Admirers pay homage to King

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The Independent Online
IT WAS not quite vintage Lord King but that did not matter. BA's shareholders had turned out in their droves to pay homage to the man who had rescued the airline and piloted it into private airspace but was now about to parachute out. They were not to be disappointed, writes Michael Harrison.

Demure as ever in a dark blue double- breasted and gold fob, the great man teased his admirers with an agonisingly slow build- up. There was some stuff about cost-cutting and unfair state aids and expansion plans in the United States. 'We can't hear you,' shouted a man at the back. So Lord King turned up the volume knob and told them about BA's response to Sir Adrian Cadbury's report on corporate governance, which frankly left investors looking puzzled.

This was not what they had come to hear. Twelve minutes gone and not a mention of you- know-what. They did not have to wait much longer. Lord King now wanted to turn to a 'personal matter' which had been the subject of much misinformed and unauthorised press speculation. A ripple of anticipation.

For this most important of speeches, the perspex autocue first made famous by Ronald Reagan was again in evidence. But on this occasion the BA chairman had also borrowed one of the old cowboy's scriptwriters.

'It is everyone's hope to leave some small footprint on the sands of time,' he said solemnly. In Lord King's case he had stamped his size tens on an ailing state airline and transformed it into a privately-owned thing of beauty.

Why was he telling us all this? Because, as if we hadn't twigged, Lord King had decided to stand down after 11 years at the helm and hand over to the man sitting at his right hand, Sir Colin Marshall. But not quite yet.

After the applause had died down the rest was a canter. The first question was not a question at all but a vote of thanks.

The second came from someone in a hooped shirt. 'Yes, that young man in the prison uniform,' volunteered Lord King, encouraging him to speak into the microphone. The questioner was not a convict but a German, attending his first annual meeting and anxious to know whether BA was a better investment than Lufthansa. Daft question. Maybe he should have been locked up after all.

A few more gentle lobs and the show was over. Lord King signed autographs on the back of voting cards and fended off press questions about how he would spend his new-found leisure hours. A spot more hunting perhaps? No, freedom from the shackles of executive responsibility at BA would give him time to do more work elsewhere.

Anyway, Lord King would be back again next year. Not, of course, as chairman but as life president. But for now the cavalcade and lunch somewhere in the City awaited.

Lord King's advisers looked relieved that it was all over. So did Sir Colin.