The Rail Dispute: 'Horton the Hatchet' swipes at tradition

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The Independent Online
WHEN Robert Horton landed the job of chairman of Railtrack, the laughter at BP, his previous place of employment, was deafening.

The prevailing view was that if anyone could emulate Mussolini's management techniques and ensure that the trains ran on time it was Horton.

During his 30-year career at the company, Bob Horton, 54, had garnered many enemies, especially in his brief stint as the oil giant's executive chairman.

Some adored his energy and his desire to sweep away the stuffy corporate culture - and with it thousands of jobs - and replace it with one imbued with United States- style notions of an 'empowered' middle and lower management.

Many more detested the idea; his nickname was 'Horton the Hatchet'. But it was as much his

technique as his strategy that led to friction. Even his supporters

describe his management style as 'abrasive', 'ambitious' and 'ruthlessly self-confident'.

He makes no bones about his approach, once famously commenting that: 'Because I am blessed by my good brain I tend to get to the right answer rather quicker and more often than most people. That will sound frightfully arrogant, but it's true.'

But his attempts at radical reform at BP, a process he described as 'like swimming in treacle', together with a worsening profit performance, led to his downfall. In July 1992, barely two years after taking charge, he was ousted.

It was a humiliation that reportedly hurt him profoundly - he had worked for the company since graduating as an engineer from St Andrews University, Fife, in 1957.

But it was not without its compensations. In 1991 - his only full year of stewardship - he had received basic pay of pounds 480,000 plus pounds 307,000 in performance-related pay. He had also benefited from 300,000-odd share options at less than half the then share price.

After being handed his marching orders, he also picked up a full year's pay, pounds 780,000, plus pounds 722,740 towards his pension arrangements.

Yet within 18 months he was back in the public eye, this time as chairman of Railtrack - at a salary of pounds 120,000. It was a job that gave him similar scope to challenge a deeply ingrained traditionalist culture, a task he set about with gusto.