The perils of piloting a modern plc

Never mind the MBA and the solid gold City rep, the thing you really need to run a public company these days is eyes in the back of your head. Avert your gaze from the private equity shock troops for even a moment and their tanks will soon be rolling into the car park and drawing a bead on the boardroom. Just ask Boots chairman, Sir Nigel Rudd.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
On the other hand, if you spend all your time scanning the horizon for signs of external threat, you may not spot the trouble brewing inside the corporate citadel. This challenge faced Cadbury Schweppes boss Todd Stitzer earlier this week, when it emerged that the infamously energetic US professional shareholder Nelson Peltz had taken a 3% stake in the company.

In the end, it was a one-sided fight, and Peltz's firmly stated view that the 38-year-old merger that created the firm should be undone became a reality in record time. Cadbury Schweppes will be split in two again and Stitzer - who will remain boss of the Cadbury's half - will be left looking half the boss he used to. This is a harsh fate for a man who has always at least tried to do the right thing.

Even the mighty Tesco, which has successfully priced itself beyond the reach of private equity - for now - is not immune to the wiles of professional shareholders. That other great US specimen of the breed, Warren Buffett, now has a 3% stake in Britain's favourite retailer. That makes him a top-10 shareholder and as such he will shortly be sitting down to chew the fat with Terry Leahy.

As far as we know, Buffett has no beef with the Tesco top team, but he is famous for his words of homespun financial wisdom, including this little homily, which is unlikely to be well received at the firm's Cheshunt HQ: ‘I only invest in companies that an idiot could run, because sooner or later, one will.'

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