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Business Comment

Jim Armitage: 'Appalled and disgusted', so why no gesture of apology from Icap chief?


Outlook Michael Spencer is a hard man not to admire. From nowhere, he built his City broking house into a FTSE 100 company employing 5,000 staff worldwide. He is not afraid to speak out on controversial political issues and, unlike many of his peers at the top of major companies, is opinionated without the banal varnish of the MBA.

But for a man so well-versed in the subtle arts of Westminster warfare, he has played the Libor scandal surprisingly badly. In a conference call explaining his position, the Icap chief executive said "a few rotten apples" at the bank had behaved revoltingly badly. He was appalled, devastated, disappointed, disgusted. You name it, he felt it.

Yet, those words aside, he failed abjectly to take on any personal pain in order to show contrition as the head of the business he had created. In fact, when asked if he had considered resigning, or making a gesture of apology – such as instantly giving up some of his bonus – his response was terse: "I considered many things but am not going to share them with you."

Indeed, it would be, he said, "a very dangerous world" where the head of a big, complex organisation was held responsible for the wrongdoing of employees about whom he knew nothing.

The regulator's report found no senior managers were aware of what was going on at that wickedly corrupt, curry-and-kickback-loving trading desk. But the regime monitoring it was abjectly lacking. Forget about not picking up on the blizzard of incriminating emails uncovered by the regulator and the FBI – Icap never even audited the desk's accounts. That is just one of the management and compliance failures for which his executive team is, ultimately, responsible.

We should have seen an instant pledge from Mr Spencer not to take a bonus for the year - leaving it to the remuneration committee to decide some time next year is simply not enough. He should have ordered the rest of the board to follow suit. He should hold serious discussions with investors about whether they are happy for him to stay on as chief executive (they will say yes, but it will send the right signal). And he should pursue the small handful of employees who have been sacked over this shoddy affair for the bonuses they earned during the scam. Strong, high-profile, public actions.

He should care what the public thinks of the way he runs his business because he has made himself the public face of the City. On issues from bonus caps to taxation to membership of the euro and austerity, he is the go-to guy on the financial world's view on public policy. It has been a role he has played well but which carries with it the responsibility to be seen to do the right thing.

This was not a resigning matter for Mr Spencer. He probably is the best person to lead Icap out of this scandal. But he should have paid with more than just words.