Camelot’s debt to outgoing CEO

The news that Barclays chairman Sir Peter Middleton is in line to chair National Lottery operator Camelot tells us a lot about how the image of the company has improved under CEO Dianne Thompson.

Four years ago – when lottery watchdog Peter Davies was forced to resign in a silly row over hospitality and the board stirred public outrage by paying themselves eye-watering bonuses – no one of Middleton’s reputation would have gone near the business. He did after all serve as adviser to most of the chancellors of the Conservative years, and was the Barclays board’s choice to replace Martin Taylor as CEO.

Middleton’s time in the Treasury also included a spell in the press office, and he knows how newspapers work. During the search for a chief executive to replace him at Barclays, Middleton apparently leaked the names of those he did not like – knowing the ensuing publicity would prompt them to withdraw. It may not be true but it makes a good story, and it would be ironic if the leak of Middleton’s name in the Camelot case prompts him to withdraw.

Thompson is an interesting case too because she was virtually unknown when she took over the lottery – her main claim to fame was that she was untainted by what had gone before. But the vigour with which she fought to keep the franchise when it appeared all but lost to a Branson-backed alternative won her huge respect. Finding a successor capable of winning Camelot a third lottery franchise will be Middleton’s biggest task if he gets the chair.

It is a task that would have seemed impossible four years ago, but Thompson’s skill at avoiding damaging headlines and political flak by making Camelot low profile gives the operator a fighting chance. A case where no publicity is good publicity.

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