Leader - Tom Broughton, editor

Oval boss Phillip Hodson is the quiet man of the consolidator pack, the one who has consistently chosen to play a straight bat. When his company becomes the subject of market speculation or unsettling headlines, his favoured response is to write long emails to his employees to reassure them that everything’s going to be OK.

His rare forays into the media spotlight are designed to set the record straight. This week, however, we find him at perhaps his most candid in a joint interview with his managing director Jeff Herdman (see page 18). He refuses to rule out a trade sale and points to flotation as the most likely next chapter in the Oval story.

Of all the consolidators, you would have thought Oval was best placed to manage such a broking empire through recession. The market is dominated by client relationships and service provision, but investors would be foolish to overlook Hodson’s ability to integrate a set of disjointed businesses. This is especially important as similar businesses, such as Jelf, begin to lose their City shine.

Hodson is ambitious too. Just as Chris Giles or Peter Cullum want to make that “transformational” deal, he knows Oval could do it. These acquisition-hungry businesses are probably eyeing the same prey – and each other. But as Hodson notes, it isn’t personal. Ultimately, it is about the make-up and success of the businesses.

And if these companies have similar war chests, the only way to identify the likely winners and losers is to scrutinise the overall offering, the managers’ hunger and the cultural coherence of the business.

Directors on the spot, D&O claims on the rise

Directors of financial institutions are in the spotlight like never before. Look at our focus on business liability on pages 20-22 to find out how the market faces unprecedented increases in claims and premiums alike.

The risk management profile of these executives is becoming increasingly complex, largely because of the impact of the credit crunch. The Bernard Madoff scandal illustrates how brokers will be forced to work harder to be transparent and provide the necessary scrutiny of directors for shareholders, stakeholders and regulators. Managing these risks can only become more difficult and costly. And if you didn’t realise it was a problem, the numbers involved should provide the appropriate warning. IT