UK: The rise of "grey" power in Britain's boardrooms. (4 of 8)

UK: The rise of "grey" power in Britain's boardrooms. (4 of 8) - John was similarly thorough. After leaving his accountancy firm, instead of rushing head long into a job, he took his time, first choosing the sector, then drawing up a shortlist of compani

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

John was similarly thorough. After leaving his accountancy firm, instead of rushing head long into a job, he took his time, first choosing the sector, then drawing up a shortlist of companies. He had already decided to apply to Harry's company when he spotted an advertisement for "Stars of tomorrow". It was Harry, borrowing an idea from Gulliver who once, seeking to strengthen his management team, advertised for "Future chief executives".

Five years after answering the advertisement John was made financial director. Harry and he were inseparable. Wherever Harry went, John, as financial director, went too (in photos of Harry, he was the anonymous, earnest-looking one in the background).

From his privileged position John watched, learned and waited. Six months ago his moment had come. So far so good. Everything going according to plan, little to fear. Like so many of the new breed, he will not make the same mistakes as the fallen '80s stars. Like many of the new tycoons, John has little sentimental attachment to the business that he is working in. Everything is for sale - at the right price.

Again, as elsewhere in the world of the grey, the work ethic and a new emphasis on teamwork have replaced the cult of the personality. Press interviews are rarely given and photo opportunities are few. John is rarely seen in public. He avoids places like the Savoy Grill, once a favourite of the old brigade and still frequented by the last remnants of their set. John prefers cheaper, more discreet restaurants or, better still, to lunch alone in his office at his desk.

Like all of the leading greys, John leads a quiet life: family roast on Sundays, beers with the boys on Wednesdays. He never drinks at lunchtime, gives outlandish parties or goes "clubbing" in the small hours. Married to the same woman for 20 years, he is never photographed out on the town with a girl on his arm. He has no tabloid nickname and would hate to have one.

Anonymity is dear to the grey man. When Mulcahy bid for Woolworth, a private eye investigated his lifestyle. It was a laborious but completely wasted effort: all that he could discover about Mulcahy's conduct was that he set off for work early in the morning and made "an equally late return every day".

Like Burton's Laurence Cooklin, who loves building and flying radio-controlled aeroplanes, John has a passion for scale models. But most weekends, like the other grey tycoons, he spends paying surprise visits to his company's establishments. (Occasionally John emulates another, unnamed grey chief executive who said recently that he liked to relax by reading other companies' annual reports.)

If there is one special characteristic of the grey men, it is their attitude to the City. Unlike the fallen entrepreneurs, they work hard at cultivating analysts and fund managers, and making themselves understood. They are always courteous - no matter how trivial the questions - and they always give full, detailed answers. Having seen what happened to the likes of Conran, Halpern and Davies, who were forced to quit, the grey men are determined that the same thing will never happen to them.

John turns into the car park. Instead of driving into his space, he smiles and turns to the left. After a short while he comes to it, an abiding symbol of '80s excess. For five minutes John drives round and round Harry's former helipad. He laughs wildly as he spins. Flash Harry has gone. Mr Grey is in charge.

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