Sir Richard is not a man to cross, as Guy Snowden, the portly American
lottery magnate, later discovered to his cost. King never really lived down the
humiliation of having to apologise to the nation’s favourite knight.

The last few years have robbed us of men of the stature of Lords King,
Weinstock and Hanson. Lord Forte, the hotelier, is still going strong at 97. I
hope that he makes it to his centenary. The young business stars of today are
not a patch on our business legends.

Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist and writer

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