Sideways: BBC’s Sharp is no stranger to conflicts of interest
The UK broadcaster’s chair Richard Sharp is familiar with accusations of conflicts of interest from his time at Goldman Sachs.
As David Solomon struggles to stay in the top job at Goldman Sachs, his former colleague Richard Sharp is dealing with an accusation familiar to some alumni of the bank: failure to properly disclose a conflict of interest.
The threat to Sharp’s tenure as chairman of the BBC stems from his reported role in helping to arrange a loan for former British prime minister Boris Johnson, and whether this connection was correctly disclosed before Johnson approved Sharp’s appointment overseeing the national broadcaster in early 2021.
Sharp left Goldman in 2006 as one of the bank’s periodic power shifts got underway. As head of principal investments in Europe, Sharp was involved in a series of attempted deals that tested the limits of conflicts of interest between acting as an adviser and leading a bid for a target.
Goldman backed away from involvement in bids for UK firms including BAA, the operator of Heathrow airport; pub firm Mitchells & Butlers; and ITV, the broadcaster that competes with the BBC, after negative publicity about its role as both an adviser and a buyout investor.
Sharp stepped down as a partner at Goldman soon afterwards. His exit coincided with the announcement that chief executive Hank Paulson would become US Treasury Secretary and Lloyd Blankfein would take over as head at the start of a 12-year period when former traders had the top jobs at the firm.
Solomon, who worked alongside Sharp in the investment banking group at Goldman, was adroit enough to reach an accommodation with Blankfein; other senior bankers, such as Scott Kapnick, left by the end of 2006.
In the years after he left Goldman, Sharp took a series of non-executive financial roles and served on the Bank of England’s financial policy committee from 2013 to 2019. He also did charitable work and became a donor to the Conservative party, helping to cement his position in the British establishment.
He maintained contact with Rishi Sunak, who was a junior banker under Sharp during a three-year stint at Goldman. And as has now become apparent, Sharp also became close to Johnson, Sunak’s predecessor but one as British prime minister.
Goldman partners, past and present, have long taken an interest in Johnson, a dominant figure in UK politics, and one who has shown a keen and enduring interest in potential sources of funding.
As far back as 2010, Euromoney spotted Johnson, who was mayor of London at the time, in the bar of the Andaz hotel in the City with Michael Sherwood and Richard Gnodde, co-heads of Goldman Sachs International.
Sharp was known to be a Conservative party donor when his surprise appointment as chairman of the BBC was made in 2021.
But his closeness to Johnson was not widely appreciated until the current scandal over his alleged involvement in arranging a loan to the then-prime minister.
Johnson dismissed the issue with characteristic bluster.
“This is a load of complete nonsense,” he told Sky News. “Richard Sharp is a good and a wise man, but he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances. I can tell you that for 100% ding dang sure.”
Sharp also denied that he did anything wrong in an interview with a reporter from the BBC, the broadcaster that he chairs – for now at least.
But as with Sharp’s departure from Goldman, it may be that the perception of a conflict of interest proves to be enough to prompt another move to the exit from a high-profile job.