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  • Writer's picturePeter Smith

FRIDAY 17th MARCH 2000; Is Purchasing more Important than the Mail Room? RBS Doesn't Think So!

I have an early meeting at Lothbury with Andrew, the Andersen partner who is leading their supply chain e-ventures group. He is a very bright and impressive character; my sort of age, I guess, very informal style, rapidly drawing diagrams and charts as he explains things. They are doing some real leading edge stuff and he thinks there could be a role for someone like me who would bring more hands-on purchasing depth of experience to complement the "bright young things" AC have working on new e-projects and ideas.

I call Jackie when we finish about 10 and she tells me that Mark Fisher is keen to talk to me. I track him down, calling him from the Lothbury 3rd floor lobby, just outside the lifts. He tells me that he has been appointed Chief Executive, Group Manufacturing, and there will be a formal announcement later, including his highlevel structure. His plan is for Purchasing to report into a Director of Central Services, but as yet he hasn't found anyone to fill that position.

Of course, I know this through the grapevine; I also believe he has approached a number of people who have turned it down. I have an instantaneous internal debate. Should I tell him I am interested in the role? Or ask him why he hasn't already asked me?

But the role will be Edinburgh based, and I won't move, and in my opinion Central Services sounds like a non-job. Purchasing should be reporting directly to Mark. And I assume if he were interested in me doing Central Services, he would have asked me; so I don't respond. He then asks how I feel about the top purchasing job. I say that it is positioned too far down the organisation; I would consider it a demotion and I am not interested.

The new structure means we go from reporting to a main board director (Richard, then Bernard) to reporting to someone (Central Services) who reports to someone else (Mark) who still isn't quite main board! Our status will decline considerably, making it harder to achieve our objectives.

I tell him I also assume it would be Edinburgh based and I don't want to move. Fine, he says, without too much obvious disappointment, if you feel like that then we can discuss a package. It is all quite amicable if a little terse. We chat a little longer about where it will be based, and Mark says he is not yet certain, and he leaves the door slightly open if I want to reconsider. But I think that is it; I am going and I don’t think that prospect fills Mark with too much despair. In some ways I am very relieved to have had the conversation, and I am not unhappy at the prospect of leaving with a pay-off. But I guess I am also a little hurt that no-one is trying to persuade me to stay!

This is a bit of a stupidly hectic day. I then rush off to spend a few hours at a seminar given by Professor Andrew Cox from Birmingham University-"one of the world's leading purchasing and business thinkers" (copyright A.Cox, 1999.) Only joking; Andrew is genuinely one of the most interesting academics I've come across, with some radical ideas about power and relationships in business that have implications beyond the purchasing community. It takes my mind off NatWest and my future anyway.

I check my voice mail mid afternoon as I leave the seminar and have a message to ring Richard Delbridge. My mobile runs out of juice at just the wrong moment, so I phone Richard from a box outside White City tube station. Typically of his desire to do the right thing, he wanted to tell me before it hit the press that he has decided to go. (Unfortunately, it hit the wires before it should have, but I am touched he called me as I don't even work for him now.)

He explains that he is 58, doesn't really want to work full time, and wants to start doing a few different things - non-executive directorships for instance - before he gets too old. From his previous comments, and what I know of how RBS structures finance, I suspect there is a little more to it than that, but I wish him good luck and tell him I hope to stay in touch.

I also have a call from Mike Newens. He was told first thing this morning that he hadn't been successful in his interview, and that Ernest Sheavills of RBS would be the new Director of Property. Somebody certainly analysed yesterday's five and a half hours of tests very quickly in order to come to that decision so promptly!

To round off the day, I meet Mike, a very talkative but pleasant and interesting BBC manager, for my first interview with them. We have lots in common; both of us were rare entrants to do Maths at Cambridge from Northern comprehensive schools, and have daughters who want to be actresses. I don't know how I performed as an interviewee, but I certainly think we bonded.

When I get home, Jackie has faxed me this afternoon's announcement from Mark about his structure. I am even more annoyed when I see this. Within "Central Services", alongside Purchasing, are Mail, Security Services, bits of Alan Duff's finance support responsibilities, internal consultancy and, (for some incomprehensible reason), NW Insurance Operations. It looks like a rag-bag of activities (except us of course!) that don't fit together with any real logic.

But I am also surprised to see Mark will have nine direct reports including two IT Heads and Directors of Property, Payments, Lending, Account Management, Manufacturing Support (whatever that is) and Telephony. I can't believe that we are not considered as important as all of these areas; I have no doubt that Purchasing should be at least on a level with them if we are to have any credibility at all. Even if I got the top purchasing job, in this structure it would represent a huge demotion.

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