(By Richard Holway) Earlier this week I had a call from Richard Christou. I’ve known Richard for around 10 years since he joined ICL. Older readers will remember that ICT was the main computer torchbearer for the UK since the 1960s. In the late 1980s, it had realised that it was unlikely to survive as UK hardware manufacturer and had moved into software and services. In 1990 ICL was bought by Fujitsu for c$1.3b. But it had then moved into its most difficult period. Firstly under the leadership of Peter Bonfield and then under Keith Todd whose ambitions to IPO ICL distracted management from their main task. It was not a good period in the history of a fine company.
That’s why when, in 2000, I went for a meeting with Richard Christou on the day of his appointment as CEO (he had been CFO before) we immediately ‘hit it off’. Richard said to me “We must accept that we are a subsidiary of Fujitsu and that’s how we are going to manage this business from now on. No more IPO distractions”. On top of that he rightly said that, from now, on ICL was going to concentrate on profitable business – even if that meant closing down or selling divisions.
It’s also worthwhile saying that when Richard was appointed as CEO, ICL had pretty much given up any hope of ever returning as a mainstream UK Government contractor. A series of high profile IT ‘disasters’ coupled with a strong EDS, that thought it owned all public sector IT, meant its standing was at a low point.
Since 2000, Richard has faced reality and ICL, renamed Fujitsu Services in 2002, has gone from strength to strength. Indeed, Fujitsu Services is now the #3 ranked supplier of SITS to the UK market and the #2 supplier of IT Services to the UK Public Sector with billings of over £1.1b in 2007 (although growth has slowed in the last year). Richard took on the role of chairman when David Courtley became CEO of Fujitsu Services.
I have to admit that I thought that Richard would continue to ease himself aware from direct executive responsibility. Afterall he has plenty of other interests; not least writing a series of books on Commercial Law etc.
So I was actually a bit surprised in 2007 when Richard told me he was thinking of accepting an offer from Fujitsu to take on all of their operations in Europe – a much wider brief than ‘just’ Fujitsu Services.
Now that brief has been extended still further as Richard has recently been appointed Corporate First Senior Vice President with overall management responsibility for Fujitsu's global business outside of Japan, heading up Fujitsu's new Global Business Group. Richard's remit encompasses the various Fujitsu companies throughout the world, including Fujitsu Telecommunications Europe. He holds the post of either Chairman or Board member to all of Fujitsu’s businesses in Europe.
It’s a mighty big job – 60,000 people and upwards of Euro18b revenues.
The significance of this appointment for a ‘Brit’ is brought home if you visit Fujitsu’s website list of Fujitsu Corporate Executive Offices . There are 60 or more names and (as far as I can determine) they are ALL Japanese EXCEPT Richard.
It is still both rare and newsworthy for UK executives to take on the top roles at international companies. Look at all the fuss that was made when Howard Stringer was made CEO of Sony in 2005. As far as I can determine there has not only been no ‘fuss’ made of Richard’s appointment but a trawl of Google News finds hardly a mention!
But that is a measure of Richard Christou who would, I suspect, be quite happy to be described as a “quiet man”. Quiet maybe – extremely effective and capable would be just as appropriate.