Only eight FTSE 100 companies have a female chair, according to research by Cranfield University © Dreamstime

This week’s appointment of Paul Walker as the new chair of Relx — the acronymically-challenged former Reed Elsevier — might have looked like another job for the Footsie old boys. Walker is already chair of Ashtead and Halma (he’s giving up that seat) and used to run Sage. But while long company names may be getting shorter, female director shortlists are actually getting longer, according to executive search firm Heidrick and Struggles.

Its latest report finds that 51 per cent of UK board appointments last year were women. And several have since become leaders of FTSE 100 boards. A few months ago, Christine Hodgson became chair of Severn Trent — thankfully not yet SvTrnt. In February, Irene Dorner was made chair of Taylor Wimpey — which has so far resisted becoming TWimp. A month before, Thérèse Esperdy took the chair at Imperial Brands — known as ‘Imps’ but never ImBra. Alas, Cressida Hogg arrived at Land Securities too late prevent it becoming Landsec.

However, there are still too few women chairing the big names on the Stock Exchange, reckon researchers at Cranfield University’s School of Management. On Thursday, they noted that FTSE 100 female chairs had increased by just three in 12 months — taking the total to eight. That may be an improvement on 2019, when the Mail on Sunday found there were more chairmen called Michael than women of any name. But “there are still too few . . . to drive long-term change,” they note. It will take more than deleting vowels from the corporate nomenclature to change the FTSE's image. 

Paul Major: Healthy office life

While the government may have performed a U-turn on encouraging workers back to the City, and the few on Bank station’s escalators contemplate the same, one man’s not for turning. And given he is Paul Major — co-manager of the £770m BB Healthcare Trust, which seems to have got its calls right about the Covid-19 pandemic — his decision bears scrutiny.

From his office in The Shard, Major argues that the chance of dying even once you’ve got the disease is just 0.3 per cent — making some restrictions an overreaction. But that isn’t why he’s in favour of a commute to London Bridge. He wants colleagues back in the office so they can brainstorm difficult questions for the medical groups they invest in.

More importantly, BB’s headquarters has a big video screen, which makes Zoom interviews with investee company managers much higher-definition than on a home PC. “He likes to see their body language,” an associate tells City Insider. “The way they squirm or don’t squirm can be very telling.” Much as it is on the Northern Line.

Neil Shah: Sage of Holborn

How do you know if a stockpicking system really works? Long-term performance is the usual benchmark, and seems to have been the reason investment manager Thameside has signed a partnership with equity research house Edison.

Since Edison’s Neil Shah created his Illuminator Fund in 2008, it has returned 1,170 per cent against 89 per cent for the FTSE All-Share. Little wonder fans call him the Sage of Holborn. But he says the strategy was proved by a different indicator. “The overall approach I learnt from a mentor I had when I was at Goldman Sachs,” he tells City Insider. “He had just turned down a partnership there to follow the strategy. I thought that was a good sign.”

So forget price-earnings ratios — just look for people leaving Goldman’s Farringdon offices with cardboard boxes and enigmatic smiles.

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