The new chairman of J Sainsbury was referred to, rather unkindly, as a "serial quitter" yesterday by one of his contemporaries. While it is true that Philip Hampton has had a good few jobs in his career, some of which have not lasted terribly long, he has generally been highly rated wherever he has hung his Homburg hat.
The youngest-ever finance director of a FTSE 100 com-pany, he joined British Steel as it was then in 1990 from Lazard at the age of 36 and went on to hold the same post at three other blue-chip companies British Gas, British Telecom and Lloyds TSB.
At British Gas, he engine-ered the 1997 demerger of the group into BG and Centrica. He performed a similar feat at BT where he demerged the company's mobile network O2 from its fixed-line business and pulled off the biggest rights issue the UK has ever seen to boot.
When he left BT two years later and resurfaced at Lloyds TSB, it was assumed that more corporate action was on the agenda. But apart from buying Goldfish from his erstwhile employer, Centrica, it was not to be and less than two years later he had left after falling out over dividend policy with the bank's new chief executive, Eric Daniels.
If colleagues have a criticism of Mr Hampton, it is that he packs his bags quickly when he does not get his own way. He left BG after its chairman, Sir Dick Giordano, opted to demerge the bus-iness again into BG and Transco against Mr Ham-pton's advice and he left BT after being passed over for the chief executive's job (although he insists he was never interested in it).
That is the other aspect which makes his elevation to the chairmanship of Sain-sbury's intriguing he has never been a chief executive anywhere and knows little about retailing. But he is clever and emollient and highly rated in both the City and Government (which has asked him to conduct its latest red tape review).
All of which gives him a head start on the company's last would-be chairman, Sir Ian Prosser.
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