Roy A. Gardner
1945–



Chief executive officer, Centrica; chairman, Manchester United

Nationality: British.

Born: August 20, 1945, in England.

Education: Strode's College.

Family: Son of Roy Thomas Gardner (carpenter) and Iris Joan (maiden name unknown); married Carol Ann Barker, 1969; children: three.

Career: British Aircraft Corporation, 1963–1975, accountant for Concorde project; Marconi Space & Defence Systems, 1975–1984, finance director; Marconi Company, 1984–1985, chief finance director; STC, 1986–1991, executive director; STC Communications, 1989–1991, managing director; Northern Telecom Europe, 1991–1992, CFO; GEC Marconi, 1992–1994, managing director; British Gas, 1994–1997, executive director; Centrica, 1997–, CEO; Manchester United, 2001–, chairman.

Awards: Knights Bachelor, Queen of England, 2002.

Address: Centrica, Millstream, Maidenhead Road, Windsor, Berkshire SL4 5GD United Kingdom; http://www.centrica.com.

■ Sir Roy A. Gardner was named chief executive of the British gas, electric, and energy company Centrica in 1997. Under his leadership the company successfully diversified into financial and telecommunications services, with Gardner becoming one of the most influential executives in British business. He also served as chairman of Manchester United, the company that ran the wildly popular English football (in America, soccer) team of the same name. Colleagues and analysts noted that Gardner was a fast learner who had a low-key business approach that was bolstered by strong self-confidence and temerity.

FROM FOOTBALL TO LEDGERS

Gardner grew up on the Surrey and Middlesex fringes of London. His father was a carpenter who also held a series of other jobs, including pub manager and works engineer. Gardner pushed himself hard as a teenager, running a paper route and finding employment at the local bean factory. He told Andre Davidson of Management Today , "I was just so keen to work and earn money" (April 2003).

Gardner wanted to be a professional footballer but did not have the necessary talent. Instead he worked hard in school, and after finishing his studies he joined an accounting apprentice program at British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). Gardner recalled that he did not consciously set out to be an accountant but simply saw the BAC job as a good stepping-stone. He worked on the Concorde jet project and saw BAC undergo substantial changes as it formed a new commercial-aircraft division. Part of Gardner's job was to tell many employees that they had become redundant and would be laid off; he found the task hard but necessary, and it taught him a lesson. He told Davidson, "That was a good starting place. I learnt how to cope with the process of change, and that helped me in later life" (April 2003).

Gardner was recruited by Marconi Space and Defence Systems, a subsidiary of the General Electric Company (GEC), in 1975; there his career rapidly progressed as he became a group finance director. Gardner soon caught the eye of the parent company GEC's boss, Arnold Weinstock, who recruited Gardner to help him run the subsidiary STC in 1986. STC was sold to Northern Telecom in 1991, at which company Gardner spent a year as chief financial officer before returning to GEC. Gardner wanted to succeed Arnold Weinstock at GEC but eventually realized that the job would go to Simon Weinstock, Arnold's son.

A BRAVE LEAP

Gardner realized that he was making a giant leap of faith when he chose to join British Gas in 1994. Although entering an entirely different industry, he was lured by discreet indications on the part of the chairman Dick Giordano that he might one day end up running the company. As executive director of the board Gardner was credited with helping to transform the company's fortunes by renegotiating massive contracts calling for the company to buy gas at prices above market rates. In 1997 he helped carve British Gas into two separate companies: British Gas and Centrica.

At that point Gardner was given the choice of which company he wanted to head; he chose Centrica, partly because he found the British Gas corporate culture to be too bureaucratic. He assembled his own management team and then acted on his vision for the company's future. He eventually led the former component of British Gas into the realms of electricity, home services, road services like AAA, credit cards, savings and loans, telecoms, and other businesses throughout North America and Europe. By 2004 Gardner had led Centrica through a period of what appeared to be unstoppable expansion, in the process achieving long-term dominance of Great Britain's retail power market.

Gardner and the rest of Centrica's board of directors proposed a final dividend of 3.7 pence per share to be paid to stockholders in June 2004. When combined with the interim dividend of 1.7 pence per share paid in November 2003, the total dividend for 2003 was 5.4 pence per share. The total payout-per-share increase of 35 percent, noted analysts, reflected the company's continuing confidence in the outlooks for both cash flow and earnings in the medium term. By then Gardner had turned his attention to honing his group's existing strategies rather than seeking further growth through acquisitions. He told David Gow of the Guardian , "I think we have a model which is capable of being replicated internationally" (May 24, 2003).

MANAGEMENT STYLE: LOW KEY BUT EFFECTIVE

Described as quiet, shy, and considerate, Gardner's low-key approach to management was successful in spite of the fact that, as colleagues pointed out, communication was not his strong point. His years of business apprenticeship to successful leaders like Weinstock taught him a lot; in fact he credited Weinstock with instilling in him the ongoing need to pay attention to details. Gardner was noted for being a great team builder and motivator who was not autocratic and listened well.

Analysts commented that Gardner was a wise strategist whose vision led him to expand on Centrica's strength—supplying products with quality service to a large volume of domestic customers—by cross-selling with other products, addressing consumer needs with respect to home, car, and phone services. They noted that Gardner was able to see the link between British Gas's existing service businesses and the public's basic needs in financial services and telecommunication. Gardner explained his strategy to Davidson in Management Today : "There is a common theme behind everything we do. We don't supply a service the customer doesn't want, and we haven't done anything that we didn't believe would create shareholder value, and that will continue to be the case" (April 2003).

CONTINUED TO LEAD

In addition to his leadership of Centrica, Gardner became chairman of Manchester United in 2001. Some questioned his decision to devote valuable time and energy to helping run Europe's largest professional football organization. Gardner countered that he did not follow the team slavishly during the week and that he had dropped other nonbusiness commitments in order to make time for Manchester United. In 2002 Gardner gained the formal title of "Sir" before his name when he was designated a Knights Bachelor by Elizabeth II of England.

Despite his success Gardner did face some questioning, especially after Centrica's stock fell to a three-year low in mid-2003. Gardner believed that the hit on Centrica stock had been prompted by misguided investor nervousness. He reassured the public that he would not attempt to achieve growth through overly costly acquisition but would continue to guide the company by measuring its performance against a well-defined strategy. In Utility Week the analyst Wesley McCoy noted that Centrica was "sending strong signals that it will prove the doubters wrong" and concluded that investors believed "in him enough to go along for the journey" (June 20, 2003). In addition to his duties at Centrica and Manchester United, Gardner was president of the Careers National Association, chairman of the Employers' Forum on Disability, and a trustee of the Development Trust.

See also entries on Centrica plc and Manchester United Football Club plc in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Gardner, Roy, "The Andrew Davidson Interview: Sir Roy Gardner," Management Today (London), April 2003, p. 68.

"Gardner's Baby," Utility Week , June 20, 2003, p. 17.

Gow, David, "Gas Chief Simmers with Anger," Guardian (London), May 24, 2003, p. 30.

Newton, Paul, "Home and Away Goals," Utility Week , September 20, 2002, p. 18.

—David Petechuk

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