By 27/09/2012

Mining Argos’ Ruling Class

Last week some 1,200 workers took four days of strike action at four of Argos’ key regional distribution sites. This was in opposition to Argos’ decision to end their final salary pension scheme. If management does not back down, more industrial action will certainly be forthcoming.

Given the recalcitrant nature of such ruling class managers, this article excavates a little of the dirty background of the board rooms that are home to Argos’ authoritarian clique. Not surprisingly it becomes all too clear that the bosses linked to Argos are one and the same as those that exploit and murder workers across the world. The struggles of the Argos workers should thus be considered closely connected to those of their comrades across the entire world.

From Argos to Murder…

A good a starting point as any would be with Kate Swann, who served as the managing director of Argos between 2000 and 2004, and went on to become the head of WH Smith; where for the past two years she has worked with Henry Staunton. Staunton has been a long-serving board member of Standard Bank Group where until his retirement from this position earlier this year he served alongside infamous Lonmin board member, Cyril Ramaphosa. Lonmin of course being the murderous and exploitative mining company whose current workers are in the process of calling for a general strike in South Africa. Furthermore, Staunton’s connections to Argos power-brokers do not end here as he is a board member of the property investment and development company, Capco (otherwise known as Capital & Counties Properties). Here he serves under chairman, Ian Durant, who is a board member of Argos’ parent company, Home Retail Group.

Notably, one might add that before being promoted to become Capco’s vice chairman, Ian Henderson, had been the CEO of Land Securities (1998-2004); a corporation whose current workfare supporting board member, Sir Stuart Rose, acted as the CEO of Argos between 1997 and 1998 — during which time Sir Stuart oversaw their sale to retail giant Great Universal Stores (better known as GUS).[1]

…to Terrorists and Drug Barons

When GUS was demerged in 2006, it was broken up into two bodies, the Home Retail Group (which comprised Argos, Homebase and Financial Services) and their credit checking business Experian. From 2000 until 2006, Sir John Peace acted as GUS’s CEO, whereupon after the successful demerger he became Experian’s chairman, a position he maintains to this day. In 2007 Sir John bolstered his elite friendships by becoming a director of the international bank, Standard Chartered – where he is currently employed as their chairman, residing there with the recently retired chairman of Home Retail, Oliver Stocken (who only stepped down from Home Retail’s board a few months ago).[2]

First joining the folk at GUS shortly before their demerger, Stocken’s replacement as the new chairman of Home Retail is John Coombe: a man who is proud to serve as a board member of HSBC Holdings Group. The well-known high street bank who have just been exposed as “launder[ing] money for terrorists and drug barons.” Note: Alan Jebson, the former CEO of HSBC, retired from this lead position in 2006 and the following year became a board member of Experian.

…to Shopping Empires and Mines

Returning to Home Retail board member, Ian Durant, between 2008 and 2010 he served as the former finance director of Liberty International (2008-10): a company that was established by Sir Donald Gordon in 1980 as an offshoot Liberty Life Association of Africa under the name of Transatlantic Insurance Holdings. Another late director of Liberty International is current Lonmin board member James Sutcliffe. Arguably however the most important member of the ruling class who has formerly served as a director of Liberty International (between 1996 and 2000) has been Lord Renwick of Clifton — the former British Ambassador to South Africa (1987-91) and the United States (1991-5).[3]

In 2010 Liberty International was demerged into two separate businesses, Capital Shopping Centres Group and Capco, the latter of which Durant was then appointed as chairman. As a point of interest, the main assets of Capital Shopping Centres are Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock, the MetroCentre in Gateshead, Braehead Shopping Centre in Glasgow and further major shopping centres in Newcastle, Bromley, Nottingham, Watford and Uxbridge. In addition, Capital Shopping Centres’ board member Louise Patten is, much like Durant, well-connected to Argos’ ruling class as she was a director of GUS between 1997 and 2006.

…and on to Diamonds, Gold, Copper, Oil and the SAS?

Despite being separate companies, Home Retail and Experian are closely tied as a result of their recent demerger from GUS. It is consequently significant that Experian board member, Roger Davis, is the chairman of Gem Diamonds — an outfit involved in… you guessed it, diamond mining. Gem Diamonds is no small-bit player on the global diamond scene, and their board of directors is host to some of the worlds most rapacious and militaristic capitalists. Lord Renwick no less served as a board member between 2007 and 2009, while the CEO of Gem Diamonds is Clifford Elphick; a boss who joined Anglo-American in the late 1980s, became Harry Oppenheimer’s personal assistant, and prior to founding Gem Diamonds (in 2005) rubbed shoulders with the senior management of the world’s largest diamond supplier, De Beers.

