George Entwistle

Andrew Hill

In the list of phrases that should be scratched from the management lexicon, “safe pair of hands” comes pretty high.

The man named to be chief executive of BG, Chris Finlayson, is the latest to be awarded this dubious accolade. He meets two of the requirements for the safe-hands epithet: he’s an insider – though he’s only worked for the UK oil and gas producer since August 2010 – yet he is also “seasoned” (another term that should be banned – executives aren’t sauces, for goodness’ sake).

There are four main reasons why the phrase is more curse than compliment:

1) It has a damned-with-faint-praise tone, sometimes implying that the company couldn’t find a really exciting candidate, so they played safe.

2) It is often an indication that people don’t know as much about the corporate insider as they would know about a high-profile outside candidate.

3) Safety may be a virtue in some cases but an overcautious leader is not always what companies need.

4) “Safe” is often the last thing a safe pair of hands turns out to be. In fact, the record of leaders in the safe-hands hall of fame is as spotty as that of any other executive or politician. Read more

Andrew Hill

I’m interested to see the name of Caroline Thomson re-emerge on the list of potential candidates to take over as BBC director-general from George Entwistle, who stepped down humiliatingly on Saturday.

Her farewell speech – predating the Savile and Newsnight scandals that laid Mr Entwistle low – now sounds prescient, with its reminder that the corporation “must never lose sight of its purpose”:

It is always when the BBC loses sight of what it is here for that it runs into trouble with licence fee payers. Confidence doesn’t mean arrogance. Indeed, if we are in a biblical frame of mind, humility is in order.

 Read more