Outlook: Sir Dennis again

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The Independent Online
MR SCHMOOZER has done it again. Often described as the Renaissance man of business, Sir Dennis Stevenson has picked up another chairmanship, and like the last one, Pearson, this one's a biggie - Halifax. No-one really knows if Sir Dennis is any good (he's never really managed anything), but one thing is for sure; he certainly gets around.

Sir Dennis is the archetype of that modern breed of person who deliberately divides his time between a large number of jobs, which is nice work if you can get it. Besides the chairmanship of Pearson, he's also chairman of GPA, a non-executive director of BSkyB, (where he has been charged with finding a replacement for Mark Booth), Manpower, Lazards, the Economist, St James' Place Capital and sometime adviser to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Phew! With that lot already on the books, it is not clear what time he'll have left for Halifax.

It is arguably a good thing for a chairman to have a broad spread of interests and expertise, and no-one can quarrel with the performance of Pearson since he took the chair. But a portfolio of this size may be stretching the point a little too far.

Halifax shares have had a good run of late, bouncing back to close to their all time high. The company is solid, big, sturdy and in most respects runs itself. It doesn't seem to require a hands-on chairman, so in this respect, Sir Dennis could be perfect for the job. But with its core business - mortgages - mature and declining, it possibly does need a visionary. Is Sir Dennis that man? We'll see.