Sunday 1 February 2015

Who is Stefano Pessina?

Shiver me timbers, a billionaire businessman provides the party for billionaires some much-needed succour by attacking Ed Miliband and Labour as a 'catastrophe for Britain'. Stefano Pessina, the chief executive of Boots says a Labour government would “not helpful for business, not helpful for the country and in the end it probably won’t be helpful for them”. Why's that Stefano? "...." Silence. Nothing. The comment is undeveloped. If the Telegraph were reporting something off the cuff, or a line from a press release, that's just about excusable. This however was a full interview. The hacks pressed him to elaborate but refused to be drawn on specifics. Stefano thereby wasted his opportunity to wound Labour's pro-business creds in favour of unspecified ad hominem. You might say he Pessed his chance up the wall.

To spare his blushes, the hacks were forced to embellish this not-so-useful idiot's comments themselves. "It is exceptionally rare for a business figure as senior ... to be so outspoken so close to a general election." Erm, it's standard. "His intervention is a serious blow for Mr Miliband’s election strategy." How? And there's the standard two penneth worth of nonsense from George Osborne: "This is a clear warning from the head of one of Britain's biggest employers about the economic catastrophe the UK would suffer if Ed Miliband’s policies were put into effect." Funny how a supportive quote is available even before the comments were made public. It's as if the Telegraph's news office and CCHQ are working hand-in-glove.

Who then is this Stefano Pessina and why the hell should anyone listen to him? He inherited the family's medicine wholesales business in 1977 and was able to steer it through various buyouts and mergers to what it is today - the Walgreens Boots Alliance, which comprises of the USA's largest drug chain, Boots, and the Alliance Healthcare wholesaler and distributor. For this his official website modestly describes himself as a "entrepreneurial and visionary leader". What it also fails to mention is that Pessina has a history of what might euphemistically be described as "tax efficiency". As an Italian citizen he has lived in Monaco for decades, created a holding company for the family business and a parallel French venture prior to merging with this British Unichem in 1997. This later merged with Boots, giving him a 15% stake in the firm before another merger with Walgreens. In the process, and following the example set by its boss, Boots has also become a tax dodger by moving its head office (at least on paper) to Switzerland, with supporting holding companies set up in the Cayman Islands and Gibraltar.

Why would a serial tax-dodger who owes the exchequer over a billion quid's worth of tax be suspicious of a party that wants to do more to clamp down on his ilk? I'm stumped. If the Tories want tax-avoiding people like Pessina to back them up then I'm all for it.

In truth, it's stuff and nonsense to claim Labour's policies are "anti-business". Expecting billionaires to pay a little more tax on their income and property, capping energy prices, and attacking some companies for predatory behaviour, you could be forgiven for thinking Red Ed has just announced a state monopoly on foreign trade the way the Telegraph, the Tories, and Pessina are carrying on. Unfortunately, we can expect plenty more tiresome pish between now and the big day.


Herbert Morrison said...

But they're not so keen to quote all the leading businessmen who warn that Brexit would be a disaster for this country! Arf!

Phil said...

As I've argued before, the Tories and their media friends represent the most backward sections of capital: that benefiting directly from the intensive labour of many workers on low wages and poor conditions, and the other for whom profit lies in the socially useless financial alchemy practiced in the city. In Pessina we have a fusion of both sides of this backwardness in a single business strategy.

Anonymous said...

But are boots the most backward section of Capital? Seems like fairly big capital to me!

Gary Elsby said...

If Pessina is against austerity, then he may have a case, surely?