MacLaurin checks out with straight talking on his peers

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The Independent Online
DAME SHIRLEY PORTER, Ernest Saunders, David Sainsbury and the old culture at National Westminster Bank are just some of those who get it in the neck in a new book by Lord MacLaurin, the former Tesco chairman, about his career in business.

The book, Tiger by the Tail, is set to cause a stir when it is published by Macmillan on 21 May. One of the book's most prominent targets is Ernest Saunders, who invited Lord MacLaurin to be a non-executive director of Guinness just as the scandal over the bid for Distillers was about to break. Lord MacLaurin recalls: "Saunders' word was to be exposed for what it was - worthless."

"An exponent of the theory that if you're going to tell a lie, then tell a big one and stick to it, he [Saunders] brazened out all accusations of impropriety..."

Jack Cohen, or "Slasher Jack", the man who came out of the East End to build Tesco with the slogan "pile them high, sell them cheap" gets off lightly. The author describes him as "incorrigible" and an "autocrat". Mr Cohen's daughter, Dame Shirley Porter, former head of Westminster Council, gets quite a different treatment, in a chapter entitled "Oh, Lady Porter!"

He writes: "At times I feel sorry for Shirley Porter. Not often, of course. Very rarely, in fact. But on the odd occasion when I'm feeling generous to a woman who tried to make a hell of my life at Tesco, I recognize how hard it must have been for her to be Jack Cohen's daughter..."

He adds that "she was obsessed with power, a sorcerer's apprentice who brewed up the concoction that eventually destroyed her."

Turning to another business dynasty, the author remarks: "I think that even David Sainsbury would agree that his time as chairman of the company [Sainsbury] was not an altogether successful one.

"In fact, I suspect that if I had been in his place, and had produced results that Sainsbury's had done, the institutions would have tackled the non-executive directors and demanded my dismissal."

There's worse to come. "When I joined NatWest in 1990 the Board was full of old bankers. They laid down the law, and their law was absolute".

Lord MacLaurin criticises the running of NatWest Markets, which lost pounds 100m before it was closed down, as well as the "`Them and us' attitude that permeated the whole business, shot through as it was with arrogance."

The publishers say the book "is a seminal business book full of the lessons MacLaurin has learnt". Straight talking is obviously one of them.