People & Business: You never know when a silent seether will snap

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The Independent Online
If you sit on a company board, there are several important questions you should ask yourself. Are you a "silent seether", who knows what should be said during a meeting but sits in silence, listening to other members make a hash of things?

Or are you a "quiet floater", saying nothing until the end and then agreeing with the majority view? Perhaps you're a "great debater", wasting hours on irrelevant topics, or a "really useless or dead hand", who should have retired years ago.

Patrick Dunne, a director at venture capital outfit 3i, has met all such types during his years visiting companies. Now he's put them down in a book published today, Running Board Meetings, which aims to show how such meetings should be run.

"I had just visited a company that was in difficulty and the board meeting was fairly awful. I decided I had to buy the chairman a book," says Mr Dunne.

"Then I visited a bookshop and found there were lots of books on meetings, but none specifically on board meetings. What worries me is that, with things like the Greenbury Report, a lot of boards are concentrating solely on corporate governance issues. They're forgetting to talk about the business."

As for the silent seether, Mr Dunne observes that they often threaten to resign but never do: "They just continue to sit and seethe. Until they snap."

So there it is - watch out for the quiet ones.

Robert Smith, president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, is delighted to announce an operating surplus of pounds 359,000 in the 1996 annual report published this week.

No doubt Mr Smith is considerably happier in this role than in his other job as head of Morgan Grenfell Asset Management.

Just last month Deutsche Bank revealed a pounds 430m hit on its 1996 accounts due to the Peter Young unauthorised trading scandal at its MGAM subsidiary. Mr Smith was appointed head of MGAM after the scandal to help clear things up.

The bank still awaits a fine from Imro over the affair, which is widely expected to be over pounds 1m.

No doubt heading the Scots bean-counters is a breeze by comparison.

Hands up everybody who knew that Naafi had a financial services arm? And there was I thinking all it did was serve up grub and cups of tea to the armed forces.

The financial services side may have been around for only 20 years, but yesterday it was subject of a pounds 104.2m buy-in, leaving Naafi with 32 per cent of a new venture, Warrior Group.

Warrior will henceforth provide personal loans, motor insurance and financial advice to the rank and file. HSBC Private Equity forms the other partner.

Chairman of the new company is Ian Lindsay, OBE, a non-executive director of Naafi. He joined Naafi three years ago after a career in retail banking with Robert Fleming. Mr Lindsay says: "I served 20 years in the RAF volunteer reserve, while Bob Jones, chief executive of Warrior, recently retired as a major in the Territorial Army. There's a great RAF/Army rivalry between us, but I think I win because I was a senior rank to him."

The forces of political correctness move at varying speeds inside Norwich Union, it appears. A colleague of mine (let us call him Roger) and his wife have a joint mortgage endowment policy with Norwich. But only Roger has received a letter from the company on the vote for its conversion from mutual to plc status.

Roger and his wife also have a household insurance policy with Norwich. They were recently sent a cheque to pay for repairs to their house. The cheque was made out to both of them but they don't have a joint bank account so Roger inquired whether it would be all right if his wife endorsed the cheque over to him. "No," Norwich replied. "You can't get your wife to endorse it because the law changed last year to stop fraud."

Obviously the law relating to membership of mutual organisations was defined long before political correctness appeared.