UK: The rise of "grey" power in Britain's boardrooms. (6 of 8)

UK: The rise of "grey" power in Britain's boardrooms. (6 of 8) -

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

He believes in doing things by the book does Michael Julien, Sir Terence Conran's successor at Storehouse. "If we have been abroad," says Mrs Julien, "and I have bought £25 of gifts and the duty-free allowance is £18, I have to go through the red channel at customs and pay the extra."

Julien's career was once described by an acquaintance as "a headhunter's orgasm". From school in Oxford, he went straight on to National Service and then to Price Waterhouse as a trainee accountant. At 29 he made the break, becoming chief financial officer at CE Heath, the insurance broker. In the next 20 years he worked his way through a variety of companies and directorships - British Leyland, BICC, Midland Bank, Guinness - before, in 1988, picking up the reins at Storehouse.

Conventional and serious, with a passion for neatness, Julien, now aged 53, has been described as "visually illiterate". What he is as well, though, is the saviour of Storehouse. Since taking over he has set about "de-Conranising" the company. Costs have been reduced and parts of the empire sold - to the apparent contempt of Sir Terence. "To strengthen the balance sheet Michael is selling off the family silver. Some of us believe in a more cheerful tomorrow. If Michael cannot manage a business, he sells it."

Julien has had to work hard for his success. "I do not spend time on the things other people value. I do not go to concerts or the theatre much. I haven't time for the garden and cannot be part of anything where people rely on me to turn up regularly. If you ask my wife she would tell you I put the people in my company before the family."

They are chalk and cheese: Lord King, the British Airways chairman, and Sir Colin Marshall, the airline's chief executive. King is the charismatic motivator, Marshall the textbook manager and marketing man. Together they make a great team.

A lover of jargon, with his mid-Atlantic accent Sir Colin sounds like a classic graduate of an American business school. But he has never been to business school, let alone university. His marketing skills and obsessive eye for detail were acquired in the competitive jungle of the American car hire market. After training with Hertz, in 1964, aged 27, he switched to Avis, its great rival. A decade later he was president and chief executive of the company. When Avis was taken over he stayed for a while before returning to Britain as deputy head of Sears. Two years later, in 1983, he was headhunted to BA.

Reserved, with a dry sense of humour, Sir Colin is known, somewhat unfairly, within BA "as the suit without a man inside". Nevertheless, it is too early to say whether he will succeed Lord King as chairman. King, now in his 70s and as flamboyant as ever, relishes the £400,000-a-year job, which he is due to leave next year. He shows little interest in returning to his Leicestershire estate to pursue his hobby as a gentleman farmer.

Sir Colin, a brilliant manager, may simply stay as chief executive while a Lord King Mark Two is found to conduct the political battles on BA's behalf in Whitehall, Brussels and Washington.

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