By Desmond Ouigley
Professor Sir Ronald Edwards, speaking a few hours after being appointed non-executive chairman of British Leyland Limited yesterday, said he did not regard the company as being “bound to every conclusion and recommendation in the Ryder Report” on the company. However, he added: “We have to take account of the fact that it has been regarded by the Government as a basis for coming in and providing the finance for the group.
So it is a basis.”If he and Mr Alex Park, the chief executive,” felt it was taking us along the wrong direction, we would certainly go along and talk about that” to the proposed National Enterprise Board, of which Lord Ryder is chairman designate. Sir Ronald. who retired as, chairman and chief executive of the Beacham Group in May at 65 to become its president, is also a former chairman of the Electricity Council.
His appointment ends a long search by Lord Ryder for a suitable candidate. In fact Sir Ronald turned down the job once partly on the grounds of health and partly because of other business engagements. He denied that he had been pressured into the job, but had changed his mind after “friendly persuasion “. The appointments of four other non-executive directors were also announced yesterday.
They are Mr Robert Clark, who sat on the Ryder team investigating BL and who is chairman and chief executive of Hill Samuel, the merchant bankers; Mr John Gardiner, an ex-finanicial journalist who is now chief executive of the Laird Group and a member of the NEB organizing committee; Lord Greenhill of lHarrow, a director of BL before its reconistruction and former Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Read of the Diplomatic Serlvice; and Scottish born Mr Ian McGregor, chairman and chief executive of the United States mining conglomerate Amax and widely tipped to succeed Sir Ronald as chair man of BL in a few years’ time.
Lord Stokes. the chairman of the old BLMC company, has also agreed to act as president of the new company with a largely overseas and ambassadorial role. The company reported yesterday that under the rights issue, which was devised as a way for the Government to put money into the company and for which private shareholders were strongly advised not to subscribe, the Government has secured a 95 per cent holding in the company, which now has an issued share capital of £129.6m.
Of the new shares subscribed for, 4,542 went to private shareholders and 154.9 million to the Government, which also took up a further 45 million shares as the underwriter. The NEB. said Sir Ronald, would he able to monitor the performance of the company as any major shareholder in a company could do, but he did not expect “a lot of interference” from the board in the running of Leyiand, nor did he expect any personal problems with Lord Ryder.
Commenting on criticism that the Government was throwing money away like confetti on Leyland, Sir Ronald said: “It was made clear in the Ryder Report that the additional tranches of money will only come along if we are increasing our productivity and efficiency. We have got to make a damn good showing to Justify each tranche of money. It has got to he worked for and earned.”