Two of the FTSE 100’s best-known bosses are reportedly planning to call it a day: Sir John Bond, the Vodafone chairman who has recently come under fire from a leading shareholder, is apparently stepping down within the year, while Sir John Parker is supposedly lining up an exit from the (non-electric) chair of National Grid towards the back end of 2011. Various names have been linked with these two high-profile jobs, including many of the usual suspects. But we can’t help wondering whether the list of suitably qualified people who actually want to spend their pre-retirement years chairing a public company is likely to get smaller by the year...
Vodafone chairman Bond was credited with diffusing boardroom tension when he took the job back in 2006, but he’s been under the cosh lately: Ontario Teachers, a major Vodafone shareholder, tried to block his re-election in July in a row over strategy; it criticised Vodafone’s ‘disastrous’ acquisition record and ‘strategic weaknesses’, not least the various minority stakes it has (in the likes of Verizon Wireless) that aren’t generating any value. A source told the FT that Bond was only ever planning to stay for six years anyway, so this wasn’t directly linked to the Ontario row. But it undoubtedly gives Vodafone a strong incentive to get a new person on board, so to speak.
No such problems for Sir John Parker at National Grid; in fact, Parker’s so well regarded in the City that he’s one of the only people to chair two FTSE 100 companies simultaneously (Anglo American being the other), while he’s also a non-exec at Carnival and EADS. So although he’s 68 years old, and has chaired National Grid for eight years, there’s no suggestion of him retiring (in fact, yesterday's Sunday Times was even wondering whether he might be tempted by the BP job, if Carl-Henric Svanberg gets the boot).
Vodafone has apparently already got headhunter supreme Anna Mann on the case, with the Sunday Times suggesting Roger Carr, Lord Davies and even Sir John Rose have been linked with the job (at least the last of these would save money on door stencilling).
And while there’s unlikely to be a shortage of candidate for two such big jobs, the bigger question is whether they’ll all be recruiting from a shrinking pool. With governance demands getting ever stricter, and the consequences of failure more marked, will it always be possible to tempt the likes of Rose to take on a chairman role after quitting the day-to-day grind? For instance, his namesake Sir Stuart at M&S suggested this weekend that he wouldn’t take another role at a public company when he leaves the retailer. Since retiring CEOs presumably don’t need the money – not to mention the kind of stick Sir Stuart's had lately – it’s not easy to see why they’d bother.