I had breakfast with Robert Swannell, the newly appointed chairman of Marks & Spencer recently, it was clear that the former investment banker was in anything but wind down mode.
After three decades of working on mergers and acquisitions, sometimes over seven-day weeks involving late nights, Swannell could have been forgiven for putting his feet up, helping his charming wife with her art career and concentrating on his role on the board of governors at Rugby School where he is an active member.
After recently retiring from Citigroup, Swannell set up his own office in the West End from where he would co-ordinate his new life, that until yesterday comprised directorships at HMV, British Land and 3i. His first day there he dubbed: “The first day of the rest of my life.”
Now the latter two roles will go and Swannell will take over as chairman of Marks & Spencer, where he played a pivotal role keeping Sir Philip Green at bay not that many years ago.
In Swannell M&S have recruited a man whose integrity has never been in doubt. At 59 years of age, he is also an experienced businessman but one who has a youthful enthusiasm for gadgets, such as the iPad, which he was showing me enthusiastically ahead of breakfast.
At M&S he will have the task of helping the new management team under Marc Bolland of overcoming a couple of years of stuttering sales. He is joining just as retailers face up to an imminent hike in VAT and possibly a difficult period if consumer confidence slides in the run up to the public spending cuts.
Whatever the obstacles thrown into the path of M&S, Swannell will welcome the challenge. Of that there is no doubt.
TO CAP IT ALL
“Just when we are pulling ourselves out of a crippling recession, imposing this cap now will strangle City law firms and in turn hit the businesses they act for,” says Des Hudson, the chief executive of the Law Society.
Lawyers are only the latest City professionals to warn about the detrimental consequences of a cap on immigration.
There is currently a consultation process under way into the introduction of a migrant cap after a number of pressure groups as well as a few ministers warned of the consequences of taking too tough a line on migrants.
The Law Society says the cap may lead to firms and their clients relocating offices and transactional work disappearing to other jurisdictions, damaging London’s competitiveness as a global financial centre.
That’s exactly what we don’t want at a time when President Nicolas Sarkozy is believed to be trying to woo bankers and the like to Paris with tax breaks and other financial incentives.
The Law Society, like many other employer organisations would rather see a points based system that would allow the UK to bring in skills.
“If there are skills that we need that we cannot meet from indigenous resources, we would all be better off if we could get people in from overseas,” says Hudson.
Somehow the government has to square these concerns with those of the Mrs Duffys of the world, the woman who embarrassed Gordon Brown on the subject of immigration during the election campaign. firstname.lastname@example.org Allister Heath is away.