Lord Turner is widely reported to be the front-runner to succeed Sir Callum McCarthy as chairman of the FSA, the job that nobody appears to want (not surprisingly, given recent events). It’s the latest in a series of public sector appointments for Turner, who has previously served as director-general of the CBI (where he earned the nickname Red Adair for cosying up to Labour), and headed the government’s low pay commission. Elevated to the Lords by Tony Blair in 2005 as a reward for these sterling efforts (albeit as a cross-bench peer), he currently chairs its climate change committee.
After starting off as a banker and spending much of his career as a consultant at McKinsey, Turner clearly has the private and public sector experience required for a role like this. On the other hand, we get the impression that there haven’t exactly been a huge number of volunteers for the post. Apparently ex-HBOS boss Sir James Crosbie has already turned it down, as (possibly) did Merrill Lynch’s European chairman Bob Wigley and ex-Morgan Stanley president Jonathan Chevenix-Trench.
And we can’t say we’re surprised. A few years back this probably looked like a fairly straightforward job – chairing a body renowned for its light-touch (i.e. do-very-little) approach during the industry’s boom years can’t have been all that taxing. However, in the aftermath of the Northern Rock debacle, things are very different: the whole ethos of the FSA has been called into question, and new CEO Hector Sants has launched an overhaul of its operations. The new man will be under pressure to clamp down on some of the sharper practices in the City – but without killing the goose that has been laying the UK’s golden eggs for years.
So is Turner the right man for the job? Having spent six years as vice-chairman of Merrill Lynch, he should know the industry pretty well, and in our experience he’s a pretty smart and engaging operator. On the other hand, trying to oversee the banks with the Treasury breathing down your neck could be a pretty thankless task – and with Turner apparently unwilling to give up his climate change job, sceptics will suggest that he won’t be able to devote enough time to the role (which was supposed to be a full-time gig). Rather him than us...