Held to Account

It is a pity that shareholders meetings can’t be a bit more like a session of the Public Accounts Committee chaired by Margaret Hodge.

The latest one – where Rona Fairhead, a non-executive director at HSBC and Head of the BBC Trust was given a right royal roasting – is the sort of thing I have in mind.

Concluding about Ms Fairhead after her performance before the Committee, Ms Hodge said , “you were either incredibly naïve or totally incompetent… I really do think that you should consider your position and think about resigning and if not, I think the government should sack you” (as Head of the BBC Trust).

Other classic assessments by Ms Hodge were “You get paid ten grand a day (by HSBC) and what do you do for it?”

The brilliant Ann Treneman of The Times said in reporting Rona Fairhead’s performance before the Committee: ‘I suspect that her mind is like one of those large filing cabinets – metal with many little drawers where all information is perfectly sorted but never actually collated. There is, sadly, no drawer market common sense.’

It would seem that even a former head of global private banking at HSBC hid behind a professed lack of knowledge of Swiss banking law – “But didn’t you realise why people had bank accounts in Switzerland?” asked Ms Hodge.

We have to acknowledge in this and many other cases that senior directors in many companies are, again to quote Ann Treneman of Rona Fairhead, ‘highly clueless’ and we could do with being able to challenge more publicly the performance of so-called captains of industry.

Their Boards of Directors and their non-executive Directors clearly do not do it (the past few years are littered with examples), so maybe shareholders’ meetings should be given the power that the Public Accounts Committee has and the teeth that its Chairperson has and used against executives from HSBC.

Published on Mar 11, 2015 by Neil Thomas