This can't be allowed to continue. It is time for the regulators to get a handle on it
Once upon a time there was a security business called Group Four which always seemed to be forgetting its keys. In fact it became a poster child for the critics of privatisation and contracting out, while offering a battalion of nasty left-wing comedians a ready supply of jokes.
Until it found a fairy godbanker who sprinkled a bit of pixie dust over it. "Lo," he said. "Here is some M&A so that you might create a shiny new company from a right old mess. And then you will call it G4S."
And so it came to pass. Except that nobody lived happily ever after because the ghost of Group 4 never quite went away. He hid in the godbanker's shadows and now he's come back to play, hitting G4S in quite the most horrible way.
There really is no higher-profile contract than the Olympic security detail and the company has made a real mess of it.
Is it any wonder? In many ways its boss, Nick Buckles, embodies the failings of the modern chief executive. When he should have been running the business he was cloistered with his fairy godbanker trying to secure yet another merger with the Danish cleaning company ISS.
G4S will probably deny that the two are linked. But when the boss is running the deal rather than running the company is it any wonder that things start slipping?
Top executives get dazzled by the megabucks they expect from the remuneration committee; bonuses for beating cost-savings targets, carefully and cynically set at the outset to make failure all but impossible. Salary rises for running a bigger company, with associated bloated long-term incentive schemes that pay out even if the results for shareholders turn sour.
Meanwhile, knowing what's coming, those slightly lower down the corporate food chain start to concentrate all their efforts on protecting their jobs rather than doing them.
We're now living with the result.
So are G4S's shareholders. At least they can console themselves with the thought that they were right to block the merger with ISS.
Just think where we would be if the deal had gone through. Had the bosses of G4S been spending all their time fitting a Danish square peg into their round hole not even all the former's battalions of cleaners would have been enough to deal with the resulting mess. Meanwhile, Mr Buckles is going to be handed a poisoned apple on a plate by his chairman. And there'll be no fairy godbanker around to save him.
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