Baroness Karren Brady, the football executive who once said that “balls of steel” were the key to her success, is to take over immediately as chairman of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group retail empire.
A glowering television personality who helps decide the fate of contestants on the British version of The Apprentice, she is likely to bring a more interventionist ethos to the job than her predecessor Lord Grabiner. He informed MPs in 2016 that “the key feature of my role over the years is that I have chaired the monthly board meetings”.
Baroness Brady told the Financial Times on Monday that there were “significant challenges on the high street”, as she vowed to beef up boardroom oversight and put herself at the centre of debates about Arcadia’s strategy.
“There are 24,000 people work at the group, all of whom are incredibly important. There are some corporate governance issues that we want to sort out,” she said, adding that the company was searching for two more non-executive directors.
Appointed managing director of Birmingham City football club at the age of 23, Baroness Brady became the first woman to run a British football club and was for years forced to put up with sexist slights — including, at her first press conference, a question about her vital statistics.
Now chief executive of West Ham United, her website also lists an appointment as “senior non-executive director” of Syco Entertainment, the production company behind TV shows such as America’s Got Talent. She has held a boardroom appointment at Taveta, the Green family vehicle through which Sir Philip controls Arcadia, since 2010.
“Baroness Brady was heavily involved in Taveta during the dreadful shenanigans that led to the closure of BHS,” said Frank Field, who co-chaired a parliamentary inquiry into Britain’s most contentious corporate failure in years.
The affair, which cost 11,000 jobs and imperilled the pensions of 20,000 workers, culminated in Sir Philip handing over £343m of his personal fortune to plug the hole in the defunct retailer’s insolvent pension scheme.
It heaped embarrassment on the London-based international arm of Goldman Sachs, where Lord Grabiner became a non-executive director in 2015.
MPs heard that the US investment bank had played a key role in vetting Dominic Chappell, a former bankrupt and retail novice, who bought BHS for £1 and then proved unable to summon the cash or business nous needed to turn round the ailing chain.
Lord Grabiner said the board of Taveta had delegated responsibility for deciding how to dispose of lossmaking BHS to “a sub-group of executive officers” in which he was not included.
Iain Wright MP asked Lord Grabiner whether he felt “aggrieved” that he was not invited to the night time board meeting in March 2015, when Taveta made the fateful decision to sell BHS to Mr Chappell.
“I am chair of the select committee on Business, Innovation and Skills,” Mr Wright said. “If there was a meeting of the committee and I was not invited, I would be really angry.”
MPs said Lord Grabiner was “content to provide a veneer of establishment credibility to the group while happily disengaging from the key decisions he had a responsibility to scrutinise”.