Mike Clasper relishes a challenge. He demonstrated his tenacity while serving as chief executive of BAA where he led a stubborn, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to stop Ferrovial of Spain acquiring the UK airport operator.
Late last year, he took on one of the toughest jobs in private equity, joining Terra Firma, the buy-out group run by City financier Guy Hands, to work on its acquisition of EMI, the beleaguered music group.
His departure from EMI – where he had responsibility for restructuring operations, sales, marketing and technology – is the first exit from the inner circle Mr Hands appointed to lead the music group’s transformation.
A person close to Terra Firma on Tuesday played down Mr Clasper’s departure, arguing he was one of many people appointed by Terra Firma to work at EMI and pointing out that “when the prime minister calls, you cannot say No easily”.
The insider added that Mr Clasper had recently been moved sideways within EMI to deputy chairman of operations, giving him “a broader role”. “Much of the restructuring has been done, in terms of job cuts,” said the individual.
Just as it is too early to judge whether Mr Clasper and the other advisers and operational managers Terra Firma brought in at EMI will turn it round, there is widespread disagreement about his record at BAA.
At the time, most observers felt he did a good job, securing a higher price for shareholders and helping to consolidate the company around its core airport, retailing and property operations while strengthening its management team. However, this year’s botched opening of Heathrow’s showcase Terminal 5 and the earlier disruption caused by new security measures at UK airports have exposed operational shortcomings at BAA and led some to question his record at the company.
After graduating from St John’s College, Cambridge, with a double first in engineering, Mr Clasper joined British Rail graduate trainee in signalling, but left after three years to join Procter & Gamble. In a 25-year career at P&G he rose to become president of its global homecare business in 1999, based in Brussels. Two years later he joined BAA as deputy chief executive, before becoming CEO in 2003. He is a non-executive director of ITV and was briefly mooted as a potential candidate to replace Charles Allen as chief executive of the broadcaster.
He became a CBE for services to the environment in 1995, and was a founding member of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change.