60 seconds with… Lord MacLaurin

Chair of the board

3 min read

Lord MacLaurin is former Chairman of Vodafone, Executive Chairman of Tesco and Chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board. He is currently Chairman of the Malvern College Council.

What would you change to make UK boardrooms more effective?

I would make sure that the only non-executives on the board were those that add real value. The non-executives should support the executive and they can’t do that unless they’ve actually spent time in the business getting to grips with it. When Vodafone acquired AirTouch in 1999 we inherited non-executives with strong financial backgrounds but who knew nothing about the business and so didn’t add strategic value. In hindsight, I wish I’d interviewed them all before keeping them on the board.

It takes time to get close to the business and non-executives must be willing to invest that time. The excuse that the non-executives of our largest companies aren’t paid enough to spend more time in the business doesn’t wash any more.

What role should the Company Secretary play in supporting the board?

The Company Secretary is just as important as any board member. The strength of their relationship with the Chairman is key and they should not fulfil a merely administrative role. They should provide the heartbeat of the business and often deserve more recognition than they receive.

How important do you consider information to be in the boardroom?

Good information is vital and a high quality board pack can revolutionise the way the board works. Ultimately, it’s up to the Chairman to make sure the board is equipped with the information it needs to do its job.

How will the UK’s global influence change over the next decade?

We’re facing increasing pressure to keep up with the pace of growth and innovation in the East. At Malvern College we’re keen to respond proactively and are considering setting up ‘Malvern China’ — to establish our name in Asia as well as exporting something we’re good at and that there is demand for. It would also give our UK students the opportunity to gain exposure to what will soon be the world’s business centre.

What government policy would you like to change to support British enterprise?

The UK economy is being stung by taxation. The 50% tax bracket is taxing us out of business and all but forcing success overseas. But what I’d really like to change about our politics are the politicians. Few of today’s politicians have any experience of the world outside of Westminster and despite never having run anything in the real world, they run the country. Until we have the right people in party politics we can’t expect the right polices to emerge. I’m also sceptical about coalition government. If I were Cameron I would have gone back to the electorate to secure a proper mandate. He is running the country with one hand tied behind his back.

What is the smartest decision you’ve made or witnessed?

There are a number of decisions from my career that I’ve been involved with and I’m particularly proud of:

1. Tesco moving away from Green Shield Stamps in 1977.

2. Going against the grain by continuing to secure planning permission for more out-of-town sites during the recession in ’91–92. When the recession passed, Tesco was left with an 85% share of future planning permissions.

3. Vodafone’s acquisition of AirTouch in 1999 making us a global leader.

4. Vodafone’s successful acquisition of Mannesmann in 2000.

What book is on your bedside table?

The as yet unpublished manuscript of Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles: Volume II.

What is your golden rule?

Appreciate people. Say thank you. And say well done. As a boss, you have to be visible, approachable and understand the people you work with. It’s not ‘us and them’; it’s just ‘us’. When I first joined Tesco there were parts of the business with a staff turnover rate of 200%, but by changing the way we treated people, from our employees to our suppliers and our customers, we revolutionised the business.

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