As a veteran writer on City battles and turpitude, one becomes inured to pushback from chairmen and chief executives. Most are so used to almost unfettered authority in their own realm that they don’t take to challenge kindly.
There are those who hold irreparable grudges and will barely speak to you after you have lined up against them in, for instance, a corporate bid. There are the more thoughtful figures, such as Sir Donald Brydon, former chairman of the London Stock Exchange (LSE), who now chairs the Sage software group among other things.
Brydon, who has Jewish grandchildren, was able to brush aside some robust writing when The Daily Mail fiercely opposed the takeover of the LSE by Frankfurt-based Deutsche Borse. He has subsequently taken an interest in the work of the Abraham Initiatives (which I chair) and made a generous donation at the time of our last dinner, even though he was unable to attend.
There is one chief executive, who has headed at least three major City firms, who was so upset about a particular photo frequently used in The Daily Mail that he rang in tears begging we don’t use it again.
Another successful Jewish retail entrepreneur and chief executive was so perturbed by a risqué photograph of his new woman friend, used at the front end of the paper, that he managed to persuade an editor that it should never be printed under any circumstances.
Then there is the special case of Sir Philip Green of Arcadia. He cuts a controversial figure. He has captured more than his fair share of headlines for activities ranging from the sale of BHS to the tax exile of his family fortune and revelations of non-disclosure agreements with former staff.
Among Green’s endearing qualities is that, unlike many of his counterparts, he does not generally hide behind a phalanx of lawyers and public relations executives, but prefers to vent his dissatisfaction in person.
There can be few editors, managing editors, City editors or retail writers who down the decades have not experienced his sometimes salty, hairdryer treatment down the telephone.
The Carmel College alumnus blows hot and cold. One minute he is at your throat and within the hour is back on the phone suggesting a cup of tea to discuss future plans.
He can also be generous to a fault. In the wake of the terrible Pacific tsunami in 2014 The Daily Mail launched an appeal, funds that would eventually be used to build schools in affected areas. I called Green for support and caught him strolling along the beach in Barbados. He volunteered £10,000 on the spot. I said it wasn’t enough and he immediately doubled his contribution.
He is also known to have stepped in with far bigger sums, reputedly in the millions, to help Jewish Care cover its deficits.
All that is well and good, but he and his businesses must still be scrutinised.
In the past week, when writing about the role of independent directors, I mentioned that you could decorate the boardroom with senior judicial figures and prominent business people.
But when push came to shove they are seldom able to restrain self-made tycoons such as Green.