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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 11:45 GMT
High fliers head for UK boardrooms

The British boardroom is beginning to resemble the Chelsea FC dressing room, thanks to an influx of high-flying foreigners. So why are non-Britons now the business?

Battered blue chips. Crumbling public services. Abashed sporting sides. Deserted tourist attractions. When Britain wants to salvage pride, as well as profits, it has begun to look abroad for guidance.

Canadian-born Clara Furse, the new chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, is just the latest foreign talent to be snapped up.

Clara Furse
"They all wear their hair like this in Canada"
Ms Furse, a big wheel at the French bank Credit Lyonnais, the Union Bank of Switzerland and late of Liffe's parish, has more stamps in her passport than Judith Chalmers.

Born to Dutch parents, she was educated in Colombia, Denmark and the UK. Credit Lyonnais bosses said this "cosmopolitan" background impressed them.

It won't have escaped the LSE either, in this era of exchange mergers and fierce cross-border competition.

Outside the box

"Countries have different traditions when it comes to setting up and running companies," a CBI spokesman told BBC News Online.

"If you trade globally, foreign managers can bring a different perspective. They can look at the company from the outside."

That once-proud giant of the British High Street, Marks and Spencer, finding itself in perilous waters, has opted for a foreign hand on the tiller.

M&S bosses Luc Vandevelde and Peter Salsbury
"You're sure these French knickers will sell, Luc?"
Belgian Luc Vandevelde, famous in the retail world at least, was wooed by the troubled chain store with a 2.2m "golden hello" and a 10.4m shares package - though M&S shares aren't the rock solid deal they once were.

Mr Vandevelde, fresh from the recent punch-ups in the French supermarket sector, can articulate his vision for an M&S renaissance in five languages.

"I would not have joined if it was just to run a pure British company. I have outgrown that."

Mr Vandevelde's predictions of a bumper Christmas for M&S have been proved too optimistic, but he still has time to steer his ship clear of the rocks.

Pee Wee's big top

Time was a luxury Frenchman Pierre Yves Gerbeau knew he did not have, when brought in just weeks after the ill-fated Millennium Dome opened.

The former Euro Disney man was soon fixed in the sights of the British media.

"You will have to understand not only our culture as British people, but also the culture of the [Dome]," his subordinates told him.

Former Dome boss P-Y Gerbeau
P-Y loves doing business in Britain
The papers - who dubbed their quarry "Pee-wee" and "Mickey the gerbil" - even unearthed a former Brit colleague who testified to P-Y's "typical French manager's arrogance".

Across the Channel, Le Monde arguably hit on the root cause of Britain's misgivings about P-Y: "A Frenchman, a garlic-eater, a vulgar Frog, is to rescue ... what Tony Blair only two months ago called 'the most extraordinary testimony to British creativity'."

Under dog spirit

And yet, strangely, as the Dome proved itself beyond "saving", P-Y's grin, his professed Anglophilia, and irresistible Dunkirk spirit only increased his popularity.

But despite his impish charms, surely a Briton could have been found to fill P-Y's shoes?

"Visitor attractions are a very specialised field," says the CBI. "So specialised that you have to shop around the world to find people with suitable experience."

Tube boss Robert Kiley
"This isn't Lie-ses-ter Square, then?"
The dilapidated London Underground is another specialised field. It is now in the charge of American Robert Kiley, the man who put the New York subway back on track.

In the skies, the national air carrier British Airways is also battling to put its house in order. "No-nonsense" Australian Rod Eddington was the man selected for the task.

Despite their injections of foreign flair, M&S and BA have not yet reached the end of the tunnel, and the lights have been turned out on the Dome altogether.

But there is one more clear-cut success story in the recent vogue for importing talent. Cricket.

A foreigner, by jiminy!

Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher has broken the England side's abysmal run of luck, and defeated Lord Tebbit's old "cricket test" - which held those of foreign descent could never fully support an England XI.

"On balance the advantages of my nationality have outweighed the disadvantages," Fletcher has said. "This is my England team now.

Sven Goran Eriksson
"I do not understand. 'Bovril' is not in my phrase book"
The English Cricket Board, it seems, could not be happier with the coach. Chief executive Tim Lamb even recommended the Football Association follow his lead when Kevin Keegan vacated the England squad.

"I'm sure the FA aren't interested in my advice but if they were, I would encourage them to go for the best coach, wherever he comes from."

Does Sven Goran Eriksson know the debt he owes cricket? He's probably never heard of the game.

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See also:

23 Jan 01 | Business
Stock Exchange chief 'to be named'
23 Jan 01 | Business
Clara Furse: A profile
07 Nov 00 | Business
Mr Turnaround waits for results
31 Dec 00 | Newsmakers
P-Y Gerbeau: King of the Dome
25 Jun 99 | Cricket
England opt for discipline
10 Jan 01 | Football
The story of Sven
01 Oct 00 | Business
Work permit laws relaxed
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