Leadership in Carillion – Part 2

Collapse of Carillion

Within the last year Carillion has faced financial issues and has gone into solvency, even before this Carilion was facing issues with how they treated their employees, including pension contributions and suppliers, which at the time of their collapse in January 2018 owning £2 billion to 30,000 suppliers (Partington, 2018).

The problems for Carillion began as it started to rely more and more on major contracts from the U.K. government, some of which proved less lucrative then the directors through. Initially a construction company Carillion took on contracts that included everything from ‘paving motorways’ to ‘ladling out school dinners’ (Freedland2018). It’s believed that the financial issues were known to the directors by mid-2016, however they refused to act to rectify them (Davies, 2018c). By the end of 2017 Carillion had slashed the value of the contracts by £845 million while at the same time company debt increased to £900 million and when the company sought a cash injection of £300 million the banks refused the loan while the U.K. government refused to bail Carillion out. This left Carillion unable to continue trading and the company was forced to go into liquidation (Partington, 2018).

The Carillion directors have been accused, by the House of Commons business select committee – which in itself can be considered a sign of how serious the collapse of Carillion is towards U.K. national interests, of putting their own rewards ahead of business sustainability, “a story of recklessness, hubris and greed” where “its business model was a relentless dash for cash” (Davies, 2018e), more concerned about their pay and bonuses than looking for signs that the company was in financial trouble (Partington, 2018). While ensuring maximum dividends for shareholders, even as Carillion faced financial collapse while at the same time treating pension payments as a “waste of money” (Davies, 2018c)

Despite the financial issues facing Carillion, the board of directions determination to increase the dividend each year helped create a perception of a healthy and successful company, with the inquiry report (Work and Pension Committee, 2018) noting that the board of directors was more concerned with increasing and protecting their ‘generous’ executive bonuses. Carillion’s own remuneration committee papers from August 2016 showing that the board of directions sought to “increase the maximum bonus opportunities” (Partington, 2018), despite shareholders becoming increasingly concerned at the way in which pay was set for senior managers. For example, Richard Howson, CEO from 2012 until mid-2017 in 2016 alone took home a salary of £1.5 million, alongside a cash bonus of £122,000 and pension contributions of £231,000 (Partington, 2018). In response, rather than make any changes Carillion decided to instead rebadge the bonuses, while at the same time weakening conditions of clawbacks and increasing the maximum bonus levels, although in the latter they were forced to back down due to shareholder revolt. Carillion’s former chairman, Philip Green, who also played a part in the collapse of BHS in 2016, was apparently not fully aware of the financial issues the company was facing until just before the £845 million write down.

The former finance director Richard Adam, who retired late 2017, was the architect behind Carillion’s accounting policy and has been described as aggressive and refused to make adequate contributions to the company’s pension schemes which he personally considered a waste of money (Davies, 2018d). Adam himself sold nearly £800,000 in shares leading up to the news of Carillion’s financial issues upon his retirement (Davies, 2018e).

Ultimately it can be considered that either the board of directors was either negligently ignorant of the rotten culture at Carillion or complicit in it. That honouring the pension obligations was of little interest to a board that thought little past their next quarters market statement, while also treating their suppliers as a “line of credit” (Wood, 2018) as an accounting trick in delayed payments to make a better appearance of their balance sheet, often delayed by 120 days.

Bad Leadership

While maximising profit margins and reducing outgoings is sound business policy, the extent to which Carilion engaged these practices can be considered bad leadership practice, even destructive, particularly as Carillion has now collapsed and ceased to function as an organisation.

The characteristics of bad leaders, given by Kellerman (2005), Pinto (2004) and Shaw et al (2011) were prevalent throughout Carillion’s senior management team in how they treated the company itself and how they reacted to the financial issues caused by their own leadership practices.

Throughout their tenure, and particularly in how they reacted to the investigation by the House of Commons select committee, with top executives being called “fantasists” (Goodley, 2018), “shutting their eyes and ears” to the financial problems facing Carillion and failing to take meaningful action that could solve the issues facing the company, instead preferring to act that nothing was wrong, despite being made aware of the issues since mid-2016 (Davies, 2018c). This displays incompetence of the highest sort, particularly in minimising the damage to themselves by instead causing financial hardship through their attitude towards suppliers and their own employees’ pension contributions.

