LONDON ― Britain’s defense and procurement arm has turned to an insider to run the £14 billion (U.S. $20 billion) a year organization, the government announced April 27.
Simon Bollom, a retired air marshal who is currently the chief of materiel (ships) at the Defence Equipment & Support organization, takes up the post of chief executive. The job has been vacant since Tony Douglas unexpectedly jumped ship and returned to industry last year.
Bollom takes up one of the toughest jobs in Britain’s defense sector on May 21, just ahead of the expected publication of the government’s defense modernization review, which could cull or delay programs and capabilities unless more money is found for the Ministry of Defence.
Alex Ashbourne Walmsley, of Ashbourne Consulting, said Bollom has the experience needed for DE&S having worked on two challenging portfolio’s covering air and maritime procurement and support.
“He’s as good as they have got. His experience at DE&S has given him a good grasp of the challenges. I think he is the right man for the job,” she said.
The appointment reverses recent trends, with the previous two holders of the post coming from outside the defense sector.
The most recent, Tony Douglas, caught the MoD by surprise when he suddenly left the post after two years to take up a position as chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Aviation Group.
The previous incumbent, Bernard Gray, had been a financial reporter and businessman who wrote a blistering critique of DE&S for the government before being invited in to sort out the business.
Some executives Defense News talked to said this time around the government had tapped industry executives as part of the recruitment process, but that anybody who would have been seen as a sensible choice had turned them down.
“No one in their right mind would touch it, it’s a very, very difficult job,” said one executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A second industry executive, who also spoke on the same condition, said the government had made a good choice by going for an internal candidate. “They needed an insider to maintain some stability and maintain the transformation agenda that’s underway. Bollon fits that bill, he’s full of energy and enthusiasm, and he understands the inner working of DE&S and the MoD. He is also well-liked by just about everybody,” the executive said.
For his part, Gray was renowned for his sometimes hostile relationship with industry and some of his staff.
Ashbourne-Walmsley said the MoD has come full circle in appointing Bollom.
“The MoD has gone back to the traditional route of appointing someone who already has DE&S experience, particularly on project delivery. The experience of recruiting outside has not worked as well as had been anticipated,” she said.
“It’s a vocational job. The experience of [the] last two candidates made that even more clear, but you really need somebody who is doing the job for the love of the armed forces. It can be a thankless task, and you don’t do it for the money,” she said.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said he ”looked forward to working with him (Bollom) on the organization’s important task of driving performance in the supply chain, building capability to support our armed forces and delivering value for the taxpayer.”