The heroes and villains of Britain’s boardrooms

John and Irene Hays of Hays Travel stepped up to pick up some of the pieces of the Thomas Cook bust

Which of Britain’s business leaders performed as well as they were paid…

Those who did: 

John and Irene Hays, Hays Travel

From the wreckage of Thomas Cook’s tragic collapse came at least one good story. It was John and Irene Hays, the husband and wife team behind Hays Travel, who stepped in to rescue the firm’s 555 travel agent offices and hire 2,500 of its former workers.

In an age when the High Street is under constant siege, it’s a welcome vote of confidence. But the couple are also nobody’s fools and clearly sense a business opportunity. We wish them well.

Lady Cobham, Cobham Founding Family

Who would have thought a 76-year-old widow would take the lead in defending one of the UK’s premier defence companies from a foreign takeover?

Advent International’s swoop on FTSE 250-listed Cobham was set to go ahead with little scrutiny. But then Lady Cobham stepped in. The daughter-in-law of founder Sir Alan Cobham drew attention to security concerns surrounding the deal and won backing from a string of big names. Dignified and determined, she was vindicated by Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s surprise intervention. Sadly, the £4bn deal was approved by the Government last month.

Pascal Soriot, Astrazeneca

In 2014, Pascal Soriot defended British drug giant Astrazeneca from foreign raiders and passionately argued the company’s best days were still ahead of it.

Fast-forward to today, and it is difficult to argue with his claim. With sales booming after Soriot, 60, put his chips on developing blockbuster cancer drugs, the shares have touched record highs this year and show no sign of losing momentum.

Dave Lewis, Tesco

After overseeing a five-year turnaround at Britain’s biggest supermarket, boss Dave Lewis is entitled to put up his feet. The Tesco chief executive, 54, announced his shock resignation in October after leading the company out of a disastrous rut and back into profitable uplands. And although rivals would surely have queued up to poach him, the father-of-two instead wants to spend time with his family and ‘recharge my batteries’. Enjoy it, Dave.

Andrew Tyrie, CMA

Lord Tyrie made his name as the chief inquisitor of Parliament’s Treasury select committee, after becoming the scourge of bankers following the financial crisis. So when he was made chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), supporters hoped he would bring an equal amount of zeal to his new role.

The 62-year-old did not disappoint. From the rejection of Sainsbury’s merger with Asda to the CMA’s probe of Google and Facebook’s grip on digital advertising, under Tyrie the watchdog has shown it has no scruples about taking action to protect consumers.

Tesco boss Dave Lewis brought the supermarket chain back under control after several  disappointing years

Tesco boss Dave Lewis brought the supermarket chain back under control after several  disappointing years

Julian Richer, Richer Sounds

Last year Richer Sounds’ 531 employees discovered the founder had handed over control… to them. In an extraordinary act of generosity, Julian Richer also gave staff £1,000 each for every year they had worked for him.

The 59-year-old is a rare and commendable example of a boss giving back to the workers who have made his success possible. We hope it will inspire more.

And those who didn’t…  

Neil Woodford's lucky streak ran out in 2019 so it's not surprising he makes this year's miss list

Neil Woodford’s lucky streak ran out in 2019 so it’s not surprising he makes this year’s miss list

Neil Woodford, (Ex) Woodford Investment Management

When it comes to downfalls in 2019, it is hard to think of one more spectacular than Neil Woodford’s. The 59-year-old stock picker was once feted as Britain’s Warren Buffett, but his fund’s Oxford office has shut up shop.

What happened? In short: A string of bad investments and sheer hubris, including the decision to charge savers management fees even as their cash was frozen.

After months of limbo, the end came swiftly in October when the fund’s administrator called time.

Chris Fraser, Sirius Minerals

Shares in Sirius Minerals were snapped up by retail investors who bet on its plan to build the UK’s biggest mine for a generation. But confidence in the company and Fraser, its upstart Australian boss, was hammered this year when a failed fundraising in September sent the stock’s value plummeting.

Fraser and his management team have blamed everyone but themselves, as their dream of a £4 billion fertiliser mine under the North York Moors teeters on the brink. Now investors face more anxious months as the company scrambles to right the ship.

Thomas Cook bosses paid themselves millions whilst employees lost jobs in the firm's collapse

Thomas Cook bosses paid themselves millions whilst employees lost jobs in the firm’s collapse

Peter Fankhauser, (ex) Thomas Cook

Thomas Cook collapsed under the crushing weight of £1.7 billion in debt in September, putting 9,000 jobs at risk and leaving 600,000 holidaymakers stranded abroad.

But spare a thought for Peter Fankhauser, the chief executive, who said he found the experience of saying goodbye to his staff ‘heartbreaking’. Poor Peter. At least he can comfort himself with the millions he was paid after taking the helm in 2014.

Andy Palmer, Aston Martin Lagonda

For years Andy Palmer was hailed as the man who turned around Aston Martin Lagonda, James Bond’s favourite marque. And then, in late 2018, the company went public.

Since then, the bullish businessman has overseen huge losses, a revenue warning, an emergency cash call and an astonishing fall in its share price. It has turned Aston’s stock market debut into a notorious example of over-promising and under-delivering. And Palmer, who made £6.6 million from the float, now looks less like 007 and more like Johnny English.

Outspoken Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley should focus on getting his own house in order

Outspoken Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley should focus on getting his own house in order 

Mike Ashley, Sports Direct

‘I’m not a panto villain,’ Mike Ashley cried, as he carried on acting like a panto villain.

The Sports Direct tycoon attacked just about everyone last year, blasting politicians, journalists, City regulators and advisers for perceived crimes against him.

Ironically, there is more than a ring of truth to some of Ashley’s gripes, particularly on business rates, and he should be commended for trying to save jobs at House Of Fraser.

But after a shambolic year that has included delayed results, a tax probe and a struggle to find an auditor who will work for him, perhaps the 55-year-old should focus on getting his own house in order before slinging mud elsewhere.

Martin Sutherland, (ex) De La Rue

It was more than a year after De La Rue lost its contract to make British passports that boss Martin Sutherland, 51, finally stepped down. That was also after the company hastily abandoned a threat to sue the Government, announced 170 job losses and issued multiple profit warnings.

And what did the company reward him with? A £50,000 cheque to help him find a new job.

Business secretary Andrea Leadsom features on our list of disappointing business leaders

Business secretary Andrea Leadsom features on our list of disappointing business leaders

Andrea Leadsom, Business Secretary

She was hailed as a potential saviour when initiating a probe by the Competition and Markets Authority into the takeover of Cobham on national security grounds. But ultimately it proved to be little more than ministerial muscle flexing, as the Government gave the deal the green light last month with just a few strings attached.

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