A day in the life of...Jim Sutcliffe

Deal-making globetrotter flies out of Africa knowing he can sleep easy
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The Independent Online

5.35am

It's still dark as Jim Sutcliffe touches down in Cape Town after a 14-and-a-half-hour journey from Stockholm. With less than five hours sleep on the plane, the chief executive of Old Mutual has a full 15-hour day ahead of him, before he's back in the air for another 12-hour trek back to London.

This kind of day is a regular monthly fixture for Sutcliffe, and when times are at their busiest he concedes he can be back and forth between London and South Africa as many as four times in four weeks - a whole 96 hours in the air in just one month.

With Old Mutual's hostile take-over of Skandia almost complete, and full-year company results due out on the penultimate day of the month, February provided Mr Sutcliffe with the monster of all schedules.

His last 48 hours have been spent in Stockholm, sitting on the stage for Skandia's extraordinary general meeting, and facing up to some of the remaining Skandia shareholders, many of whom have staunchly opposed his company's acquisition of the Swedish insurer.

About 200 turn up for the meeting, some hoping to tear a strip out of their company's new owners, others just curious to get a look at the men who have caused so much upset in the Swedish market in recent months.

"So I made a presentation to try and explain to them that we were there because we admired Skandia, not because we disliked them," Mr Sutcliffe says. "And then the shareholders had the chance to have their say. So this one guy stands up, and he takes the stage in this big hall, alongside me, and tells the audience that he thinks the existing board has done a great job - and that he doesn't think anything of this new lot who he doesn't know. And he says that he thinks the existing lot are perfectly good, so they should be elected again."

But with almost 90 per cent of the shares already in their possession, the frustration of the 200 present has come too late to derail the deal. The old directors assure Mr Sutcliffe that they will not be presenting themselves for re-election, and Old Mutual eventually installs its own team to the Skandia board - officially bringing to an end the nine-month takeover struggle.

8am

Back in Cape Town, Mr Sutcliffe has had enough time for a shower and some preparation before a board meeting with the life insurance arm of the South African operation. Having learnt some basic Swedish on his many visits to Sweden in recent months, he now switches to Afrikaans, in which his regular Cape Town taxi driver always converses with him.

Then it's back into English as he arrives at the Old Mutual offices for the meeting.

The life assurance division has been one of the poorer performers across the group over the past year, with profits showing only modest growth of 2 per cent, compared with double-digit increases across much of the rest of the business. It is one of the few glitches in a booming business, and Sutcliffe talks about ways to increase growth here, emphasising the importance of using the group's South African banking businesses to harness sales for the life division.

12.30pm

After every Cape Town board meeting, Old Mutual organises a lunch where it invites various prominent figures from the financial services industry, as well as a handful of local dignitaries. Today's mix includes the head of the South African Insurance Ombudsman, the Chancellor of Cape Town University (where Mr Sutcliffe studied) and none other than Francois Pienaar, captain of the South African rugby union side which won the World Cup on its home turf in 1995.

Rugby is not on the agenda at today's lunch, however. In fact, Mr Pienaar turns out to be more interested in talking business, as he's now the regional manager for one of Old Mutual's local rivals, First National Bank.

3pm

Back in the office, Mr Sutcliffe's next engagement is a call to the head of his US operations, Scott Powers. The pair have been entangled in a debate over staff bonuses in recent weeks and it is time to thrash out a solution. Old Mutual's United Asset Management (UAM) has smashed through its targets in 2006 but staff bonus levels have been held back by a company-imposed cap. Mr Powers calls on Mr Sutcliffe to give him the chance to pay some of his staff beyond the cap, ensuring they are properly rewarded for the division's success. In the end, Mr Sutcliffe concedes that some higher bonuses should be paid.

4pm

By late afternoon, Mr Sutcliffe moves his telephone tour of the world to the UK - where Julian Roberts, the former group finance director and now the new chief executive of Skandia, wants to talk about the detail of the Swedish insurer's integration into the group. In the UK, Old Mutual already owns an intermediary platform, Selestia, which offers a similar proposition as Skandia's main platform. While the temptation is to merge the platforms, Mr Roberts believes there is enough differentiation to keep the two systems running in parallel.

The remainder of Skandia's integration should be relatively straightforward. One of the main attractions of the deal for Old Mutual was that with very little direct overlap with its current business, there will be no need for messy mergers or job cuts. However, the group still hopes to glean £70m in synergies by running Skandia's back-office from South Africa.

5.30pm

With the sun not yet set, Mr Sutcliffe has just enough time to nip back to his Cape Town apartment, which lies just 20 metres from the seashore. A quick change into his wetsuit (which he explains he had considerable difficulty in buying due to his 6ft 9in frame), and he's in the 10 degree waters of the Atlantic Ocean with his body board.

"I grew up in Durban in South Africa, which is a great surf city, so I love body surfing," says Mr Sutcliffe. "But I guess everyone must be wondering who this old and rather flabby guy is, that still goes out body surfing. But I really enjoy it."

6.30pm

Back in his flat, it's time for another telephone conference, this time with two speechwriters in London, who have been asked to help Mr Sutcliffe prepare for his role as guest speaker at a Swedish Press Awards lunch in a few days time. Mr Sutcliffe has been asked to describe how his dealings with the Swedish media have differed from his experiences with the rest of the world's press.

The row over Old Mutual's acquisition of Skandia has been played out blow by blow in the Swedish press in recent months, with Skandia executives and passionate shareholders using the newspapers to attack the deal and to lobby for the insurer to be kept in Swedish hands.

Mr Sutcliffe reveals, however, that in spite of some fairly feisty coverage, the Swedish media have been nothing but courteous, and almost apologetic in their interviews.

"They're more polite [than the British], in a curious way," he says. "I think they felt terribly bad at points that they were being hostile towards us. My experience is that it is probably a bit rougher here [in the UK]. But I don't find that a problem, I actually quite like that."

8.45pm

Having been on South African soil for just 15 hours and 10 minutes, Mr Sutcliffe is back at 35,000ft heading towards London, where he is due at the PLC board meeting in the morning to put the finishing touches to the 2005 results announcement. But having finally pulled off the major European deal which investors have been waiting for, for almost five years, he knows that he can sleep easy.

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