Man with gift for the big picture

Michael Harris, the man setting up direct banking at the Pru, made his name as chief executive of First Direct, the successful Midland Bank subsidiary, which first introduced telephone banking to a mass audience in the late 1980s, writes John Willcock.

Leaving that job after three years in 1991, he seemed set for an even more glittering career as chief executive of Mercury Communications, the phone arm of Cable & Wireless. He was perceived to have vision; a background in management consultancy and systems, and his ability to apply technology to mass market financial services made him a hot property. But he was ousted from his post at Mercury last year and moved sideways to a development job, apparently after falling foul of Lord Young, chairman of Cable & Wireless.

Still only 46, Mr Harris is regarded as a popular figure. One Mercury insider said yesterday: "He was very well-liked ... he was good at the big picture, a visionary." He introduced the "Imagine Programme" at Mercury, which encouraged management and staff to stop thinking of the company as a telephone utility and rather as a vehicle for new ideas and products.

A chemistry graduate from University College, London, his first information technology job was with CAP (now the Sema Group) in 1970. He then moved to Midland Bank's management services for 14 years, and then to PA Consultants for a three-year stint in management consultancy.

During his three years with Mercury, the UK's second- largest telecommunications company, profits more than doubled to pounds 219m.

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