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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
David James: Straight-talking at the Dome
Troubleshooter David James is a behind-the-scenes man. But now he has taken on Britain's most controversial millennium project - managing the Dome. By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy.

It's an inevitable drawback of his job, but the Dome's new executive chairman David James will never be a loved face in business.

"He's the patron saint of lost causes," says his friend and fellow troubleshooter Simon Burke. "When he gets called in you know you are in absolute crisis."

Sir John Harvey-Jones
TV troubleshooter: Britain's best-known company doctor Sir John Harvey-Jones
To staff at the Dome, at least, such a predicament will come as no surprise. Since it opened at the start of 2000, the government-backed grand project has become a byword for folly.

As one of Britain's leading "company doctors", Mr James's job will be to smooth the Dome's transition from public to private hands at the end of the year.

The 62-year-old, who is said to prefer "crisis manager" as a job description, has had plenty of experience in turning around ailing or collapsed companies.

He operates closely with banks, rather than shareholders, and it is his proudest boast that he has never let a trading company fall into receivership.

Major career steps
1959-1964: Trained with Lloyds Bank
1964: Joined Ford Credit's launch team
1973: Joined Cork Gulley to rescue Cedar Holdings
1989: Appointed chairman of Eagle Trust
Other directorships include British Shoe Corporation, LEP group, Dan Air, North Sea Assets and Central & Sheerwood
Among his best-known assignments have been Dan Air, Lloyd's insurers, the British Shoe Corporation and Eagle Trust.

His tenure with the latter is perhaps most notable for Mr James's role in uncovering the Iraqi supergun affair. During a visit to one of the conglomerate's subsidiaries in 1990, he noticed a muzzle of what looked like a giant gun.

His decision to tip off MI6 was later noted as one of the first leads in disentangling the affair.

Questioned about his role at the Dome, Mr James described himself as a "sweeper up of companies" - a humble job description for someone reputed to charge 5,000 per day.

Dan Air
David James sold Dan Air for 1
Former Hill Samuel banker Trevor Swete, who now runs the recovery specialists Postern, says he will be applying his shrewd business head to the bottom line.

"David James's priority is to keep costs under control and making sure that getting from where we are today to the handover is a managed process rather than a series of accidents," says Mr Swete.

"It's a fairly safe place to be with only three months to go, and considering the fate of the Dome [that it will close] has always been known."

Former colleague Archie Coulson says his forthright approach will come as a shock to some managers at the controversial tourist attraction.

PY Gerbeau  and dome
Dome chief executive PY Gerbeau has a new boss
"I suspect in this situation there's been a lot of mealy-mouthed language and David will just go in and tell them what's what," says Mr Coulson.

Indeed his straight-talking reputation and head for figures look to be in stark contrast with the creative minds that have dominated the Dome so far.

Simon Burke, who was parachuted into Hamleys last year in a bid to turn around the once ailing toy shop, calls him "formidable - a fiercely intelligent man".

"He's very black and white, sometimes erring on the side of being a bit of a heretic burner. He's very intolerant of fools and incompetents."

Mr James "knows all the operas"
But Mr Burke, who describes the old hand as a mentor, says the reputation of a tireless workaholic is exaggerated. In fact his outside interests include opera, cricket, ballet and horse racing.

"He's very serious minded and when he pursues hobbies he makes it seem almost like work," says Mr Burke, who was seconded to work under David James.

"He was once in line as a candidate to be chairman of the Royal Opera House and I think they really missed a huge trick because he knows both sides thoroughly - the business and the artistic.

"He knows all the operas. He takes the same meticulous approach with anything he does. But he's not a workaholic in the sense of being a complete one-dimensional, boring type of person."

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06 Sep 00 | UK
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