Persimmon boss Jeff Fairburn has heated up scandal over his £75m bonus by walking offscreen during an interview

In failing to prepare for a question about the biggest story concerning Persimmon for the last year, Fairburn and his advisers displayed shocking naivete 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Friday 19 October 2018 12:49
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Persimmon boss Jeff Fairburn shuts down interview after refusing to talk about £75m bonus

The footage of BBC Look North reporter Spencer Stokes asking Persimmon Homes boss Jeff Fairburn about his £75m bonus is priceless.

Invited to a site visit, the intrepid reporter did what any reporter would have done, because the furore over what one commentator described as “corporate looting” has been the biggest story about the company for the last year, perhaps even the last 10 years.

Any CEO with half an ounce of savvy should have seen it coming. So should his PR people, and between them they ought to have been able to come up with a means of deflecting it, a bland response and a friendly request that the reporter “move on”.

“We’ve said all we’re going to say about that, what I want to do now is talk about the future of Persimmon Homes, and I think it’s a great one,” would have done the trick.

PR really isn’t rocket science. Fortunately, for those of us in need of a good laugh, we have people like Fairburn and his advisers to make it look like it is, because instead he walked off screen in a huff when the question was posed, while an out of shot flunky remonstrated with Stokes.

In doing that, Fairburn managed to give the impression that A: he’s a spoiled brat, B: he’s not too bright, C: he’s still ever so slightly embarrassed about his bonus or D: a combination of those.

I’m betting on D.

He certainly should be embarrassed about it.

For those who don’t know the background, Persimmon, which focuses on first time buyers, has benefited massively from the government’s Help to Buy scheme, that was set up to help them.

It has effectively served as a state subsidy to the builder, and profits have boomed. The obscene payment to Fairburn came about because the board’s remuneration committee didn’t think to put a cap on the share-based bonus scheme it dreamt up for him. The former chair of that committee and the chair of the company resigned as a result.

Their successors really ought to ask Fairburn and his advisers what they thought they were doing, because they’ve gone and put the heat back into a scandal that had been cooling off.

“It’s very unfortunate that you asked that,” said the much criticised boss.

It’s certainly unfortunate for him because he’s now going to face the same question for a lot longer than he might have hoped. He’s also made himself look like a fool as well as a fatcat, and underlined to his shareholders that they’re paying £75m for a bloke who can’t even answer a question about whether he deserves to be paid £75m.

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