THE HUMAN FACTOR: John Robinson clearly failed to understand the machinations of either Stephen Byers and his team or Gordon Brown and his Treasury bovver boys

THE HUMAN FACTOR: John Robinson clearly failed to understand the machinations of either Stephen Byers and his team or Gordon Brown and his Treasury bovver boys - When it comes to doing business with governments, be wary; be very wary. This is the lesson t

by PATIENCE WHEATCROFT, business and City editor of The Times

When it comes to doing business with governments, be wary; be very wary. This is the lesson that John Robinson and his fellow Railtrack directors have learned. Governments do not stick to straightforward commercial principles: they have electors to please. Ministers do not conform to usual business practice: they have turf wars to fight and, anyhow, few of them know a thing about business beyond running a constituency fete.

Robinson wasn't the first choice for the chairmanship of Railtrack, but he was prepared to say yes to a job that others saw as a ticket to hell. His predecessor, Sir Philip Beck, survived in the role simply by keeping a profile so low that few even realised he was there.

Gerald Corbett's experience as chief executive of Railtrack demonstrated the full horrors facing a businessman trying to work with politicians. He was not the most adept front man for a company in crisis, but few would have coped better with the unreasonableness of his political masters. They put him at the mercy of layer upon layer of regulation; they vilified him after the Ladbroke Grove crash, then went into panic mode after the Hatfield disaster. They had no concern as to how he might reconcile their demands with those of his other masters in the City, only of how the situation would be seen by the electorate.

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