BusinessPeople In BusinessOn the money

On the money

A few months ago I had lunch with Lord Sharman whom I have known since he emerged at the top of KPMG. We ate at the Gavroche as he is chairman of the company which owns it

At the time he was also in the news as chairman of Aviva, owner of Norwich
Union, as it had just made a tentative bid to Prudential. He was also on the
receiving end of the unsolicited attentions of the French tycoon Vincent Bollore
who had bought into and was seeking a place on the board of Aegis, the media
company where Sharman is again chairman.

To cap it all, he was lobbying me on various proposals for changes in company
law which were then winding their way through the House of Lords and where he is
spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.

To lighten that load, he was deeply entertaining about the battle between Sir
Menzies Campbell and journalist Chris Huhne to succeed Charles Kennedy as
Lib-Dem leader.

Now the point of this is not to reflect on how busy Lord Sharman is, but how
unusual. When you think of how many people make it to the top in the big
accounting firms, how short is their tenure and how young, relatively speaking,
they are when they retire, it is astonishing how few successfully reinvent
themselves as Sharman has.

Perhaps some are put off by those who tried and were embarrassing failures –
one individual from Ernst & Young springs to mind. But it’s odd how
anonymous they become, and that lawyers fare little better.

Indeed, there was much comment recently when Anthony Salz, having retired
from Freshfields , landed a position as deputy chairman at Rothschilds precisely
because such things did not happen often. Given the perceived shortage of talent
in the boardroom, the professions seem to be a missing a trick.

Anthony Hilton is finance editor of the Evening Standard

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