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Business Analysis & Features

David Prosser: G4S executives deserve to live to fight another day

Let us say this for G4S, forced by its shareholders yesterday to pull out of an expensive deal to buy the cleaning and catering group ISS: if Prudential's management was not fired following the collapse, at a cost of more than £400m, of their plan to buy AIA last year, the senior executives of G4S do not deserve the bullet for a failure that has wasted only £50m.

More charitable observers might even see this upset as a back-handed compliment to G4S. It hailed the deal as potentially transformative, but shareholders have ruled that no such transformation is necessary, given the consistency G4S has shown in recent years (and especially given the debt the company would have had to stack up).

A refresher course on how to listen to shareholders might be in order for the management, however. For this was a deal pulled only at the 11th hour – a shareholder vote was scheduled for today – despite anxiety and unease about the takeover of ISS from the moment it was announced. Indeed, G4S's chairman even defended himself yesterday by insisting he had only gone ahead with announcing the deal after taking soundings from his investors. Either he talked to the wrong ones, or the message was lost in translation.

One final thought, on rewards for failure. Tidjane Thiam, the chief executive of Prudential, recently suffered a second bout of hostility over the AIA deal when it emerged that he was collecting all but a tiny part of his possible maximum bonus despite the debacle. It will be interesting to see how the ISS setback influences the next payouts to the G4S chief executive, Nick Buckles.