Opinion: Heroes and villains in Farepak saga

It would be hard to find a major company headed by two people more media-savvy than Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson - the CEO and chairman of HBOS respectively. And yet HBOS continues to find itself in the eye of the Farepak storm.

Every day since the Christmas hamper firm's collapse there has been a blast of negative publicity for the bank - its previous financial risk in Farepak pales in comparison to this reputational cost. HBOS's response has been non-existent.

Perhaps it thought it could leave Sir Clive Thompson, the Farepak chairman, to take the heat. Thompson, who as chief executive of Rentokil was known as Britain's biggest rat-catcher, accused the bank of being a rat. He ought to have known that once he threw mud, more would come showering back at him. But he made himself an easier target by pressing ahead with a holiday in Buenos Aires.

The really clever player has been William Rollason, chief executive of Farepak's parent company, European Home Retail. He has hardly figured in the story, and when he has, he has been cast as an outsider parachuted in to save the business from problems not of his own making. That ‘rescuer' image looks to be based on reality, but no more so for him than for his chairman, who has been hung out to dry.

Rollason has either been very lucky or very well advised. But so too has Nicholas Gilodi-Johnson, the son of Farepak founder Bob Johnson. His father, now dead, sowed the seeds of the disaster by getting in debt to HBOS with a very ill-judged acquisition. Then Gilodi-Johnson and other shareholders did not have the capital or the inclination to refinance the business. But Johnson got himself off the hook by issuing a fulsome apology. Proving yet again that humility has a way of disarming vehement critics.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in