Confessions of a company 'lifer'

THE MONDAY INTERVIEW Gordon Campbell : Head of Courtaulds talks to Tom Stevenson

Shortly after it was announced that Gordon Campbell was to succeed Sipko Huismans at the top of Courtaulds, he received a call from Harvard University. They were running a two-day course on how to be a chief executive - would he like to enrol? To the amusement of his colleagues - who thought two days was far too long to learn all he would need to know - Mr Campbell signed up right away.

Following in the inimitable footsteps of his larger-than-life predecessor, he was humble enough to admit he could probably do with all the tips he could pick up. The lesson he learnt was not what he expected at all, but a useful one for someone planning the future of a multinational corporation, employing 17,000 staff in 43 countries.

"What I came away with was the overwhelming realisation that my American counterparts were completely driven by the material rewards of their jobs in a way that we in Britain don't approach. We spent most of the two days talking about remuneration."

That he was surprised says a lot about Courtaulds' new chief executive, a self-confessed "lifer" with the chemicals and fibres giant and the antithesis of the flash American corporate big-shot. You do not get to be boss of a company the size of Courtaulds by just being a nice bloke, but the abiding impression given by Mr Campbell is of a chap you wouldn't mind playing 18 holes and having a couple of pints with. His new-found American friends would think him a regular kind of guy, but might question whether he was driven enough to count as one of them.

Get him out on that golf course, however, and it would not take long to understand how the junior production manager, fresh from his Cambridge chemical engineering degree in 1968, came to rise to the top of the only company he has ever worked for while still (just) in his forties. How's his golf? "Pretty good, actually. I played off six when I was at school. I don't really play now, but last week, entertaining some Japanese partners, I came back in 43. I know how to hit a golf ball." Behind the bank manager self-effacement lies someone who knows what he's good at.

His self-confidence is apparently shared in the City, where after nine years on Courtaulds main board, the last two as deputy chief executive, he is well known and respected.

There are likely to be plenty of tough decisions in the coming years to test that assessment. Well-regarded as Mr Huismans was, Mr Campbell's outgoing, confident sports-mad predecessor presided over a period of declining earnings per share and an underperforming share price. There is plenty of hard work to do if the company's undoubted technical excellence and innovation is to be converted into tangible results.

In those circumstances, it is not surprising that there are some who believe Courtaulds might have been better served by an outside appointment. "It is possible to argue it both ways but ultimately I will be judged on my performance. I don't think, however, that you should expect any dramatic change in strategy. I've been on the board since 1987 and if I didn't agree with the strategy, then we should have changed it or I should have departed," says Mr Campbell.

That strategy remains to focus on Courtaulds' three core businesses - coatings and sealants, where it leads the world in marine and yacht paints; polymer products, such as packaging and high tech polyester films; and chemicals and fibres, including Tencel, a new lightweight manmade fibre that has taken Japan and America by storm.

Tucked away in a troubled division that was clobbered last year by wildly fluctuating raw material prices and a demand roller-coaster, it is easy to forget that Tencel is a genuine success story. Based on research carried out in the UK, first commercial production in the US and the development of an initial market in Japan, the new so-called "wonder fibre" has shown that Courtaulds can still produce exciting new products and sell them around the world.

Mr Campbell admits that the biggest challenge is to increase Courtaulds' exposure to the Far East where a target of 25 per cent of group sales by the year 2000 has been set. Managing the move away from a US/Europe based business to a genuine world player, and bringing on the local management to run that global business, will be how Mr Campbell is judged.

He knows that, but also knows the limits to what one man can achieve: "What I have to do is create a style for management that allows people to make their maximum contribution. That means creating the right atmosphere and encouraging everyone I come into contact with to operate that way." If people don't agree with what we are doing they should feel confident enough to speak out."

Will it make a measurable difference? "I am certain we will turn the corner this year. I see signs of it happening but we said all along it would be September before there was a significant improvement in performance. But we do have to deliver a very sharp improvement."

He concludes: "Overall, we have to find the trick of growing the whole of the group, not just some of it, and eliminating other parts. That means everybody must perform, because there is no point holding on to businesses that don't ."It looks like the golf will have to wait.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?