This callousness towards their employees, with the pension contributions being considered a waste of money, had been in a deficit since 2010, with attempts by the pension scheme trustees to have Carilion’s directors plug the gap being constantly refused (Davies, 2018b), despite increasing dividends. This itself isn’t limited to only Carillion, with numerous companies linking bonus payments to increased profits and higher dividends (Guldi and Armitage, 2014), but does indicate that senior management puts their own self-interest before the betterment of the company, to ensure maximisation their own bonuses, meanwhile 30,000 former employees have been affected by the collapse of Carillion and their refusal to pay into the retirement schemes, costing themtheir own pension funds.

There is no clear example if the senior management team tended towards ‘evilness’, but their behaviour when going before the commons selection committee where they refused to voluntary return their bonuses got them branded by MPs as “delusional characters” showed that they were willing to blame everyone except themselves for Carillion’s collapse (Davies, 2018a), with complete disregard for the damage in which they played a major role.

While the exact decision making for the appointment of the senior management team is not clear, it can be argued that processed similar to those suggestions by Erickson et al (2015) were not in place. Indeed, it could be argued that the senior team recruited like for like, looking for new members who shared the same values as them – personal profit before long term sustainability. This is speculation however, but what is clear is that Carillion had no clear ethical framework for the values and behaviours to which their leadership was expected to conform. Similarly, it can be assumed that any employees who were aware of the financial issues were not encouraged to challenge the leadership team.

As Shaw et al (2011) note, a destructive leader can be perceived as such from only a handful of such characteristics, and Carillion’s senior management team exhibited a majority of the characteristics given in the literature receive, indicating that they truly can be considered destructive leaders.

Aftermath

The story of Carillion is an unhappy one for business, particularly so for the company’s employees who have suffered for the leadership by its directors. A story that has been felt all too often from RBS and Northern Rock during the 2007/08 financial crisis to the collapse of BHS in 2016. Calls have been made to review and change corporate governance law to make senior managers take more financial responsibility when a company collapse as the current system of limited liability often limits the damage senior leaders take to their own finances (Monbiot, 2018).

With luck, change will occur. Not only for how companies are governed but that Carillion’s end will encourage other company’s leadership teams to focus a little more on sustainability and less on personal profit.

Conclusion

This essay begins with a literature review into ethical leadership before moving on to bad, toxic and destructive leadership. The characteristics that make an ethical leader are described as are the traits of a bad leader, as bad, toxic and destructive leaders are contemporaries, sharing characteristics these are described together.

Carillion’s collapse at the start of 2018 led to a number of questions being asked, and in finding the answers the leadership style of the company’s senior management team was brought into light. Seeking to maximise their pay and bonuses Carillion’s leaders ignored signs from 2016 that the company was in financial trouble, instead pretending and giving the opposite impression that Carillion was doing fine by ensuring maximum dividends for shareholders, even thou they refused to pay into the company’s pension funds, deeming the payment a “waste of money” (Davies, 2018c) and by delaying payment to suppliers.

This has been shown in the behaviour of the former CEO and former finance director, who when interviewed by the House of Commons select committee were amongst the senior executives called “fantasists” (Goodley, 2018).

When compared to the characteristics of bad leaders, given by Kellerman (2005), Pinto (2004) and Shaw et al (2011) Carillion’s former senior leadership matched several of the characteristics indicating that they can be considered destructive leaders. The displays of incompetence of the highest sort, particularly in minimising the damage to themselves by instead causing financial hardship through their attitude towards suppliers and their own employees’ pension contributions indicate their callousness and greed.

As noted by Shaw et al (2011) a destructive leader can be perceived as such from only a handful of such characteristics. Carillion’s senior management team exhibited a majority of the characteristics given in the literature receive, and this essay takes from these that Carillion’s leadership team are examples of destructive leaders.

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Leadership in Carillion – Part 1

Preface

The following is the first half of a case-study written for my Leadership in Contemporary Organisations assignment. References will be included in part 2.

Introduction

Within any organisation there is leadership. Leadership is not only, as commonly thought, from the senior members of the organisation, but can be found in every member of staff, from the very top to the most junior member.

