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Great power; great responsibility

I can only assume that Leo Quinn enjoys his admin.

How else to explain the fact that the Balfour Beatty chief executive has not one, not two, but 15 people reporting directly into him?

For many of us, the prospect of taking responsibility for 15 annual performance reviews is enough to have us signed off work for six months with acute stress.

But Mr Quinn seems to thrive on management. In his eight months at the helm of the troubled engineering behemoth, he has rid himself of a number of figures associated with the old regime and installed trusted former lieutenants, many of whom are now directly accountable to la grande fromage himself.

If that wasn’t enough to bring about accusations of micro-management, Mr Quinn has taken a tighter rein on the bidding process at the company.

Having inherited what has been described as a ‘bid first, ask questions later’ policy, now, all contracts deemed to have a high enough risk profile must be looked at by Mr Quinn or one of his top team before any bid is agreed.

Traditionally this is not the work of a chief exec. Whatever happened to three-hour lunches at The Ivy and ‘fact-finding’ junkets to Hong Kong?

But, in Balfour Beatty’s case, it is entirely understandable.

It is no secret that the firm’s culture, when it came to pricing work, was in some cases shambolic.

The slew of profit warnings that have come thick and fast over the last three years - culminating in today’s announcement of a first-half £150m loss - have thrown a spotlight onto a way of working that has had disastrous consequences for the business.

A conspiracy of optimism” was Mr Quinn’s damning assessment of the culture he inherited. And, to be fair, it is not just the UK’s biggest contractor that has been guilty of trying to make too much hay when the sun hasn’t been that bright.

But the bigger you are, the harder you fall. And the more people are watching when you do.

No doubt some, both within the company and outside, won’t like the scrutineering approach. A CEO isn’t supposed to get his hands dirty to this extent.

But it’s not like the industry can point to a consistent run of success with which to defend the old ways. And, for Mr Quinn, it’s his head that is on the line if Balfour Beatty doesn’t turn its fortunes around.

Like the fella said, with great power comes great responsibility. And a lot of paperwork.

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