View from City Road: Lonrho's future still in the melting pot

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The Independent Online
Where does the Lonrho old guard go from here? On to the next battle, judging by the inconclusive outcome of yesterday's board appointments. They do not bode well for Dieter Bock, Roland 'Tiny' Rowland's challenging joint chief executive.

True, to the board come Mr Bock's own nominees, Stephen Walls and Peter Harper, both with an independent identity outside Lonrho. But Mr Rowland and the Lonrho old guard - or 'pensioners' as they are coming to be known in the light of their age and remuneration - have insisted on the appointment of Sir John Leahy, who was a director of the Observer at the time of its ownership under Lonrho and Terence Wilkinson, managing director of Lonrho's South African operations.

The former is to be a non-executive alongside Mr Walls and Mr Harper, while the latter is to join the rest of the careerist Lonrho apparatchiks. So Mr Bock's initiative in pushing for more outside monitoring of the board and more accountability has been diluted by Mr Rowland's own candidates. Sir John is on the old guard's list of possible suitable non-executives while Mr Wilkinson's loyalty, after 20 years with the company, should not be in doubt, though Mr Bock is said to regard him well.

Mr Bock will be able to prove he has the upper hand only once he has introduced more acceptable accounting procedures and audit and remuneration committees. To demonstrate his effectiveness, he will have to persuade the board to make an early announcement. Once the remuneration committee of non-executives is set up - necessary in the light of the large amounts of pension the old guard are receiving on top of their pay - and announced to the world then perhaps a degree of comfort will be provided to shareholders.

Nothing, however, is certain at Lonrho. It is unfortunate that the latest package has the look of a face-saving exercise designed to allow both sides a breathing space in what will undoubtedly become a titanic struggle of wills.

Eventually, Mr Rowland will tire of the language of diplomacy and take his gloves off with the usual devastating consequences, particularly if he holds one of his celebrated aces. After all, who is Dieter Bock and how did he make his money? Knowledge is power, as someone once said, and Mr Rowland usually has a monopoly on that commodity when it comes to dealing with his rivals.

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