When leading an organisation how you behave and particularly how you react to crisis’ that occur can be considered one of the highlights for leadership (Barton et al, n.d). It should be noted however that there is no clear definition of a leader, and that depending on your point of view a person could be a good leader or a bad leader (Bennis, 2007).

The collapse of Carillion at the start of 2018 has been significant, not only for inciting public discussion of governance of large companies, but also role the role which the senior leadership team played.

This essay begins by looking at the literature on ethical leaders, before moving onto bad, toxic and destructive leadership. The leadership within Carilion leading up to the collapse and the behaviour of the senior management team is explored and compared to the literature. Based on their behaviour before, during and after the collapse it’s considered that Carillion’s leadership team are examples of destructive leaders. Particularly given the treatment of the company’s pension contributions, or in this case the lack of them, with the senior management team instead preferring to provide money towards dividends with an eye on their own benefits and bonuses.

Literature Review - Ethical and Bad Leadership

Ethical Leadership

Brown et al (2005) states that leaders are a key source of guidance in ethical manners for their employees, and in an what can be considered an echo of the past, indicates that little has changed since their study took place and now, “concerns about ethics and leadership have dominated recent headlines about business and shaken public confidence in many organizations” (Brown et al, 2005, p. 132), indeed the many corporate scandals that have occurred has led to an increased interest in the ethical standards prevalent through the corporate world (Skubinn and Herzog, 2016).

Ethical leadership, as suggested by Ciulla (2005), falls into three categories; the intentions of the leaders themselves and their personal ethics, the way or manner in which the leader leads and the outcomes of the leader’s actions. In practice, ethical leaderships often falls onto their personal beliefs and how they achieve their eventual outcome and while there is no clear distinction behind ethics and effectiveness, Ciulla (2012) suggests that leading in an ethical manner can be effective and lead to success. This appears to be supported by a study by Chikeleze and Baehrend (2017) which identified that, when faced with making a decision addressing an ethical dilemma, leaders prefer a particular ethical leadership style and notes that knowledge of ethical leadership styles is beneficial for leaders to understand the process they utilize when faced with difficult choices. Brown et al (2005) define ethical leadership as having two components, the first is the demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct by the leader themselves while the second is the promotion of such conduct to their followers.

Ethical leaders, Jooste (2013) writes, distinguish themselves by doing what they believe is right even if it is inconvenient, unpopular and potentially unprofitable (temporarily, long term unprofitability would cause the business to be dissolved due to bankruptcy) in order to sustain the long-term sustainability of the organisation. Looking at the construct of an ethical leader Mihelic et al (2010) identifies that an ethical leader thinks about the long-term consequences of their actions, including the potential drawbacks and benefits of their decisions for the organisation.

Leaders serves as role models for their followers, and how they act are often how their followers believe that they should act (Mihelic et al, 2010). As noted by Hartog and Belschak (2012) and supported by Kalshoven et al (2011), Piccolo et al (2010), Mihelic et al (2010) and Trevino et al (2003) the behaviour of ethical leaders towards their followers include acting fairly, promoting and rewarding ethical conduct, and allowing their followers to provide input, as well as showing concern when unforeseen issues arise, while at the same time demonstrating consistency and integrity in their behaviour. In addition to allowing for the follower to take of responsibility of their own actions rather than assign blame. Further as Brown et al (2005) found, ethical leaderships predicts outcomes such the perceived effectives of leadership by followers, follower’s job satisfaction and dedication to their job and their willingness to report problems to management.

How leaders treats their employees plays a role in the employee’s personal development, as Semiromi et al (2013) found in a study looking at managers within the province of Charmahal-Bakhtiari in western Iran that treating employees with respect and socialisation with them led to employees being more interested in the organisation and their personal development while being just and honest had a weak correlation.

Overall ethical leadership implicates the concept and beliefs of followers and helps to make the work of followers more meaningful and motivated. This can provide a discordant with the behaviour of the leaders for the actual business of the organisation itself. A leader can be ethical towards their followers while working for an organisation or industry that it considered ‘bad’ or even ‘evil’ by society (Thoroughgood et al 2012).

