Exactly 12 years ago Financial Director interviewed Hugh Collum who,
at the time, was FD of SmithKline Beecham. Eton-educated, he was sometimes
referred to as a ‘cold fish’ but interviewer Jane Simms wrote that this
underestimates his charm, energy and phenomenal ability. “He is urbane and
courteous, but his rather languid exterior belies a shrewd intellect, steely
determination and boundless enthusiasm,” she said.
Known for setting very high standards, he was always looking for new ways of
doing things and was quietly persuasive. He needed all these qualities when he
helped lead Beecham’s merger with the American drugs giant in 1987.
He needed similar skills in pulling off the merger with Glaxo 13 years later,
and when he became chairman of BNFL in 1999. Relations between the nuclear
business and its government owners and sponsors, the DTI, became strained as the
company sought more independence. Collum was knighted on his retirement from
BNFL last year.
Having qualified with Coopers & Lybrand in 1964, Collum entered the
family business, Plymouth Breweries, which was taken over by Courage in 1971.
This took Collum into the boardroom of Courage’s then parent, Imperial Group,
until, in 1981, he was headhunted to join Cadbury Schweppes where he became
group FD soon after.
In 1990-92 Collum served as chairman of The Hundred Group of Finance
Directors, the discussion forum and pressure group that represents the interests
and concerns of the UK’s leading FDs. It was an important role at an important
time, as the corporate governance band wagon and a new approach to accounting
standards were introduced into the corporate environment. Collum also served as
the industry representative on the Cadbury committee. He received the ICAEW’s
Founding Society’s Award in 2002.
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