View from City Road: ICI tries a break with the past

Click to follow
The ice-cream man cometh at Imperial Chemical Industries. By appointing an outsider, Charles Miller Smith of Unilever, to the post of chief executive, from next April, ICI is clearly hoping to indicate to one and all that it is sloughing off its inbred past.

Turning ICI from a lumbering bureaucratic monument - tediously and unreliably referred to for so many years as the bellwether of British industry - into a fleet-footed entrepreneurial force has been rather like changing the course of an ocean liner. Only slower. Splitting off the pharmaceuticals side into a separate company, Zeneca, was only the start.

It says something about the past corporate values of the company that it finds it necessary to dispatch 1,500 ICI managers on three-day business school courses in 'shareholder value' to educate them on the proper purpose of their jobs. Most are said to have found the lectures 'stimulating'. At the same time ICI is devolving responsibility down from its 9 Millbank central London headquarters to those at the sharp end of its business.

Mr Miller Smith, responsible for Unilever's ice cream products inter alia, has had a suitably international business career in parts of the world, like India, where ICI is looking to its future. He has also worked in Unilever's speciality chemicals division.

There were plenty of insiders with equally suitable CVs. The fact that they were passed over in favour of Mr Miller Smith, who was an outsider and free of past ICI management values, carries an added message. That he, like Sir Denys Henderson, due to retire as chairman next April, is also a Scot must be seen as a coincidence.