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Richard Howson’s art of the deal

Zak Garner-Purkis

Richard Howson looked up at the committee with big doe eyes.

“I felt like a bailiff,” the former Carillion boss said, his Yorkshire accent cracking slightly.

Watching the select committee hearing a couple of months back, it was hard not to feel a tinge of sympathy for the contractor’s former CEO.

There were so many deals gone wrong, so many problem jobs, compounded by clients he said would not pay him what they owed.

At the time I thought he appeared to be a decent enough guy who had captained a ship that had ploughed into an iceberg.

He had been publicly tarred and feathered by the tabloids as the “fat cat” face of Carillion, and when he sheepishly appeared before the select committee he looked genuinely sorry.

But today we saw another side to the man.

We saw the canny negotiator who refused to give up on what he was owed, and who struck a fantastic deal to secure what he felt was due.

Trouble is, this deal wasn’t with some miserly client on a problem job; it was for his share-related bonus payments.

So successful was Mr Howson in negotiating his own settlement that in the end it was excluded from the company’s remuneration report, hidden in a secret bank account.

Imagine if he’d used the same bargaining skills to secure the cash he claimed Qatari developer Msherib had been withholding (Msherib strongly disputed his claims). Or to devise solutions to tackle some of the problems on the Royal Liverpool Hospital and Midland Metropolitan jobs.

Perhaps it could have been a very different story.

What makes today’s revelations even harder to stomach is that the repercussions of Carillion’s collapse on those it owed money are becoming clearer by the day.

On Friday M&E subcontractor Vaughan Engineering revealed it was facing administration as a result of Carillion’s demise.

Its staff can only hope that those negotiating to try to save the company have the same tenacity, skill and success Richard Howson did in securing his bonus.

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