OPINION: EMI's new owner keeps hands clean

There is a Teflon quality to new EMI owner Guy Hands. He is probably the single most successful individual working in the private equity business in the UK today - but he avoided the high-profile grilling the Treasury Select Committee directed at other members of his industry.

OPINION: EMI's new owner keeps hands clean
OPINION: EMI's new owner keeps hands clean

He took private equity into areas where no-one had thought of it before - with financing techniques to match - including a few years back buying much of the housing stock of the Ministry of Defence. But no-one has involved him, rightly or wrongly, in the recent rows about the poor quality of soldiers' housing.

He has had his share of disasters - Meridien Hotels collapsed under the weight of debt and Box Clever, the TV rentals business of Granada, was such a disaster that it cost people their jobs. The then head of Westdeutsche Landesbank, the main sponsor of the deal, which lost more than £400m, is actually on trial now in Germany.

Again though, no-one is gunning for Hands. Significantly too, while the public has expressed concern about the high-profile private equity takeover of Alliance Boots, and almost manned the barricades in defence of Sainsbury's, Hands has bought an equally iconic public name, EMI, without arousing anywhere near as much passion. Indeed the reaction has been a mixture of gratitude in some quarters that he was willing to try to rescue the business, and incredulity in others that he would pay so much.

Hands is testament to what can be achieved when a skilled practitioner is willing to confront his critics and tackle issues head on.

His plan to restructure EMI was discussed in huge detail in an interview in the Financial Times two days before it was due to be officially announced to the employees.

Talk about getting retaliation in first - the baddies, whom he was about to fire by the thousand - were the legions of middle-management bureaucrats stifling the creativity of the artists. Who could argue with that, or with his desire to energise the creatives in the business to find and deliver to customers the music they want? EMI may be a blood bath but the assumption is now out there that this is the only way to save the business. Guy's hands are clean.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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