COMMENT: Is Sir Colin spreading his talents too thinly?

`If the job of non-executive chairman is these days really only that of titular head, which is what Sir Colin's many responsibilities imply, then there's plainly something wrong with the position. A good chairman has to be more than that'

Has Sir Colin Marshall found a way of squeezing more than 24 hours into each day or does he simply eat three Shredded Wheat for breakfast? Yesterday he added the chairman's job at Siebe to the chairmanship of British Airways and Inchcape. He is also deputy chairman of British Telecom, president of the CBI, a director of HSBC Holdings and the New York Stock Exchange.

However imaginative his many secretaries are with the office diary, it quickly becomes obvious that five working days do not go very far when divided by the chairmanship of three major quoted companies. Four, in fact, if you add in BT where Sir Colin fills in as de facto non-executive chairman because of the executive responsibilities of Sir Iain Vallance.

Isn't this all a bit much for one man, even someone with the talent and boundless energy of the 63-year-old Sir Colin? Ah, that supposes you have to be in the office to do the job. Hasn't anyone heard of telephones, faxes and e-mail? Even handier, running an airline allows you to kill several birds with one airline ticket. Where there is a BA office, there is often an Inchcape office, since the two businesses are so international.

Persuaded? But what if there is a crisis in all three companies at the same time? Like the nanny with the proverbial triplets, which one do you drop first? Admittedly Siebe is almost certainly too boring ever to be overcome by crisis - what could possibly go wrong with a business that makes process controls?

But the same cannot be said about BA and BT as the cabin crew strike and the MCI fiasco bear out only too painfully. Sir Colin says this proves his point. Not only have the two organisations steered themselves through the past fortnight but, wearing his CBI hat, he has also found time to push Britain in the direction of a single currency.

Well, maybe, but if the job of non executive chairman is these days really only that of titular head, which is what Sir Colin's many responsibilities imply, then there's plainly something wrong with the position. A good chairman has to be more than that.

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