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  • Writer's picturePeter Smith

WEDNESDAY 1st MARCH 2000- "He's very young"

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Today I am combining working at home with inspecting suitable schools for daughter. Mid-morning, I ring Bernard to see how he got on in his meeting yesterday with Fred Goodwin. This is the first time Bernard has come face-to-face with one of the top RBS guys.

"He's very young," is Bernard's first comment. Goodwin is about my age, 42, but if anything looks younger, with fair curly hair, glasses and a quite studious, serious demeanour. Bernard felt he seemed somewhat uneasy, and was not very forthcoming, playing his cards close to his chest in terms of people and jobs. He knew a fair bit about Jim Mann, Mike Newens and I, has obviously seen our CV's, but wouldn’t be drawn on future jobs. Bernard told him I was quite capable of running combined purchasing, if not more. I appreciate the vote of confidence, although in some ways I now wish that he'd said I was an idiot. Getting out quickly might be the best option.

Bernard says Mark Fisher is the only person he knows of who has started the assessment process (psychometric tests and such like), which we believe is being run by Whitehead Mann. There was no more clarity on who else amongst the senior team might be subjected to this.

Goodwin said he would have Martin Wilson (Ulster Bank MD) who currently reports to Bernard, report to him directly. Bernard asked whether this was his 24th or 25th direct report- Goodwin did not seem to appreciate the joke. The very top structure is still far from clear and lots of people seem to be reporting to Fred.

Bernard mentions to me an agreement he had with David Rowland, which I take to mean he was planning to go anyway. He was going to stay a little longer, until around mid-year, and offered to do the same with RBS, but Goodwin shuffled a bit and said he didn’t really have anything for Bernard to do.

"Would you like me a stay for a few weeks and help the initial integration?" Bernard responded.

"Er, no not really."

"Would you like me to go on Monday?"

Yes, Fred would like that very much. The sooner the better, from his point of view, and that was effectively the end of Bernard's 35-year career with NatWest.

So, there will be a Stock Exchange announcement on Monday evening with all the NW Directors resigning, then (probably) Delbridge and Pell joining the new RBS board, and Bernard, Ron and Sir David disappearing into the sunset.

Bernard also told Goodwin that he didn't think they were handling things very well so far; not enough contact with the relevant people and not enough evident goodwill. He also suggested that some top jobs for NatWest people would be very reassuring for all the staff. Yes, Goodwin appreciated that and genuinely wants to have a mixed top team.

In the afternoon, Jane, Ginny and I go to the open day at Farnborough Hill School. This is an amazing Grade 1 listed mansion, with later additions, occupied in the 1880's by the Empress Eugenie, widow of Emperor Napoleon the Third of France. It sits on the highest point in Hampshire, with views over its own 50 acres and miles of countryside, only slightly marred by the housing estate just beyond the playing fields. The Library is the old Drawing Room, and has chandeliers, oil paintings and amazing views; the art rooms are down the hill in the old stable block, and there are twisty staircases, attics, as well as up to the minute IT and music rooms. It would serve perfectly as a film location for a St.Trinians or Mallory Towers girl's boarding school.

The Headmistress is very impressive, despite addressing the audience in that way teachers have of making you feel about 12 again. Then she introduces three of the current girls to say a bit about the school in their own words. The second looks like she is modelling schoolwear on the catwalks. She is close to six feet tall, and stunning. She also speaks very well about her time at the school, good and bad points, and explains that she is in Class 4 alpha.

Jane nudges me and whispers, "That means she's 15", she says.

Is my little girl going to look like that in 4 years’ time? How am I going to keep her away from people like my friends (never mind their sons!?)

Later in the afternoon, I dash off for a meeting at Dell Computers in Bracknell. I'm seeing their European Purchasing Director, who is another ex-NatWest purchasing person made good. Dell has expanded into yet another impressive new building. You shouldn’t dwell on missed opportunities, but Dell still upsets me. I was one of their first corporate customers in Europe back in 1992 when I worked for Dun & Bradstreet, and I seriously thought about buying some shares then. As well as having good products, which at the time were about half the price of IBM or Compaq, I met Michael Dell a couple of times and he was very impressive as well as younger, better looking and immeasurably richer than me.

But Camillo Soto, who was the D&B PC expert in the states, and a guy I respected a lot, told me Dell would be bankrupt within two years. In fact, he bet me 50 dollars on it, which I never saw. Of course, if I had bought a few grand’s worth of Dell shares then, they would now have a value approximately equal to the GNP of Holland. But would I be happy as a millionaire? Too damn right I'd be happy! Thanks Camillo!

The Dell Director is very bright and more extrovert than your average Purchasing Director, so I waste a pleasant 45 minutes discussing old NW colleagues wih her, as well as touching on what is happening with the bid, and which jobs the recruiters are currently touting around. Then we cover the real topic for debate- what we are each doing in the e-procurement field. Dell are slightly ahead of us and have made their choice of Ariba as their "front end" software, but we have done more piloting and probably have talked to our suppliers more than Dell, so we can do some useful comparing of notes.

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