The business on...Alison Cooper, Chief executive, Imperial Tobacco

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The Independent Online

Is that steam I can see coming out of her ears?

It's probably smoke. As befits her role running Britain's biggest tobacco company, Ms Cooper enjoys the occasional cigar, though you won't find her sucking on a Lambert & Butler, its best-known product.

Don't be so literal. I meant that she looks cross

Well, no wonder. You try selling a product that people have it in for. Britain's latest attack on the tobacco industry is a law banning over-the-counter cigarette displays and tobacco vending machines. Imperial has just lost a legal challenge to the ban in Scotland, though proceedings in England and Wales are ongoing.

Still, fags are bad for you, right?

Well, that's what the doctors say. Imperial has had to comply with rules forcing it to display the words "smoking kills" prominently on its products, but the company doesn't want the health professionals having it all their own way. The previous Imperial boss, Gareth Davis, always refused to accept that smoking causes lung cancer, while Ms Cooper, who doesn't do a great deal of talking to the press, did manage to tell one journalist that the focus on cancer wasn't "helpful".

Not a fan of regulation then?

Indeed not. Ms Cooper has talked of a "tide of ridiculous legislation" and wants the 2008 ban on smoking in public places overturned.

Anything else make her angry?

Don't even think about suggesting new rules to force companies to promote more women. Ms Cooper, one of only five female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies, is a fierce opponent of positive discrimination laws such as minimum quotas for the number of women on boards.

So how did she make it?

After qualifying as an accountant, Ms Cooper spent her early career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she worked closely with Imperial. In 1999, she joined her former client and then served in a number of increasingly senior roles. Seen as a protégé of Mr Davis, she got the top job when he stood down in March.

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