Richard Northedge

The great box-ticker takes charge

Richard Northedge on the FSA's new chairman

The Financial Services Authority has had only two chairmen since its creation in 1997, and as the Northern Rock debacle happened on the watch of the second incumbent, Sir Callum McCarthy, the model for his replacement is inevitably the original holder, Sir Howard Davies. On that basis, Adair Turner — Lord Turner of Ecchinswell — ticks all the boxes. Both are former McKinsey men; Turner followed Davies as director-general of the CBI; Turner is a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, where Davies is now director. Both sit on the board of Paternoster, a private company that buys out corporate pension funds. Their kids even attended the same primary school. They are from the same mould.

But while Turner ticks all the boxes, colleagues warn he is a box-ticker. This holder of a double-first from Cambridge is undoubtedly bright, but not necessarily practical or pragmatic. Until he has his rows and columns filled in he is reluctant to make a decision. As a non-executive director he has frustrated chief executives by sitting on the fence until his matrix is complete.

Critics blame his 13 years at McKinsey: good at analysing problems, good at expecting someone else to solve them. And they cite his lack of hands-on experience. He quickly left his first job, in BP’s strategic planning unit, because it wasn’t sufficiently challenging, spent three years with Chase Manhattan Bank, then began his long career in consultancy and quangos. Despite his non-executive directorships, a plc chairmanship has eluded him: one headhunter has said that his box-ticking mentality makes him great for chairing the audit committee, but not for heading the company.

The firms Turner will be monitoring at the FSA hate box-ticking — demands to comply with every rule, regardless of common sense.

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