Fixer returns to the fray

BY JAMES BETHELL

The appointment of Peter Sutherland as deputy chairman of British Petroleum earlier this week marks the return of one of the most powerful business personalities to the world of commerce.

As chairman of Allied Irish Banks, a director of Cement Roadstone, Guinness Peat Aviation and, three years ago, as a director of BP he has proved himself a popular boardroom figure.

"Not only does he handle people very well, he also has a keen analytical mind, which is a rare combination," one colleague at BP said.

For the past two years the cigar-smoking Irish fixer has been out of mainstream corporate life while he oversaw the administration of Gatt, the staggeringly complicated trade agreement. During that time he managed to push through a package of reforms that freed world trade considerably and headed off a crisis that could have brought global commerce to a halt.

The negotiation of the treaty was the crowning achievement of a life that started in Dublin in 1946 and took him to the Jesuit Gonzaga College and University College Dublin.

Having failed to be elected to the Dail in 1973 he became Attorney-General in 1981 and then commissioner of the European Commission in 1985, an appointment that combined his twin loves of free trade and Europe.

On his return to Dublin in 1989 he took up positions at a number of companies, including BP, before returning to Brussels to administer Gatt.

Despite his recent appointment at BP, which will hardly fill his days, a question mark remains over what Mr Sutherland will do with his life.

At 48, he is unlikely to retire into obscurity. With his laconic humour, beautiful Spanish wife and international connections that put him on first- name terms with most of the world's leaders, he is on the shortlist for many of Ireland's top commercial appointments.

However, the life of non-executive directorship or the control of a medium- sized Irish company is unlikely to satisfy his restless energy and ambition. And, after the upheavals of the past five years, he must consider the needs of his wife and three children.

Irish politics may seem a tempting alternative, as the country prepares for its presidency of the European Union later this year. As a former Irish attorney-general he has a domestic record. As a sympathiser with many of the policies of Fine Gael, Ireland's ruling party, he has a platform to work from.

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