Bad, Toxic and Destructive Leadership

At its simplest, bad leadership can be considered, alongside the concepts of toxic leadership and destructive leadership the opposite to ethical leadership.

Bad leaders tend to exhibit a number of characteristics such as; incompetence, either through personality/attitude or lack of skills/training/experience; the inability to be open to new ideas or ways of doing things; lack of self-control: callousness behaviour towards others, including ignoring or discounting the needs, wants and wishes or subordinates; being corrupt such as taking bribes, lying, stealing and using underhanded behaviour, putting their own self-interest before public interest; minimising or disregarding the health and welfare of those outside of their core group; and a tendency towards ‘evilness’, willing to commit atrocities as an instrument of power (Kellerman, 2005; Pinto, 2004; Shaw et al, 2011). A destructive leader can be perceived as such from only a handful of such characteristics, as low as one or two depending on how extreme others view them (Shaw et al 2011)

Toxic leaders tend to attract and ‘play’ with their followers and can abuse followers who have a psychological need for leadership (Romm, 2007). Interestingly in some cases followers tolerate, or even venerate toxic leaders and will aid and abet them in their endeavours, even if the end result will negatively affect them. (Grodnitzky, 2006). It can be argued that leaders are thus not the only ones to blame for bad leadership, as followers have responsibility for giving bad leaders the opportunity to lead (Kellerman, 2005), this is also considered destructive leadership. Studies of destructive leadership towards followers include a number of different forms, including abusive supervision, petty tyranny and pseudo-transformational leadership (Krasikova et al, 2013; Yenming, 2012). This is supported by the results of studies by Schyns and Schilling (2013) which have indicated that individual performance and morale is lower while there is a higher employee turnover and increased resistance towards bad leaders.

Unfortunately, destructive leadership is all too common and the task of dealing with them is difficult (Erickson et al, 2015). In order to prevent and manage bad leadership within an organisation Erickson et al, 2015 suggests that organisations must be selective in their practices of hiring and promotion opportunities with a clear framework model of the type of positive (ethical) leadership values and behaviours that are important for an organisation to flourish. While at the same time encouraging employees to feel free to voice issues in which they feel have contravened both their own but also the organisations values. This empowers the employees (followers) who are more likely to challenge toxic leadership, however once raised the onus is on the senior management team to support those who raised the issues and that the issues are dealt with.

Deadline Madness

Deadlines always seem to be a bit of a mad time at uni, often with colleagues staying up late into the night in order to finish their assignments.

I can’t fault them thou, an issue with a group assignment meant that I was up until 6am before the deadlines myself.

This semester thou I found myself struggling to complete my assignments, with the notable exception of Employment Law, and this is I believe due to the lack of motivation I’ve been feeling this semester towards my studies.

Whether this is due to getting back into studying after the summer or fatigue from the last two years at university remains to be seen, although once Christmas has passed I’ll hopefully find my motivation again, particularly as I plan on getting through a good chunk of my major project in January!

End of Semester: Assignments, Stress, UBC and more

We’re now at that time of the semester where the library will often be found packed and the open access area full (although, with also a surprisingly number of computers not in use due to the lack of chairs as multiple users use share a single computer).

A time when colleagues start to panic over the assignments, either due to leaving them to the last minute or not seeking clarification of what it is that we actually have to do (which happens far more often than you’d think for a group of university level students who are now in their second year).

The time for final deadlines, when assignments are due and then home for Christmas.

This year is particularly chilling thou as now the marks count towards the overall scolding of the degree, knowing that success this year can enhance my final classification, whereas failure will add greatly to the stress for the last year. On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about thinking of the topic for my dissertation for another few months (well actually, I’ve already been putting together ideas).

Fortunately out of all of this there is some good news, my team has made it to the second round of the Universities Business Challenge, I’m particularly chuffed as I didn’t make it past the first round last year. Now onto the second round in Sheffield in March and making it through to the third!

Still, only four more assignments to go and then I’m free until the end of January. I do have plans for the free time thou, namely putting pen to paper for blog ideas I’ve had and some more that I’m contemplating. Not to mention the ones I’ve already started writing, catch-up Christmas anyone?

Well, back to working on my assignments, they’re not going to write themselves after all (at least not yet, although my attempts at trying out voice to text software has been mixed).