Few leaders enjoy the luxury of controlling the circumstances surrounding their departure.
While some CEOs depart on a fair wind in search of a fresh challenge, many have their reign cut short by shareholders, directors or market forces. Xavier Rolet, one of the most successful City chief executives of the past decade, resigned yesterday morning a year ahead of his scheduled departure in a move that will forever be associated with one of the most compelling boardroom dramas in the history of the Square Mile.
The story had it all: personality clashes, gagging orders, rogue investors and a cast of characters that ended up including the governor of the Bank of England himself. Indeed, it was the brief remarks of Mark Carney that likely sealed Rolet’s fate.
Amid an acrimonious and tense dispute at the top of one of the country’s most significant institutions, it fell to Carney to intervene with a coded message: pack it in. There are no winners from the soap opera of recent weeks.
Top shareholder Sir Christopher Hohn reacted with fury and dismay to the news that Rolet would be leaving his role next year, and he turned his fire on LSE chairman Donald Brydon – demanding answers that never came, before seeking his removal via an emergency general meeting.
Hohn also sought to extend Rolet’s term by a year. Instead, he cut it short. Brydon may have seen off the main thrust of Hohn’s assault, for now, but he is weakened and will leave the board in 2019 without seeking
re-election to the post. His heavy-handed manoeuvring to jettison Rolet earned him a vocal enemy in Hohn and even caused the FCA to take an interest in developments. It was hardly a masterclass in boardroom (or investor) management. The hunt is on for a new chief executive and, in time, a new chairman.
The backdrop for this is consolidation in the industry, uncertainty over Brexit and concern over the City’s position as a global financial centre. The protagonists of this particular drama may depart the stage, but eyes will remain on the LSE for some time to come. As for Rolet, he deserves to be remembered for a stellar nine years rather than a torrid few weeks.