One might also turn to Gem Diamonds’ board member Miklos Salamon, who like his colleagues has his hand in a multitude of mining concerns, one being a South African gold mining company known as Central Rand Gold. At Rand Gold, Salamon serves under board chairman Michael McMahon – who in turn is a board member of strike-ridden Impala Platinum.[4] On top of this tie, since 2007 Salamon has been the chairman of one of Central Europe’s leading hard coal and coke producers, New World Resources — where he resides on their board with De Beers’ recent CEO, Gareth Penny (2005-10).

To fill in some details, New World Resources is a subsidiary of the international private investment group BXR Group, whose largest single shareholder is the Czechoslovakian industrialist Zdenek Bakala. Considering Bakala’s evangelical mission to promote free market doctrine — especially to areas rich in natural minerals — it is appropriate that along with Poland’s richest person, Jan Kulczyk, Bakala sits on the board of a relatively new think-tank known as the Central and Eastern Europe Development Initiative.

Jan Kulczyk like Zdenek Bakala has been keen to rape planet earth in his bid to profit above all else, and is the founder of Kulczyk Investments; a group whose three friendly international investment advisors include a former head of NATO and a former chairman of the International Monetary Fund. As their web site proudly boasts, one of Kulczyk Investments’ prime subsidiaries is Kulczyk Oil Ventures, whose “principal assets include five producing gas fields in Ukraine, licenses in onshore Brunei and a large onshore exploration block in Syria.” But of more relevance to this article we should note that in 2011 Kulczyk Investments partnered with American banking giant JP Morgan Cazenove to purchase 50 percent of shares in Afghan Gold and Minerals Company.

This brings us full circle, as the current CEO of Afghan Gold is Gem Diamonds board member, Richard Williams. Williams however, no ordinary businessman, as prior to developing a profitable line of business in mining war zones he was a commanding officer in the SAS. His other current dirty doings have seen him act as a founding member of Central Asia Resources, a company whose activities are currently focused on gold mining in Kazakhstan. A country, where thankfully, hard-struggling miners are helping lead a valiant struggle against a bloody and corrupt regime which is currently backed to the hilt by Williams and other well-paid foreign advisers (like Tony Blair).

Plundering Afghanistan and Kazakhstan

With regard to Jan Kulczyk’s sizable investment in Afghan Gold last year, one should point out that JP Morgan Cazenove’s point-man in brokering this immensely lucrative deal was their then deputy chair (and head of capital markets) Ian Hannam – a former member of the SAS who counts Richard Williams among his close friends. Hannam is a key advisor for many of the world’s most powerful mining interests, and currently acts as an advisor for Kazak copper mining giant Kazakhmys.

By way of a short interlude, Kazakhmys, it should be noted, is a particularly well-networked corporate oppressor, as their recent development director is a board member of Lonmin (David Munro); while one of Kazakhmys’ current board members is the omnipresent Lord Renwick. Thus it is more than fitting that Lord Renwick is presently the vice chairman of JPMorgan Cazenove; as is the fact that a former long-serving senior executive at first Cazenove and subsequently at JP Morgan Cazenove, John Paynter, has served (since 2008) with Oliver Stocken (Home Retail’s recent chairman) on the board of Standard Chartered. (Cazenove was merged with JP Morgan in 2005; a process that Ian Hannam is credited with leading.)

This brief introduction to a few of the people behind Kazakhmys is especially vital for workers seeking to organize against the ruling class, as despite their managements outstanding ruling class connections Kazakhmys’s employees are winning important victories. An article published in late July 2012 by the Socialist Party notes:

Recently, in Kazakhmys, a copper-mining company, a 100% pay rise was won — hundreds occupied the mine while thousands took part in solidarity action outside. In the same city, workers in the energy arm of Kazakhmys took strike action and won a 80% pay rise. Significantly, alongside the demands for higher pay, workers are fighting for the renationalisation of industries.

Kazakhmys advisor Ian Hannam is widely “regard[ed] as the doyen of the mining sector as far as corporate financiers are concerned”, but last April – soon after being promoted to become the chairman of capital markets at JPMorgan Cazenove — he was “fined £450,000 by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) for providing inside information [about Heritage Oil] to a [unnamed] prospective client.” Heritage Oil being an oil exploration firm at which Hannam served as a lead adviser, and whose CEO at the time (and now) is former SAS officer turned industrious corporate mercenary, Tony Buckingham.[5]

Rich Rewards for Former Prime (War) Minister, Tony Blair

On being notified of the Financial Services Authority’s proceedings against him, Ian Hannam “said he would stay on at JP Morgan to oversee deals such as the planned £50bn merger of Glencore and Xstrata and then step down…” Glencore itself being the world’s largest commodities trading company, and “a major speculator and manipulator of commodity prices, gambling on price movements that hammer the poor, but enrich its small band of directors and fellow speculators.” Which brings us back to well-known war criminal and JP Morgan advisor, Tony Blair, who earlier this month lent a few hours of his precious time to facilitating the proposed Glencore merger — for which he was reported to have earned a tidy $1 million.

