Rudd to the rescue at BAA

Sir Nigel Rudd has described his latest chairmanship as the ‘most challenging role I have ever undertaken’. That may seem hard to believe, especially when he’s the man who masterminded the £11.1bn sale of Boots to private equity. But when his new employer is BAA, one of the country’s least-loved companies, and his stated priority is to rescue the reputation of Heathrow, you have to admit he’s probably right.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Rudd's biggest initial hurdle is perhaps being left alone long enough to do his job. The meddlesome ways of Ferrovial, BAA's Spanish owner, have been criticised greatly of late, and led to several high-profile departures – the latest being Donal Dowds, the head of safety, security and services, who quit on Thursday. Rudd meanwhile is the kind of guy who likes to do things his way. True to form he has already sought confirmation that the Spaniards will keep their noses out.

BAA may well be good for Rudd, a City outsider who thrives on succeeding against the odds. Is Rudd good for BAA? Probably. The company is currently redefining the phrase 'up against it', facing two competition commission enquiries, as well as flak from all corners – eco-warriors, the government, passengers… Ken Livingstone called Heathrow 'the shame of England', and Tony Douglas, Heathrow’s former chief exec, stepped down earlier this year saying the airport was 'held together with sticking plaster'. What BAA needs more than anything right now, is clear, strong leadership, and the heavy-hitting Rudd could be just the man.

One of the main criticisms of Ferrovial is, however, that it has forsaken the needs of passengers at its airports in the name of short-term profit. Rudd too is a man who understands the importance of hearing the ring of the cash till ('I’m a businessman, I make money,' he told MT in an exclusive interview this summer). Frequent flyers will be hoping he can prove profits and decent airports aren’t mutually exclusive.

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