Cameron enjoys new broom effect - as Thiam and Hayward suffer

New leaders often get the benefit of the doubt - but those associated with failure are up against it.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There's an interesting contrast in today's news between Prime Minister David Cameron, who's just got the thumbs-up from international investors over his deficit reduction plans, and two corporate bosses under heavy fire: Prudential boss Tidjane Thiam, whose shareholders want blood after the expensive failure of the AIA deal, and BP chief Tony Hayward, who seems to be public enemy number one in the US in the wake of the oil spill. Both men are under pressure to carry the can for their company's recent failures - and as Cameron is proving, anxious investors are often becalmed by a new broom exuding hope and promise, unsullied by the mistakes of the past...

As Cameron and co celebrate the results of a new global poll by Bloomberg, which found that his fiscal plans had the support of 51% of international investors (a higher approval rating than Angela Merkel, and twice as high as Gordon Brown managed last time), things are looking increasingly bleak for Thiam, whose high-profile failure to seal the AIA deal (and perhaps more significantly, his approach to the whole process) appears to have alienated investors. Sky claimed last night that three of the Pru's biggest shareholders are now demanding a boardroom shake-up, including the exit of Thiam. Today's Times is even reporting that they're trying to talk ex-Pru boss Mark Tucker into coming back (if only temporarily) to steady the ship.

As for Hayward, he appears to have an even more powerful enemy, in the shape of Barack Obama. The US President, who's clearly under pressure at home to crack down on BP, said this week that he was trying to work out whose 'ass to kick' over the spill; the implicit threat of punitive fines and legislation wiped another 5% off BP's share price. Obama also suggested that he would have sacked Hayward, particularly in light of some of his more ill-judged comments – notably that he wanted his life back, not to mention his insistence that all the oil was on the surface (the US now claims to have found underwater oil 40-odd miles away).

Of the two, Hayward looks a lot more likely to survive than Thiam; the word on the street is that if the US insists that a high-profile head must roll at BP, its largely invisible chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg (who he?) is far more likely to get the boot. After all, despite his gaffes, Hayward has kept putting his head above the parapet and kept taking responsibility – whereas Svanberg has been notable only by his absence. So perhaps investors are right to save Hayward. But there's no doubt that, if he does survive, this episode will be a blot on his copybook for many years to come.

In today's bulletin:
Cameron enjoys new broom effect - as Thiam and Hayward suffer
Lord Myners bites the hand that fed him
MT Leadership Visions: Mark Derry, Director of BBH Plc
Editor's blog: The real Sir Terry Leahy
Why new Tesco boss Philip Clarke got the top job

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