John Manzoni will exercise his execution muscle as new UK Government CEO

So John Manzoni has become the UK government’s first Chief Executive Officer. The Financial Times got it right a few weeks back when they reported that “big hitters” from the private sector were saying no to the role, in part because there’s no guarantee it will continue beyond next May if the Tories don’t win the election. The FT also said that Manzoni was lined up as the “plan B” – as the head of the Major Projects Authority (MPA) he is already on the inside, working in the Cabinet Office.

He has bounced back from a few disappointments in his career, although there is no doubt he has done some big roles in the past. This is from 2007:

“BP's freshly appointed boss Tony Hayward is under mounting City pressure to ditch refining supremo John Manzoni in the wake of a scathing new report on the Texas City disaster. Refining and marketing chief Manzoni has been lashed in an internal BP study for failing to act on 'clear warning signals' at the US refinery, where a devastating explosion in March 2005 killed 15 workers and injured 170.

Manzoni 'failed to implement his duties' and 'did not try to gain a level of technical insight' into refining, according to the probe by Wilhelm Bonse-Geuking, BP's refining group vice president. It also noted that Manzoni 'lacked refining experience' and did not give process safety the same priority as 'commercial issues.'"

Manzoni ran Talisman Energy from 2007-2012. When he resigned in 2012 this was from the Huffington Post.

“John Stephenson, portfolio manager at First Asset Investment Management in Toronto, said Manzoni was a "disappointment" to investors and the stock has been "a dog" for a long time. "It sort of devolved into kind of a grab bag like it was before and I think he really had trouble impressing people that he had a coherent strategy. We hoped that he would, but we don't think that really came out," he said. "I think he showed some promise a year or so into his mandate, or two years into his mandate, but then it really fell off the wagon."

But he is perceived to have done a good job at MPA to date. His agreement to give the DWP Universal Credit Programme an unprecedented “reset” marking, rather than the “red” it probably deserved, showed he could be flexible, which politicians always like to see in a senior civil servant. However, if a new Minister post election finds out that the UC Programme is not getting back on track, then the role of Manzoni and the MPA will be under question in that context again, we suspect.

It’s not clear whether Bill Crothers, Government’s Chief Commercial Officer, will report to Manzoni. Let’s face it, it’s not really clear what on earth the CEO role really is. It looks to me like a non-job, and that the incumbent will spend their days being busy in endless meetings – every cross-Whitehall committee will of course invite the CEO to join. But he will fundamentally be ignored by Permanent Secretaries when it comes to anything important, and it’s also clear that Jeremy Heywood is very much in charge. (We go back to this point – if Bob Kerslake’s biggest regret after two years as “head of the civil service” is really being late on the Diversity plan for Whitehall, then that’s clear evidence of the basic uselessness of that role and probably this new one too).

But Manzoni’s first official comment showed he has at least mastered the art of spouting 21st century Sir Humphrey-isms. As the Guardian reported:

I am excited to take up this post at the heart of government at this crucial time.” Manzoni said. “My priority is building on the existing momentum to strengthen the execution muscle of Whitehall and embed a sustainable productivity agenda across government.”

Good stuff! But no mention of “legacy” which is a bit surprising. So I’m off now to strengthen my execution muscle. Do not disturb …

 

First Voice

  1. LM:

    This execution muscle will be strengthened further by the extra income generated by his moonlighting….

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/10/civil-service-boss-john-manzoni-sabmiller-director

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