AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN asks why it is taking so long to fill two business leadership posts
We’ve been bombarded in recent weeks with a lot of forecasts and predictions about what’s likely to happen this year, though among the many imponderables is who will be appointed to key vacant positions at the helm of two of our biggest business institutions: Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish National Investment Bank.
Scottish Enterprise has been seeking a replacement chair since Lord Smith stepped down at the end of July, so by the end of this month it will be six months into what should have been his successor’s tenure. So why the delay?
Back in August I reported that at least one person was approached about the role earlier in the summer but turned it down, thereby disrupting the succession plan. I also reported speculation that Scottish businesswoman Elizabeth Fagan, a former Boot’s executive, had been approached. There was no reaction from the government to either report, though hiring Ms Fagan would have suited its gender balancing policy.
This week I asked the Government about being turned down, but its spokesman instead said it had rejected all those who applied for the job [no number given] while admitting the recruitment process is back to square one.
According to a statement, it said there was “an earlier recruitment process that resulted in none of the applicants being successful in filling the role, the process is being re-run with a view to appointing a new chair as soon as possible.”
I was assured that “the process… is ongoing and is being conducted in line with the Ethical Standards Commissioners Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies in Scotland. It will be a fair, open and transparent process.”
It’s also a long one. On current form it could be another six months before there is anyone in post, which begs questions about the level and quality of interest, even with a 10.2% hike in the remuneration package from £44,520 to £49,049 for 1.75 days per month [note public sector workers demanding similar pay rises]. It might also suggest that somebody would like to keep the post open to save a few quid.
As for the Scottish National Investment Bank, it famously lost its first CEO last February when Eilidh Mactaggart resigned for ‘personal reasons’ just 14 months after it began operating.
She felt unable to carry on despite being rewarded with a whopping pay and benefits package of £348,047 and one would have thought that alone would have attracted a deluge of CVs. Maybe the time being taken to hire a replacement is because it is taking so long to sift through them all.
All I know is that chairman Willie Watt told me there would “probably” be a permanent appointment before the end of 2022. It ain’t happened yet and a spokesman for the bank could only say: “We are continuing with the selection process and will announce the Bank’s next CEO once an appointment has been made.”
While filling vacancies at the top of organisations can often take some time, it has to be said that these two are in danger of remaining unfilled for an unreasonably long period when economic policy needs some clear direction. These are also bodies which are run by powerful and influential people who subscribe to principles and practices such as the importance of succession planning.
In the meantime interim chief executive Sarah Roughead is overseeing operations at the bank, while Scottish Enterprise is being chaired by its deputy, Willie Mackie, whose CV includes a spell as managing partner of Clydesdale Bank’s private and agriculture customer base across Ayrshire and Arran. They may be ploughing their own furrow for some time yet.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business