Anthony Hilton: Morrison’s wrangle won’t be the last

You could almost sense the relief in the weekend reports that Paul Manduca, a former City fund manager, will shortly slot into the deputy chairman’s role at Morrison’s, the supermarket chain whose reputation for northern efficiency has been tarnished by its takeover of Safeway.

If Manduca does take the role, he will replace David Jones, the chairman of clothing chain Next who doubles up as deputy chairman but whose tenure has been marked by a series of rows with Ken Morrison. It has been a feature of the dispute – the heart of which was a desire by outside investors to curb Sir Ken's power – that it was conducted largely through leaks to friendly journalists.

The hope is that Manduca's appointment would mark the cessation of such hostilities. Nowhere would this be more welcome than in the offices of Citigate Dewe Rogerson, the PR firm that holds the Morrison's account and has represented the firm not just through a difficult trading period, but one where the two most powerful people on the board were at loggerheads.

It was doubly painful that the dispute was conducted through the media because it left the consultancy not only struggling to keep abreast of the leaks, but having to tread a difficult path between both sides. The consultancy is appointed to represent the company, but what does it say when chairman and CEO are at odds with each other? It should tell both to shut up and grow up. But how to do that without losing the account?

More consultancies will find themselves in this position as the new rules on corporate governance split power between the chairman, the senior non-executive director, the head of the audit committee and the chief executive, and ego clashes become ever more frequent. One suspects most will not handle it easily.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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