Here we can further observe the insidious nature of the transnational ruling class by drawing attention to Glencore’s chairman, Simon Murray, who is a director of Vodafone where he serves alongside Experian board member Alan Jebson, and Sir Sam Jonah (who is the former president of AngloGold Ashanti, a board member of Lonmin, and has just joined the Standard Bank Group’s board of directors). In addition, fellow Glencore board member, Philip Yea, used to be the CEO of the private equity company 3i Group (2004-09), during the same time at which the recently retired chairman of Home Retail, Oliver Stocken, acted as a 3i board member (1999-2009).

Interestingly, the Financial Services Authority actually moved to take action against Hannam because he is said to have passed on insider information about Heritage Oil (in 2008) to Kurdish oil minister Ashti Hawrami – who is alleged to have made £13 million by trading shares in Heritage Oil as a result of their striking oil in Iraq. Mr Hawrami, is an old hand in the oil business having first worked for the British National Oil Company in the 1970s and he currently “owns a mansion in Henley-on-Thames – fewer than 30 miles from Mr Blair’s country home in Buckinghamshire.”

It would be strange world if Tony Blair was not acquainted with his oily ‘neighbour.’ Indeed, Blair’s recently revealed secret ‘work’ as an adviser for the South Korean energy company, UI Energy Corporation, unsurprisingly led to him being accused of smoothing the way for UI investments in Kurdish- controlled Northern Iraq through talks with Mr. Hawrami. Of course, in the face of such continuing accusations Mr Blair’s spokesman said the former Prime Minister had ‘never heard’ of Mr Hawrami.

Moving swiftly on to the broader issue of Kurdish oil contacts, Genel Energy is a key regional player, as they describe themselves as “the largest oil and gas company in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq” and are headed by the former ill-reputed CEO of BP and current Glencore board member, Tony Hayward. Other significant Genel board members worth highlighting here are George Rose (who is a board member of both Experian and the National Grid, and a recently retired director of the job-slashing global defence and security company, BAE Systems), and legendary financier Nathaniel Rothschild, who is the cochair of Indonesian mining company Bumi, where he serves on their board alongside Lord Renwick.

Another major corporation set to profit handsomely from Kurdish oil is Gulf Keystone Petroleum, which is headed by Texan oil man Ted Kozel. When Kozel floated Gulf Keystone on AIM in 2004 it just so happened that Ashti Hawrami’s consultancy company ECL Group “delivered the ‘Competent Person’s Report’ both for the AIM float” and for their initial Algerian prospects. Until very recently Gulf Keystone’s country manager for Kurdistan was Adnan Samarrai, a former chief exploration geologist at the Iraq National Oil Company, who served as a consultant at Mr. Hawrami’s ECL Group just before joining Gulf Keystone. In the face of such dubious connections Samarrai made it clear that although he worked for ECL Group he never actually met Mr. Hawrami. Nevertheless, earlier this month Samarrai retired from his position at Gulf Keystone moving to a senior position within the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where he will be working under Mr. Hawrami.

If all this was not intriguing enough, Gulf Keystone boasts SAS contacts to boot, as current board member, Lord Guthrie, was a former commander in the SAS — more recently acting as the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Principal Military Adviser to then Prime Minister Tony Blair (between 1997 and 2001). During his service to Blair’s anti-democratic government Lord Guthrie “became known as Mr Blair’s favourite general”; and after retirement in 2001 he remained “close to the PM, acting as his envoy to Pakistan.” At present Lord Gutherie has managed to attain a more such after position on the board room of NM Rothschild & Sons.

By way of a coincidence, Gulf Keystone’s cofounder, Ali Al-Qabandi, is well-connected to another infamous Blair hunting ground, Kuwait; with Mr. Al-Qabandi having held numerous executive positions in the Kuwait Oil Company, and as a director of the Kuwait National Petroleum Company. As many will already know, for a number of years Blair has been advising Kuwaiti royalty on how to best manage their country (and no doubt their state-own oil resources) to thereby encourage “the perception of change” in terns of their commitment to democracy. This is clearly fertile ground for Blairites, as a separate New Labour lobby shop, known as Sovereign Strategy, likewise devotes a lot of attention to their lucrative account with the Kuwait National Petroleum Company.

Ruling Class Insurance?

The fastidious might note that Tony Blair somehow finds time to work as an advisor for Zurich Insurance. And even this ill-deed is relevant in the web-like threads of this article, because Zurich board member Alison Carnwath acts as the chair of Land Securities (which is Britain’s largest commercial property company) where she works alongside former Argos CEO, Sir Stuart Rose.

