Outlook: Talking of perception, the Takeover Panel's appointment yesterday of Robert Gillespie as its next director general speaks volumes.
Let's say this for the watchdog: it is at least being consistent. Mr Gillespie, a former head of investment banking at UBS, succeeds Philip Remnant, a senior investment banker at Credit Suisse, and, before him, Robert Hingley, who stood down to return to, you guessed it, investment banking. By the way, Mr Remnant was only a stand-in director general – he had hoped to be gone now, but the man initially lined up for the post, the investment banker Peter Kiernan, pulled out.
One might have hoped that what happened with Mr Kiernan would prove instructive. He was left with no choice but to stand down from the Takeover Panel before even joining it, after being caught up in the Kraft versus Cadbury row. Mr Kiernan worked for the investment banking division at Lazard that advised Kraft on its hostile takeover of the confectioner – and which saw itself publicly censured by the Takeover Panel over the way in which the US company reneged on a promise it had made to keep open a Cadbury plant on Somerset.
By all accounts, Mr Gillespie is an outstanding banker who is widely admired in the City. No doubt he is also a man of the utmost integrity. Still, would it not make sense for someone with a little more independence to take this job?
The row over foreign takeovers of British companies is too often stoked by sentimentality or straightforward jingoism, but there is no doubting there are now genuine concerns about the way our rules operate. The Takeover Panel itself recognises as much and is in the process of reviewing the regulation.
In that context, what message does it send out for the Panel to appoint yet another director general from the small – but very well-connected – pool of bankers who have made their living from these mergers and acquisitions for decades? With the greatest of respect to Mr Gillespie, he looks to be a fully paid-up member of the City's old boy network. And signing him up for a two-and-a-half-year stint, rather than the usual two-year term, isn't going to fool anyone into thinking this is a break with the past.