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  • Writer's picturePeter Smith

THURSDAY 9th DECEMBER 1999: Into Battle with the Board

Bernard Horn can't make the meeting today - he has had to go off to the States for some reason. My slot in front of the Executive Committee is brought forward from 11.30 to 10.45am., then I wait in a queue with others before getting in just before 11.30. Apparently Sir David particularly wants to hear my pitch before he dashes off somewhere. I present, again trying to be positive but objective- I don't want them thinking I have too much personal stake in this (the share option bit again) which might make them suspicious of the whole concept.

When I finish, Ron says this is really just for information, unless there are any pressing questions... at which point all hell breaks loose as half the attendees make it very clear that they do indeed have pressing questions.

Most of these are very sensible. Richard and Paul Myners have issues around core competence- isn't Purchasing core and why would we effectively outsource it? Tim Jones is worried about losing control of some of the key contracts that account for a major part of his overall cost base. We already have some issues with Tim's operational people over whether they or Purchasing are really in control of areas like the huge British Telecom contract.

Other comments are less challenging. Won't Andersens rip us off in the contract negotiations? Well, there is an issue in that most of our skilled negotiators will sit in the Redgrave new business and therefore can't lead the negotiation, but we have resource and skill in areas like Property and IT. Or indeed, we might identify some of my team who could stay in the "core" NatWest business and act as managers of the Redgrave contract.

I don't get much support, but Norman Blackwell speaks up in favour of the concept. He has been a supporter of the concept from the beginning. But it is interesting that Ron says nothing. I get the feeling he is weighing up both the general feeling of the meeting and how Sir David is taking it all in.

We end up with agreement that Bernard and I need to go round and talk individually to all the objectors and go back to Ron for a final debate on whether to go ahead or not. I come out feeling that I've been through the mill. I think the moral is you should never go into a meeting like that blind without having lobbied all the key people first. Also, I think given the current situation with Ron and David being new, the other senior people· are still in a trying to impress the new boss mode. Asking challenging questions is obviously part of that. I don't think for a minute Richard or Paul need to do that- I think their objections are strategic and thoughtful- but some of the MD's are I think trying to score points.

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