N&P and supplier shared director: Former boss also headed computer firm

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DAVID O'BRIEN, the deposed chief executive of the National & Provincial Building Society, is also the chairman of Sherwood Computing, a company that has significant business links with N&P.

The new chief executive, Alistair Lyons, confirmed yesterday that N&P is a customer of Sherwood Computing.

Sherwood, through its Citydeal subsidiary, runs N&P's share transactions for it. And there are further commercial links: the company also works on the N&P branch transaction system.

Mr Lyons said that N&P is also considering letting Sherwood handle its life unit trust business, although Unisys is also in the running for the contract.

Although Mr O'Brien declared his directorship of Sherwood in the last N&P report and accounts, the commercial relationship between the company and the society was not disclosed.

The commercial interest was known to the directors of N&P but not to rank-and-file members of the society.

The Building Societies Act 1986 states: 'A board should also ensure that any relationship with a business connected with a director (or other officer) of a society be carefully limited, to avoid over- dependence by either party, and is conducted at arm's length.'

Sherwood had a 1993 turnover of pounds 23.6m, with losses of pounds 2m, and there has been frequent press speculation that the company is a bid target.

Mr O'Brien was ousted in an N&P boardroom coup two weeks ago and replaced by Mr Lyons. He is in line for a pounds 600,000 pay-off.

He was widely credited with turning round the society, which had been in some difficulties until his arrival. But he is said to have created an unsettling work environment.

Last year a clash of cultures was given as the reason for the collapse of the planned merger between N&P and the Leeds Permanent Building Society.

Contrary to speculation, Mr Lyons denied yesterday that the merger was back on: 'We have not been in discussions with them,' he said.

John King, the chairman designate of Leeds Permanent, is also a director of Olivetti (UK), the Italian computing giant. Olivetti is a key supplier to the Leeds, having installed its branch computer network.