Hampel says goodbye with blistering attack

SIR RONALD HAMPEL yesterday used the occasion of his last speech as chairman of ICI to launch a blistering attack on the media, analysts, shareholders, academics and consultants.

After highlighting developments in restructuring the paints and chemicals group, Sir Ronald said he thought it appropriate on leaving office to mention "some wider aspects of business life which trouble me".

He complained that the interaction between companies, shareholders, analysts and the media produced "some intolerable results for which I have no immediate solution".

Among chairmen and chief executives, "today's heroes are tomorrow's villains," he said. "Institutional shareholders are under competitive pressure to perform and they too are instant heroes and villains. The analyst community - at least those who work for the broking industry - earn no return for their employers by recommending a hold; it must be a buy or sell.

"Finally, the media, which is also highly competitive and values scoops and sensations above all else, operates to deadlines we in business frequently forget, and indeed would not tolerate.

"Comments of the media, fed by the analyst community, sometimes anonymously, with no regulatory requirement for accuracy or consistency, can create real problems for management. Management must of course be accountable, but it requires real courage to maintain a long-term strategy under this sort of media pressure."

Sir Ronald, the architect of the Combined Code on corporate governance adopted by the Stock Exchange, also attacked shareholders for their approach to executive pay. "I was delighted when [the Hampel report on corporate governance] received widespread support ... But I am saddened that some shareholders and so many in the academic and consulting world, and indeed the media, persist in pursuing dogma and ticking boxes without testing the facts of a particular situation."

He attacked the unnamed shareholders for criticising two ICI directors, Rob Margetts and Alan Spall, for retaining two-year contracts. The shareholders had pointed to his own report, which says all directors should move towards one-year contracts.

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