Capita boss Jon Lewis blames ‘British arrogance’ for reluctance among bosses to appoint workers on boards

Capita call centre.  Pic: Liz Mockler S1233LM
Capita call centre. Pic: Liz Mockler S1233LM
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The chief executive of Capita has blamed “British arrogance” for a reluctance among company bosses to appoint workers to boards, as the outsourcer edges closer to hiring its first employees to sit at the top table.

Jon Lewis said that Capita has had 400 applications since it announced last year it would be making two board seats available for eligible staff.

He said: “If you were to review the submissions that these individuals have made you’d be blown away, they are extremely thoughtful.

“We have a highly educated, professional workforce and these people have very valid and very helpful thoughts on how we should be thinking about the evolution of our business, why wouldn’t you want to tap into it?”

Once appointed, the employee board members will be compensated in line with other non-executive directors and receive a salary of £64,500 on top of their current pay.

The idea of worker representation at the highest level has gained prominence in recent years as a string of corporate scandals at the likes of Sports Direct and BHS has brought the issue to the fore. But Theresa May dropped plans to make it mandatory for firms to put workers on boards, despite it being a key plank of her Tory leadership bid in 2016.

Mr Lewis took aim at other bosses, saying “British arrogance” is stopping them from making similar moves to Capita. I’ve had either directly or indirectly a fair amount of feedback from other chairmen, chairwomen, non-executive directors who said you can’t possibly have someone with perhaps as much as only two years’ experience in the business, who may be four levels down in the organisation and never sat on the board before, make any real positive contribution to a board conversation.”

He added: “It’s classic British arrogance.”

However, Mr Lewis said that it is “only a matter of time” before other firms follow suit.

Those employees chosen to sit on the Capita board will also take on the legal responsibilities the role entails, and Mr Lewis said that they will have to be “very cognisant” of the risks.

“They’ve been briefed on those, they understood prior to applying what it was they were taking on. And we’re going to give each of them an independent external mentor. I want each employee board member to have someone they can go to,” he said.

The outsourcer is down to the final four candidates and will make a decision on the appointments imminently.

Mr Lewis is overseeing a transformation programme at Capita, which has entailed a £700m rights issue, consolidating its UK footprint and exiting leases on properties as he seeks to slash costs.

Earlier this month, Capita posted better than expected profits as the chief executive said that his overhaul is on track, despite having “some way to go”.