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Sir John Bond (Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)
Sir John Bond (Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)

The Lunch

The (mostly) stellar career of John Bond, HSBC’s once-roving troubleshooter Add to ...

The Xstrata episode was more damaging to Mr. Bond’s career. Xstrata came out of nowhere in the early part of the last decade to become one of the world’s biggest mining companies after its hostile takeover in 2006 of Canada’s Falconbridge. Somewhat reluctantly, Mr. Bond became Xstrata’s chairman in 2011, when it was an open secret that it was being lined up for a takeover offer from its 34-per-cent owner, Switzerland’s Glencore International, the world’s biggest commodities trader.

The merger proposal offer duly came and, in the spring of 2012, Xstrata CEO Mick Davis and his lieutenants were awarded the fat retention package, worth £150-million ($270-million). It came with no performance requirement; all the Xstrata boys had to do was show up for work after Glencore and Xstrata came together. The institutional investors cried foul because the merger vote and the vote to approve the retention package had been bundled into one.

Mr. Bond found himself fighting a losing war with investors. He announced in November, 2012, that he would not seek re-election as chairman but had to stay put for an agonizing six months while his replacement was found. He was formally voted off the board last May.

“I was far more concerned about the terms of the deal than I was about the retention side,” he says. “We’d look like awful chumps if Mick and the mining team that were responsible for 80 per cent of the merged companies’ assets decided to leave.”

After two hours of talking, we repair to an elegant and vaguely Oriental subterranean restaurant at Blakes Hotel. Mr. Bond orders cod and mashed spinach washed down with a Pilsner and I opt for mushroom soup, Scottish baked salmon and crunchy asparagus.

We talk about China and I realize I could listen to him speak for hours about the emerging superpower’s history, culture and economy. “You know in 1990, the Chinese and Indian economies were the same,” he says. “China is now four times bigger. I asked a senior Chinese official why this was and he said, slightly tongue in cheek, that it’s because we don’t have a god and we don’t have democracy. The god remark really gobsmacked me. India has Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Catholics. He said it’s simpler in the world if you don’t have a god and that the Chinese see a lot of heat in religion.”

His insights on China are riveting. It’s a fairly quick lunch; Mr. Bond has to get back to pack for the family ski holiday and I wonder whether I should have spent the last three hours talking about China instead of Household Finance and Xstrata, two companies that are already fading from memory.

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Favourite book: A Journey in Ladakh, by Andrew Harvey. “Fascinating story about an Oxford educated mine meeting an Eastern mind.”

Film: Some Like It Hot.

Outdoor activity: Hiking.

Band: Queen.

The music he would like played at his funeral: Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye. “It was played to the air force guys in the war before they took off.”

Children: Annabelle, Lucy and Jonathan, all in Hong Kong.

Board directorships include: Northern Trust Corp. in Chicago, Shui On Land Ltd., a property developer in China and Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping container company.

Quote: “China fascinates me.”

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Follow on Twitter: @ereguly

 
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