December 1, 2012 12:54 am

Church, Bank and Beeb: why insiders miss out in extremis

From Mr Duncan Reed.

Sir, In little over a fortnight, we have seen three pillars of our society driven to seek a hero to restore their battered fortunes. As so often, key features of this phenomenon have for some time been observable in troubled global businesses, features that are now being replicated in the organs of the nation state.

First, there came the Church of England with the appointment of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury. He had come late to his vocation after a career in the oil industry. After a meteoric rise, he has been handed the top job after only a year as Bishop of Durham, and so is almost entirely lacking in previous management experience within the institution he now leads. He is the “outsider-insider”.

Second, Lord Hall of Birkenhead was appointed director-general of the BBC. He had an earlier career at the corporation but is returning after more than a decade in cleansing quarantine elsewhere, at the Royal Opera House. Similarly, his lack of recent managerial experience at the BBC was seen as no bar. He is the classic “insider-outsider”.

Finally, to near universal acclaim, the chancellor of the exchequer has drawn Mark Carney from Canada to be the next governor of the Bank of England. Mr Carney has lived and worked in the UK but has never once set managerial foot in the Bank of England in his career. He is thus the “outsider-outsider”.

The experience of the larger company boards has generally been that, in extremis, change agents can only formulate and then effect the necessary change if they either come back into a company from a period of decontamination or decompression outside it; or have yet to be “institutionalised” in the first place; or in some cases if they have never been part of it at all. By contrast, the company or organisation that believes itself to be successful will be more likely to appoint one of its long-serving own to lead it.

In these difficult times, the lesson would seem to be that those who wish to rise to the top are less likely to do so by staying still and accumulating their pension. The “insider-insider”, paradoxically, has no place to go.

Duncan Reed, Director, Condign Board Consulting, London SW1, UK

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