Are those strategic directions still the right ones? The working party report, just published, is quite clear on all of this, says Sir Denys. "The conclusion of the resource task force is that that's still the right way to be going but we're going to have to be even more selective in the way that we allocate resources."
The company is to be reshaped, he says, so that it consists of just seven international business groupings, each of which is strong enough (or has the potential to become strong enough) to play a truly global role - in other words, compete profitably against other world class companies in the three key world markets on which ICI now plans to concentrate: Europe, North America and Asia/Pacific.
Those seven - pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and seeds, specialities, paints, industrial chemicals, explosives and materials - will get the lion's share of ICI resources. "That means by definition", says Sir Denys, "that those that are not in that category are either going to be run for cash - we don't see them as expansion candidates - or they will be divested. By reducing the amount that goes into those non-global businesses, the amount of money available to push more aggressively with global businesses will be increased."
The big managerial change is that a new senior management body, to be known as the performance and policy committee, is being set up. The executive team will still be the key decision-making forum but the performance and policy committee, which will meet quarterly and comprise the executive team, the chief executive officers of the businesses and the general manager (finance), should enable the chief executives to make a significant input to executive team thinking and policy formation. It will also enable much closer monitoring of the performance of individual businesses and territories.
Finally, it will be a way of letting the chief executives know, on a quarter by quarter basis, what is happening to the group as a whole. "I think that's important," says Sir Denys, "because clearly all my robber barons are hell bent on looking after their businesses, but we need to remind them that they are also senior members of the corporation as a whole and they need therefore to judge what THEY want against the group's overall position."
With all of this change in the air, the months ahead are bound to be a bit fraught for everyone. What Sir Denys cannot do - it would be commercially inept, he says - is to signal more clearly which businesses might be up for sale eventually. He realises that this will result, of course, in speculation and uncertainty.
He believes that British industry as a whole is in for a pretty rough ride in the short term and that nobody, not even ICI, is immune, but the company will get through it in reasonable condition. "Beyond that we want to be in even better shape to cope with the upturn as and when it comes."
He has just accepted the renewal of his chairmanship for another four years, by which time he should know whether the present revamp is enough to see ICI through to the end of the decade. Whatever happens, he will bow out in 1995. Even with his present slightly thinner pay packet, the accumulated pension rights should, by then, be enough to be knocking on with.
1932 Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where father was a tea planter. "He
was a hired hand like I am."
1952-55 Studies law
1955-57 Staff captain, directorate of army legal services
1957-66 Joins secretary's department at ICI head office. "The honest
truth is I just wanted a job that paid the rent." Holds various
legal posts in Paints, Billingham, Agriculture and Nobel
1966-68 New ventures manager, Nobel. "From then on I never went back to
being a lawyer."
1968-77 Senior management posts in various divisions
1977-80 Chairman of Paints division.
1980 Joins main board
1986 Appointed deputy chairman
1987 Succeeds Sir John Harvey-Jones as chairman
1991 Reappointed chairman for a further three years. "It's a tough
time. Continuity is important."
(Malcolm Brown is a freelance writer.)