TO THE Plaisterers Hall on London Wall last night for the annual Non-Executive Director Awards, hosted by broker KBC Peel Hunt.
Top of the honours list was former Cadbury chairman Roger Carr – who must have been relieved that, for once, the accolade had nothing to do with chocolate and everything to do with his chairmanship of energy group Centrica.
“I didn’t devote absolutely no time to Centrica, it was just that the week extended to seven days rather than five,” he told The Capitalist. “It is going to be nice for my wife that we can start going out together a bit more!”
Quite. Still, ever the committed businessman, Carr was keen to impress on those present the important role of the non-executive director, drumming up a quaint analogy from his past experience in the boardroom.
Apparently, when he started in business in the Eighties, non-execs were expected to be like poodles – fashionable, welcome, but not exactly terrifying.
By the Nineties, they were more reminiscent of a Labrador – trustworthy and reliable, and the chief executive’s best friend.
In the Noughties, boardrooms are packed with Alsatians; sharp and on guard, non-execs are like policemen – approachable, but there to make people nervous.
“So the next thing we can expect is a bunch of Rottweilers,” quipped Carr. A terrifying thought indeed.
Speaking of Carr, if the award organisers were keen to push his role at Centrica, others in the room were only too happy to bring the chat back round to Cadbury.
The Capitalist got chatting at the awards to Patrick Evershed, the veteran fund manager renowned for being brave enough to take on New Star founder John Duffield in a lawsuit, and it seems the sale to Kraft is something of a personal bugbear for him.
“Roger did a great job getting the best value for shareholders, but I don’t know if it was in the national interest,” Evershed sighed.
“It’s very sad to see a great company like Cadbury sold. I come from Birmingham and used to go skiing with the Cadbury family and wake up to the Cadbury Carillon every morning…”
The carillon, for those unaware of the heritage, is a belltower originally brought to the town of Bournville by company founder George Cadbury – which, following the Kraft takeover fight, has become something of a national treasure.
Among those presenting the awards last night – which also honoured the achievements of BTG chairman John Brown and William Tadden, a director at Capital Solutions Group, in the boardroom – was another City grandee, Anglo American and National Grid chairman Sir John Parker.
Parker is taking over this year from 3i’s Baroness Hogg as chair of the judging panel for the awards, and has a wealth of experience under his own belt as a non-executive.
Of course, Parker’s latest role at Anglo American has been beset with intrigue as he rebuffed an approach last year from fellow mining giant Xstrata. But perhaps one of the most difficult challenges he faced when new to the company was that attack by its former deputy chairman Graham Boustred on current chief Cynthia Carroll, when he famously attacked her for being “hopeless” and claimed female chief executives could not act properly because “most women are sexually frustrated”.
“I have made it absolutely clear that I am fully behind Cynthia and she has the full support of our board,” says Parker, his usually gentle eyes flashing with anger. “It was pretty despicable behaviour – the language of a dinosaur...”
The Capitalist, along with the rest of the City’s healthy contingent of successful ladies, couldn’t agree more.