On top of these Argos ties, the vice chair of Zurich’s board, Tom de Swaan, serves with Experian board member Judith Sprieser on the board of international supermarket operator, Ahold. Making the tale even of ruling class collaboration more convoluted still, until earlier this year Sprieser sat alongside Lonmin board member Karen de Segundo on Ahold’s all-star board room. While to go further still, Vernon Sankey, who retired from Zurich’s board room earlier this year, is a board member of Atos (which harvests rich profits by attacking the human rights of disabled people). Also noteworthy, throughout the 1990s Sankey acted as the CEO of household cleaning company Reckitt Benckiser, and at present Sprieser is counted among their board members; while fellow Experian director, David Tyler, had the pleasure of residing on Reckitt Benckiser’s board room between 2007 and 2009.

Finally another relevant member of Reckitt Benckiser’s board is Richard Cousins, who is the CEO of the world’s largest catering company, Compass Group. Two stand-out figures on Compass’ board room being Don Robert (who has been Experian’s CEO since 2005) and Sir James Crosby (who serves alongside Argos-ite Sir Stuart Rose on the European advisory board of Bridgepoint Capital). In addition the former chairman and overseer of the Compass Group during there rise to corporate fame is Sir Charles Allen, a man who in recent months has bolstered his anti-worker notoriety through his role at the helm of 2 Sisters Food Group.

Striking Back

As this article has demonstrated, the connections between various members of the transnational ruling class are closely interwoven; which certainly makes it easier for them to coordinate their ongoing attempts to exploit the working class. Therefore, in order to undermine their noxious stranglehold they maintain over the world’s political and economic processes it will be necessary for all workers’ struggles to be well-coordinated on both national and international levels. The Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers International thus see their role as facilitating the development of such critical actions, which through the launch of well-planned general strikes can ultimately oust the currently entrenched ruling class and replace it with a sane human-centred alternative, socialism.


[1] Between 2004 and 2011 the managing director of Argos was Sara Weller, a women who earlier this year became a board member of the Lloyds Banking Group. A notable fellow Lloyds board member is Carolyn Fairbairn, who joined ITV in 2007 and retired in 2011 from her position as the Director of Group Development and Strategy. This is interesting because from the time of ITV’s formation in 2004 until 2007 their chief executive was Sir Charles Allen, the current chairman of the worker-trashing 2 Sisters Food Group. (Note: Henry Staunton was also a long-standing colleague of Sir Charles Allen’s at Granada, before serving as a board member of ITV from 2004 until 2006.)

[2] Another notable Standard Charter board member is Richard Delbridge, who earlier in his career was a managing director of JP Morgan, a finance director for HSBC, and a board member of Balfour Beatty (a construction company which has achieved some notoriety for being included amongst the BESNA ‘dirty seven’). Additionally, fellow Standard Chartered director, Val Gooding, is a long-serving board member of the Compass Group (see later). Note: Lord Turner of Ecchinswell who is the former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry is a recent board member of Standard Chartered , and has for the past four years been the chairman of the Financial Services Authority: the wolf is truly watching the sheep.

[3] Amongst Lord Renwick’s numerous mining forays, between 1999 and 2004 he was recruited as a board member of Harmony Gold Mining Company – a company whose chairman (since 2003) has been one of South Africa’s leading capitalists, Patrice Motsepe. The year before taking up the chair of Harmony Gold Mr. Motsepe was voted South Africa’s Business Leader of the Year by the CEOs of the top 100 companies. Therefore it is no surprise that Motsepe’s family are at the helm of South Africa’s mining industry; for example, his sister is married to Lonmin’s Cyril Ramaphosa.

[4] In 2007, the year Salmon joined Rand Gold’s board of directors, Greg Jones retired as their CEO and is presently a board member of Global Coal Management Resources – whose exploitative mining operations have stimulated “massive resistance” from the people living in Phulbari, Bangladesh, where there operations threaten a human and environmental catastrophe. (As a point of later interest, prior to running Rand Gold, Greg James was the chief financial officer for Glencore International’s coal division.)

[5] Other fellow Heritage Oil board members include another SAS member turned mercenary, Sir Michael Wilkes, and the former Chief of Staff of the United States Army Special Operations Command, Mark Erwin. Sir Michael maintains various commitments to private military corporations (the new form of mercenaries, i.e. Britam Defence) and is a board member of Blue Star Capital which “addresses strong growth prospect investments in the Homeland Security sector.” The chairman of Blue Star Capital is the former high-ranking police officer, Lord Dear, a man who currently chairs the Police Rehabilitation Trust which is notable only because fellow trustee, Baroness Hilton of Eggardon, is the former president of the union-busting ‘charitable’ venture known as SOVA.

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