The Interview: So long Tunbridge, hello Tuscany as Archie pulls it off with his Energis deal

Archie Norman Chairman of Energis

As chairman of Energis, one of the UK's biggest but financially most troubled telecoms companies, he has persuaded Cable & Wireless to part with £594m in cash plus up to another £80m in three years' time to buy the phone company, which is £740m in hock.

Although the ink is barely dry on the C&W contract, speculation is intensifying about what he does next. "I'm going on holiday for a week," says Mr Norman sitting in the company's ugly home on a Reading roundabout.

A 50th birthday treat for a best friend, involving a four-family sojourn in Tuscany, is a nice little break but presumably there is something more significant on the horizon for the man who, at 28, was the then youngest partner at McKinsey, now Tony Blair's favourite management consultancy.

"Energis is an independent company until September when I will be despatched and I will have to look elsewhere for my Bupa subscription."

He probably won't have to look too hard. Having been plucked from his consultant's lair to help Sir Geoff Mulcahy man the defences against Dixons' 1986 hostile bid for Woolworth Holdings, Mr Norman found himself appointed finance director of the FTSE 100 company, subsequently renamed Kingfisher, at just 33.

"We doubled the market value in four years but by 1991 Geoff was obviously going on for ever so I went to Asda, which was a complete shipwreck."

At least it wasn't in administration, which was the case with Energis. By selling its swanky central London offices and axing the headcount by 1,000, he brought much needed discipline to the management of Energis, stabilising it sufficiently to flog it off in just three years.

"I've done the job I was asked to do. I think I know what I do well which is I like working in complex organisations that are often in distress, that need reshaping and turning around."

So can we expect to see him mounting a private equity-backed bid for a big, quoted basket case? "It doesn't have to be a large quoted company, but yes, that's the sort of thing."

No private-equity fund has an exclusive rights over Mr Norman's management talents - "I've worked with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts , Permira and others" - but he is also open to another Energis-style turnaround where he saves the banks from their own sloppy lending habits.

"I want to find a new challenge. I'm now at the stage where I would prefer to be a capitalist. I'm not ruling out the idea of going into a large public company but the difficulty is a large plc is very protocol-based with very strong notions of what the chairman and chief executive do and how corporate governance should work. These are entirely understandable but don't necessarily fit with the situations I get in."

His dislike of too much box-ticking process explains why he won't be joining the board of Wm Morrison, the Asda rival brought to its knees by its acquisition of Safeway. And his thoughts on J Sainsbury suggest that his former Asda protégé, Justin King, is doing enough there to persuade shareholders to back management rather than sell out to a Norman invasion.

"I think Sainsbury's, under its new team, will go from strength to strength."

Like another Archie Norman protégé, Allan Leighton, who is now chairing the Royal Mail among many other things, Mr Norman wants a portfolio.

"My plan is to build a small group of similar-type turnarounds and transformations so that I can manage my time and go through with each one the very intense period at the beginning and then bring on a team to develop it. I don't mind whether it's a plc, private equity or a banking situation. What I do is management and leadership; they're the financiers."

One institution he wasn't able to transform, as he would have liked, is the Conservative Party. Having entered Parliament in 1997 with a brief from the then Tory leader, William Hague, to bring his business acumen to fix the humbled Tory machine, he spent eight fairly frustrating years trying to change the Westminster way of doing things.

"There are few monuments in politics. I have mixed feelings about it. I think it was the right thing for me to do at the time and I did achieve some things."

A party constitution was one, and a reformed Central Office another. He got as far as being an opposite number to the Deputy Prime Minister, and mucking in with one of the two main parties during a general election was clearly a few years spent usefully. But in the end, even for one of Britain's more patient businessmen, the time needed to sort out the Tories was too much.

"I realised in 1997 that we would lose that election but I thought the Conservative Party would galvanise, reorganise and realign its attitudes to contemporary society so that by 2001-02 we would stand a chance to win an election and I would be in government. Perhaps naively I didn't realise reforming the party would take as long as it has. We're only two-thirds of the way through the journey."

Rather like big public companies, Westminster is driven by procedures that can drive normal people mad.

"People are right to say I was exasperated by the protocol and the lack of focus on achievement. That's true. People like me can't help that and in the political world that's a disadvantage.

"I get up in the morning and ask myself 'What am I going to do today to improve my organisation?' - you know, improve the lot of mankind. The answer in Parliament is 'nothing'."

With David Davis the front-runner as new Tory leader, Mr Norman has a few words of advice for him and his rivals.

"The best leader is the person who understands fully the extent of the journey the party has to travel to re-engage with contemporary urban Britain. Anyone who believes there's not a problem with the Conservative Party's underlying attitude and behaviour hasn't got the point."

Another group needing to grasp a few home truths, according to Mr Norman, are the whizz-kid hedge fund managers - the City's agent provocateurs - who tried to derail his deal with C&W by buying Energis debt and agitating for a higher price.

"They're part of the market and mostly very smart, aggressive people. It's no good complaining about them, it's like fisherman complaining about the sea. But I would say one thing. Energis is a private company with limited information available and some of the hedge funds quite clearly didn't understand what they were invested in. I thought their approach was amateurish."

Having batted off a parvenu or two he's obviously up for a new challenge.

"With a different management approach to your people, I think you can create a different return. Financial engineering has become a commodity, everyone understands leverage and sale and lease-backs, and all that sort of thing. What isn't a commodity is management and execution."

True blue

Age: 51

Pay: As a private company Energis doesn't make that clear. But he is the main beneficiary of a £30m bonus pool for selling the business to C&W

Education: Charterhouse School and Cambridge University

Career: Started at Citigroup in 1975 but left to attend Harvard Business School in 1977. He was at McKinsey & Co from 1979-1986. Became finance director at Kingfisher after successfully defending Dixons' hostile bid. In 1991 he left to become chief executive and later chairman of Asda until the 1999 sale to Wal-Mart. In 1997 he was elected Tory MP for Tunbridge Wells, standing down in 2005. In 2002 he was appointed chairman of Energis

Personal life: Married with one daughter

Interests: Farming, opera, music, fishing, skiing, tennis.

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