Rolet's departure from the London Stock Exchange is going to end badly

Xavier Rolet
Xavier Rolet, departing chief executive of the London Stock Exchange is a tough act to follow Credit:  Teri Pengilley

Apres moi, le deluge. That’s what TCI’s Sir Christopher Hohn seems to think of Xavier Rolet’s pending departure from the London Stock Exchange. The French-born Mr Rolet has been an extraordinarily successful chief executive of the LSE, enriching his shareholders beyond the dreams of avarice. Sir Christopher, an activist investor, wants him to carry on in the same vein, and indeed fears for the future of the LSE if he goes. Mr Rolet is characterised as fin de ligne, a CEO so brilliant he’s impossible to follow.

With 5pc of the stock, TCI has therefore requisitioned an EGM, demanding the removal of the chairman, Donald Brydon, and the extension of Mr Rolet’s contract. There is no sense to be had from any of the parties on what the bust up is really about, so here’s my take on this increasingly bizarre affair.

First, Mr Rolet is plainly not going voluntarily, despite last month’s statement from the LSE that his departure by the end of next year was by mutual agreement. A heavy Brydon hand was placed on his shoulder and he was led to the door.

All companies need occasionally to be renewed with fresh blood

Second, this was actually in Mr Rolet’s own best interests, if less obviously the LSE’s. Outstanding success as a chief executive is as much about timing as anything else. It’s always best to leave on a high, rather than hang around long enough for things to go wrong, or otherwise be found out.

Third, but this is always hard for an ultra-successful chief executive to do. The company becomes his baby, his fiefdom, and for Rolet it is particularly difficult, for he has reinvigorated a fading institution, and given it a real voice on the European stage. His place in national life is not an easy thing to give up.

Fourth, with the example of Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy to go by, Brydon is right to worry about the dangers of leaving a chief executive for too long in the job. All companies need occasionally to be renewed with fresh blood. Fifth, but there are no rules here. Sir Martin Sorrell has been chief executive of the advertising goliath WPP for more than 30 years and is still apparently going strong.

Sixth, there is plainly an element of personality clash. Having been burnt on his investment in Royal Mail, where Brydon was chairman, Sir Christopher is backing Rolet. For other shareholders, it is an impossible choice, but the way things are going, they’ll end up losing both the chief executive and the chairman. Many thanks TCI.

What a Priti pass

Flowers left on the doorstep of Priti Patel's home in South East London, following her resignation Credit: PA

On a number of levels, it was a shame to see last week’s defenestration of Priti Patel. The former development secretary was a terrific role model for Britons of Indian descent, and an outstanding example of second generation immigrant success. Ms Patel is part of a cluster of high achieving Ugandan Asians that includes Barclays’ Tushar Morzaria and Blackrock’s Jitesh Gadhia. Their country of origin must to this day bitterly regret the mass expulsion under Idi Amin of its entrepreneurial, Gujarati middle class. They have been a credit to Britain ever since.

What Ms Patel did was undoubtedly stupid, but she was also shamefully hung out to dry by a Foreign and Commonwealth Office long jealous of the ever growing overseas aid budget, and a Foreign Secretary desperate to divert attention from his own blunders. What is it about these committed Leavers? Like rival personalities on the revolutionary Left, they seem keener on knifing each other than delivering a successful outcome, perhaps because the process is going so badly. 

The serious point here is that there is still a deplorable lack of joined-up thinking between the diplomatic, trade and overseas aid arms of the UK Government. By rights they should all be merged into one department, so as to allow for a holistic approach to Britain’s national interest that combines geo-political, commercial and humanitarian goals.

Instead of which we have three separate units, each headed by a Brexiteer apparently more interested in their own advancement than working together for a common purpose. Goodness knows what the rest of the world makes of it all. Well I do know, actually; they find it increasingly hard to understand what’s become of this once pragmatic nation. A bold, well thought through Budget might still salvage something from the wreckage, but I’m not holding my breath.

Answer came there none

I once used to dabble in so-called “investigative journalism”, so I know how soul destroying it can be to spend months beavering away at some supposed great scandal in public life only to find that the more you look into it, the less of a story it turns out to be.

The temptation to ramp it up into something it’s not is hard to resist. I therefore have some sympathy with the BBC Panorama team and their work on the exotically named “Paradise papers”. We were promised a series of revelations that would blow the lid on supposedly rampant international tax avoidance; what we actually got didn’t add up to a hill of beans.

Ah, Lewis Hamilton: that really was an eye opener. Apparently he paid no VAT on a private jet. But what about the Queen? Now you’re talking. As it turns out, she’s got a few mil stashed away in her overseas territories, where, by the way, she is, as in Britain, head of state.

There’s more; those monstrous ne’er do wells of the capitalist world, Apple and Nike, apparently arrange their affairs so as not to fall victim to double taxation – that’s paying tax twice on the same profits. Then, gloriously, a real revelation – that actors employed on the BBC’s Mrs Brown’s Boys were up to their necks in elaborate tax avoidance. Brendan O’Carroll, the lead actor in the series was not involved in the scheme.

Try as it did, the BBC failed to demonstrate anything significantly untoward, and yet it left the impression of shameful misuse by multinationals of offshore havens to avoid paying their share. I’m all for more transparency, but you can see why commerce prefers to keep its affairs private when subjected to this kind of knocking and substantially ignorant, anti-business treatment.