Simon English: Telling the truth won't get you a chief executive's job in this broken system

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The Independent Online

Outlook Here is what the boss of one of Marks & Spencer's chief rivals thinks candidates to be that company's chief executive should have said to the headhunters and then the board when the job came up in 2010: "Your company is in more serious trouble than you know. It's a dinosaur. Its systems are antiquated. You've too many stores.

"Turning it around, properly fixing it so the business thrives for the next century will take about 10 years. The first five of them will be a washout. It will cost you billions. But I'm up for it. I know how to do it."

The trouble is, that strategy would ensure the candidate didn't get shortlisted. Boards and shareholders, not just at M&S, don't want to hear this stuff.

City shareholders hold stock for an average of about nine months. What they want to know is, what can you do for me now and now and now?

The ownership structure of many of Britain's biggest companies makes it very difficult to plan for the long term. So executives promise immediate results in return for "long-term incentive plans" that are anything but, dress up the numbers for a year or two, walk away with millions from the laughably named L-tip and wait for the next call.

In other words, it is impossible for executives at public companies to do the right thing and get the job.

That sounds like a description of a system that is broken.