Bridgeman new OFT boss

A man who has spent most of his life with Alcan sees need for more cohesion, writes Roger Trapp

John Bridgeman was confirmed yesterday as the new director general of the Office of Fair Trading, a job Sir Bryan Carsberg announced last December that he was leaving. Many believe he went because he felt hamstrung by politicians.

Mr Bridgeman is the man picked by Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, whose policy on competition is to let the markets sort things out for themselves. Speculation that this prompted Sir Bryan's decision was strengthened when he recently criticised developments in the area.

Mr Bridgeman, managing director of British Alcan Aluminium until he takes up his post at the Office of Fair Trading on 1 October, acknowledged that the competition policy role had attracted most attention. But there was a need for "more cohesion in respect of consumer protection issues".

The announcement, which had been expected for some time, brings to an end one of the most tortuous government appointment processes ever.

The International headhunters, Saxton Bampfylde, began the search at the turn of the year, with the intention of getting somebody in place by the time Sir Bryan left to become secretary-general of the International Accounting Standards Committee in May. In fact, former deputy director general Jeffrey Preston has been carrying out the role.

With a brief to find someone who combined an intellectual understanding of the issues involved with practical experience of industry, Saxton Bampfylde soon settled on Mr Bridgeman - on the strength of recommendations from business people in Britain and elsewhere.

But the announcement has been delayed largely because Mr Bridgeman has been preoccupied with spinning off the "downstream" operations of his company into a separate operation that will employ about 4,500 people and have a turnover of about pounds 450m. The end of next month was the earliest he could leave, he said.

Apart from a brief spell at the then National Coal Board, Mr Bridgeman, 50, has spent his career at the Canadian-based Alcan. However, as he pointed out to Mr Heseltine, he has performed so many different roles with the diversified Montreal-based company that he regards himself as having experience of several different industries.

His work in helping form Alcan's strategy has been singled out by some observers, while others cite his membership of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission since 1990.

In the months since he emerged as front-runner for the post, Mr Bridgeman has been praised as a "thinking man's businessman", with an ability to see the big picture. Ian Lang, who replaced Mr Heseltine at the Board of Trade in the recent ministerial reshuffle, welcomed his appointment.

Recent rises in public sector salaries mean that Mr Bridgeman could be paid significantly more than Sir Bryan's reputed pounds 110,000. But he would only say that he would earn more than President Clinton's $200,000 and a lot less than his salary at the UK subsidiary of Alcan. A legacy from his recently deceased mother would help close the gap, he said.

A companion of the Institute of Management, Mr Bridgeman has also been visiting professor of management at Keele University since 1992.

It has been suggested his long association with the Territorial Army might prepare him for the flak he can expect at the OFT. But he rejects the idea he might come under fire. He hoped that, by the end of his term, those who were wary of having a businessman in the role would have been won over.

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