A sorry end for the 'scapegoats' at sharp end of G4S fiasco

Olympian hubris prompts world's second-largest employer to sacrifice its senior executives. Kim Sengupta reports

Asked in an interview not so long ago what had been his best experiences in life, David Taylor-Smith responded that one of them was "being chased by a rhino". The chief operating officer of G4S must have felt he was undergoing something similar in the aftermath of the Olympics debacle with the sensation perhaps not so enticing this time around.

The rhino has caught up with Mr Taylor-Smith with painful consequences. He is one of two executives who have paid the price for the security firm's failure to provide enough guards for the London Games and the humiliation and opprobrium that followed.

The way Mr Taylor-Smith was treated at the end, say his friends, was grossly unfair towards someone who has worked hard for the company for the last 14 years. The news of his departure was leaked to Sky television 36 hours before the board made their decision public; he was, they held, being made a scapegoat for failings which go far wider in the management.

Mr Taylor-Smith's detractors, and there are a few in G4S, hold that he was the author of his own misfortune and that the Olympics shortcomings were the result of his management style which was characterised by an unwillingness to listen to the views of others and surround himself with yes men.

Following the company's failure to provide the 10,400 security guards for the Olympics, G4S commissioned an inquiry by PricewaterhouseCoopers. It found that G4S had failed to strengthen its management and its "structures and processes" to handle the "unique and complex" task it faced.

Although Mr Taylor-Smith and Ian Horseman-Sewell, managing director of global events, resigned, the chief executive, Nick Buckles, has kept his job, the board deciding on this "in the best interest of the company and all its shareholders". Whilst the chief executive has ultimate responsibility for the company's performance, the review did not identify significant shortcomings in his performance or serious failings attributable to him in connection with the Olympics contract.

Until the recent turn of events, allies of Mr Taylor-Smith hoped that he would one day succeed Mr Buckles, heading the world's largest security company with branches in 125 countries, and, with 657,000 employees on its books, the third-largest global employer after Wal-Mart and Foxconn.

According to some former colleagues, a private dinner in January celebrating the chief operating officer post was described as in honour of "the king-in-waiting".

The Olympics put paid to that. It is ironic that the military had to step in to make up the shortfall in the security numbers. Mr Taylor-Smith had been an Army officer and, during his tenure, there was a dramatic increase in the numbers of ex-servicemen who were employed with huge excitement, it was said, on his part if they were SAS or from the Special Boat Service. Some of these appointments, say colleagues, were successful. But others not.

After the Army, Mr Taylor-Smith worked in conservation programmes in Latin America and Africa – where he had his rhino experience – before joining Securicor, which later formed part of G4S, in 1998. In 2006 he was appointed CEO of G4S in the UK and Ireland when the company was undergoing rapid expansion which saw it swallow up firms such as ArmorGroup and Chubb.

One of Mr Taylor-Smith's main claims to fame in the company, and a great boost to his upward trajectory was the acquisition of justice sector, contracts from the Government enabling them to operate detention centres. The business was highly lucrative but also led to controversy. There were highly publicised and embarrassing cases of prisoner escapes. Last year it was claimed that G4S guards had been repeatedly warned about the use of force on detainees and asylum seekers after the death of an Angolan deportee, Jimmy Mubenga, on a board a departing British Airways flight. An internal document urged management to "meet this problem head on before the worst happens" and that G4S was "playing Russian roulette with detainees' lives."

Mr Taylor-Smith cannot, of course, be held personally responsible for this and he is said to have instructed that procedures should be tightened up to stop any recurrence of malpractice. But it was his claim, in June this year just as the Olympics story was about to break, that G4S would be running large parts of the country's police forces within five years which led to former police officers in senior positions in the company having to telephone and mollify irate chief constables.

As well as massive damage to its reputation, the Olympic failure cost G4S around £50m. Critics of Mr Taylor-Smith claim that he was at least partly to blame for other major losses, especially around £50m which had to be paid out for the failed acquisition of the Danish facilities management group ISS A/S and £24m in various restructuring programmes.

Allies of Mr Taylor-Smith say this is just an attempt to make him the fall guy for all the company's travails. "The ISS bid was a board decision and there are plenty of others responsible for what happened there. As far as so-called restructuring goes, I am not sure how that figure was worked out, but all companies have to make changes and no doubt there are people who were unhappy about that" said one.

"The fact remains that it was perhaps inevitable that David would have to go, but it would be terribly unjust to ignore all the good he has done for the company."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage