David Prosser: How to fill the top jobs that no one wants

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The Independent Online

Outlook Consensus thinking is that one effect of the financial crisis has been a further breakdown of the "jobs for the boys" culture that was once all-pervasive in the most senior echelons of British business. But while it's true that shareholders are becoming ever-more demanding about who runs their companies – no more asking someone from your club whether they fancy a bash – their exacting requirements also mean very few people are sufficiently qualified to do the top jobs.

So it is that the appointment of John Peace as chairman of Standard Chartered yesterday prompted more stories that Sir Win Bischoff, the former Citibank chairman, is now a dead cert to replace Sir Victor Blank as chairman of Lloyds Banking Group. Not because Bischoff became any better a candidate for the job yesterday, but because the shortlist of those who could in theory run Lloyds is pretty brief.

Interestingly, there is currently an unprecedented number of vacancies for chairmen of Footsie companies. Anglo American, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's and Lloyds are all in the hunt. BP has just taken two years to find its new chairman.

Who would want these jobs? There has never been more scrutiny of what goes on in boardrooms, and the slightest controversy can prompt a firestorm. Sanction a bonus payment that provokes a reaction and you'll be public enemy number one before you can say "remuneration committee".

Not surprisingly, a tiny number of thick-skinned individuals wealthy enough not to need the salaries they earn – and regarded as safe hands by the City – end up being considered for every chairmanship that comes up. Many, no doubt, will do a decent job, but this narrowing of the recruitment pool can hardly be healthy.