If there are two words that I would choose to describe the very many qualities and strengths of Sir Roger Carr, BAE Systems outgoing Chairman, they would be his undoubted warmth and humility.
As a man who spent the past thirty years either as a chief executive or chairman of several large public companies and who by his own admission, has enjoyed every minute, Sir Roger Carr will next month depart from the role that he would, I believe, readily admit to having enjoyed the most – that of chairman of BAE Systems.
Apart from having for the past nine years been chair of BAE Systems, prior to this Sir Roger Carr had chaired Centrica, Chubb, Cadbury Schweppes, Thames Water, Mitchells & Butlers, been a former president of the CBI and deputy chairman of the Court of the Bank of England, as well as Vice Chairman of the BBC Trust. And while he may be described as being a consummate and highly respected industrialist, he is also chairman of English National Ballet.
Taking on the chairmanship of BAE Systems less than two years after the failed merger attempt between the company and Airbus might ordinarily have been seen as a major challenge for a new chairman, but not Sir Roger Carr. His uncanny knack of being able to create stability and harmony and positive thinking held both he and the company in good stead.
Prior to joining BAE Systems, Carr had little direct experience of working within the defence arena but then, he is nothing if not a diplomat, someone who will always ask and who is also a very good listener, all very necessary qualities for a chairman of a company such as BAE Systems. And it was the diplomatic skills that he brought to the Board of BAE Systems, to the company as a whole and its people and that would be so well demonstrated in his adept ability at choosing people.
As chairman, Carr joined a company that had been financially strengthened under former CEO Ian King. BAE Systems was doing well, but it needed to do much better and arguably, in the wake of the failed merger attempt with Airbus, because so much effort had been put in to make the company financially stronger, it had perhaps lacked a cohesive forward strategy and one that had the right people in place to push it through.
But Sir Roger Carr understood the vital and increasing importance and need for strong defence just as he understood BAE Systems was in a very good place to deliver what the nation and the company’s many international home market customers required.
In a somewhat poignant remark published in a recent Sunday Times article, Sir Roger Carr is quoted as saying “it took a war to wake us up on defence” – a remark that was surely both timely, correct and typical of a man whose ability to message is second to none.
Roger Carr leaves behind a quite amazing legacy at BAE Systems. He is a sincere man throughout and he played his role of diplomat with consummate ease. In my experience, it is rare to observe a FTSE100 chairman who not only has an amazing ability to listen, but one who has throughout his tenure genuinely understood that a company such as BAE Systems is nothing without its people and the skills that they bring.
And they in turn have genuinely appreciated the qualities that they see in him. It’s been a wonderful partnership. His constant support, his genuine interest in all aspects of the business and the motivation and strength of purpose that he provides to staff during the rounds of visits he has made to BAE Systems sites really has been genuinely appreciated.
Roger Carr was undoubtedly the right man at the right time when he took over the role as chairman of BAE Systems in 2014. The role he played in strengthening the Board and particularly his part in bringing Charles Woodburn in as CEO from outside the organisation, in order to succeed Ian King in 2017 was, in my view, a defining moment.
Having known the company as long as I have, I can say that BAE Systems was always a remarkable business to observe but under Charles Woodburn’s strategic influence and Sir Roger Carr’s guidance, particularly the latter’s high respect of ESG (environmental, social and governance concerns) along with his superb board leadership, diplomatic, motivational, presentational and human skills, BAE Systems has and continues to prosper.
There is and never was any arrogance in Carr; he has played his part in revitalising and strengthening BAE Systems’ Board with great panache, enhancing the reputation of this fine company internationally, strengthening external relations and in the process, he has brought stability, respect and provided support and confidence wherever it was required. No one could have asked more of Carr during his nine years as chairman. He has loved the company and he gave it his all.
Sir Roger Carr’s vast experience and knowledge of corporate affairs, his diplomacy and personal skills, his genuine love of what he does, combined with the ease at which he reassures any audience, was perfectly matched by the vast international experience and strengths brought to the company by Charles Woodburn.
It is of course the role of the CEO to define future agreed company strategy and to then put this into effect. Under Charles Woodburn’s leadership and guidance and that of Group Finance Director, Brad Greve, and several other newer members of the Board, BAE Systems has thrived and further extended its strategic and operational reach. The close professional relationship that Woodburn and other members of the Board have enjoyed with Sir Roger Carr and the stability created as a result have undoubtedly played well to the company’s advantage.
Carr’s qualities both in front and behind the scenes are many and varied and when it matters, they come through in abundance. In my experience of knowing him over many years, he never uses words that do not have clarity writ large and his warmth, genuine belief and love for BAE Systems and its people knows no bounds.
It is unusual that a chairman is so well known by so many people internally as Sir Roger Carr is across BAE Systems, but that is the character of the man and that is why he is so universally respected.
Carr is also a man who never shied away from challenge throughout his long professional career and while he will be a difficult act to follow his successor, Cressida Hogg, who takes over as chair at the AGM in May, brings with her very many fine qualities.
I believe that Sir Roger Carr’s legacy will be that of ensuring good governance and a commitment to delivering for all stakeholders. Whether quietly behind the scenes or directly, Carr has fought hard for the company that he loves and has achieved so much. That he has huge presence is without doubt, but equally important is that this is a man who is as happy and content talking to any of the thousands of apprentices and graduate trainees that the company takes on annually, as he is also with any of his colleagues on the BAE Systems Board. This is a chairman who provides enormous support to his CEO and to the people that work for the company all over the world and who is in return, held by them in huge regard.
The personal achievements of this formidable man and the wider role that he has played helping to push BAE Systems forward may be best summed up saying that Carr has a brilliant knack of being able to motivate all those around him. Always cognisant of his collective and individual board responsibilities, Carr has played his part ensuring that BAE Systems Board has been filled with talent.
A good plc board chairman will be passionate and always a good listener, a brilliant communicator, one who can articulate, reason and set out agreed visions where necessary, one who can also pause and reflect, open minds and maybe challenge objectively. He or she will manage the Board, provide the climate of trust and leadership necessary, ensure not only that all are committed to what has been agreed but also that each plays the part that they have committed to. Sir Roger has all of those qualities in abundance and more.
CHW (London – 3rd May 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785