In 1980, at the relatively ripe age of 67, Sir Ian MacGregor had recently retired as chairman and CEO of Amax, Inc., but was still serving as a partner of investment bank Lazard Freres & Co. Meanwhile the British government, owner of nationalized British Steel Corp., found itself in a fix. The company had been losing more than $2 million per day, and British Steel sorely needed to be turned around.

Casting around for a new chairman and CEO, the government broke with precedent and asked the London office of Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) to take on the search. It was the first time in the United Kingdom that an executive search firm had been called in to find a new boss for a nationalized ...

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