Nicholas Pye, Buyout Guy: C-suite Dreams

Pye outlines his expertise in non-exec selection

I seem to have spent most of this month interviewing potential non-exec chairmen for my revolutionary Greek olive oil business. As you’d imagine, it’s not easy to find the right fit for a business as radical and disruptive as this.

What’s great about these interviews is that they tend to take place at whatever club these old boys are signed up to in London. I’m looking forward to the day I’m liquid enough to join a club of my choosing, so I can have the opportunity to share my experience with some like-minded peers. And maybe some bankers.

As far as I can tell, the only qualifications you need to be appointed as a non-exec chairman of a private equity-backed company are:

1. Have a decent CV that sounds impressive on the company’s website

2. Have four free mornings a year

Then you just rock up every quarter to chair the board meeting, pop your head in at the Christmas party, and spend the other 363 days of the year squandering your six-figure pay cheque and playing golf with your other retired corporate buddies. Now that’s what I call an aspirational lifestyle.

The chairman thing was one of the recommendations made by the consultants that have spent the last couple of months evaluating the business. I mean I obviously would have thought of this myself (classic consultant trick: borrow your watch, tell you the time and charge £500/hr plus expenses for the privilege).

But they did have some useful ideas in other areas, I must admit. As you’ll probably have gathered, I’m a big picture guy. If I was interested in supply chain and procurement efficiency, I’d have wasted my 20s at Unilever feigning interest in washing powder. So don’t waste my time with prosaic day-to-day stuff. Leave the boring detail to someone with less imagination.

“Another thing, Nick,” the consultant starts to say at our meeting.


“Sorry, Nicholas … You might also want to think about bolstering the C-suite.”

“Mark,” I say (since that was his name), “I don’t mean to tell you how to do your job. But this is a brand new building we’re talking about here. The foundations are solid as a rock. I’m 110 percent confident in its structural integrity.”

Mark lets out a sound that’s suspiciously like a sigh. “No, I mean – you may have to make some senior management hires.”

“Oh.” Why didn’t he just say that then? “Which roles were you thinking about, specifically?”

“Well the CFO definitely. And the commercial guy. And perhaps the chief exec too.”

“Hang on a minute. They’re the three most senior people in the business. Two of them co-founded the thing. If I turf them all out, there’ll be a revolution. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Greeks are pretty keen on taking to the streets at the moment.”

Mark looks a bit embarrassed, and doesn’t say anything.

It’s important to stress one key thing about Big Shop: we back managers. Our model is all about finding great executive teams running world-class businesses, and backing them to the hilt. That’s what makes us absolutely unique in this industry.

On the other hand, if management turns out to be rubbish, I don’t get my bonus and carry. So arguably it would technically be more accurate to say: we back managers to the hilt, right up until the time we have to sack them. It’s tough, but making tough decisions is what we do. You can’t carry passengers in a cut-throat industry like olive oil.