TO the Dorchester for the annual get-together of the great and the good in the property world, hosted by Gerald Ronson, Heron International’s remarkable boss. The 71-year old property sage and philanthropist, who briefly spent time in jail in the 1990s as a result of the Guinness share scandal, before staging a spectacular personal recovery, remains as forthright as he is driven.
There was an oblique reference to his time spent inside when Ronson told the audience of 350 – including media tycoon Richard Desmond, CVC’s Sir Trevor Chinn and Canary Wharf’s Sir Martin Jacomb: “After overcoming numerous battles, it would be very nice if someone would make my life a little easier.”
Things are certainly looking good for Ronson, who has always maintained he did not receive justice: his Heron Tower, the City’s tallest building, has just been completed and has secured its first four tenants, with US law firm Will & Emery moving in.
But while rental levels in the City of London remain “highly attractive”, says Ronson, the banking sector has failed to “provide the oil to get the development wheels working again” – news that no doubt jolted Christopher Canham, head of real estate support for Lloyds Banking Group, up from his salmon starter.
“Banks still have a lot of unfinished business of their own, and the big question is what happens to the parcels of toxic waste they have tucked away,” Ronson said. “It is easy to get rid of the quality assets but the banks, especially the Irish ones, will be sitting on some very big losses.”
The Capitalist is sure that remark was in no way directed at the sole Ireland representative in the room, the chairman of the Irish Nationwide Building Society, Daniel Kitchen.
But just to make sure, perhaps any lingering misunderstanding between the two men can be defused over a few pints of, er, Guinness.
WHO’S WHO AGAIN?
ALSO at the lunch was guest speaker Boris Johnson, whose main theme was why London is the world’s greatest city, with eulogies for the Boris Bike scheme, Britain’s exports and the 2012 Olympic Games.
However, his praise for the companies that completed the Olympic velodrome was marred when, true to bumbling form, he couldn’t remember for the life of him which construction firms were responsible.
“Probably someone in this room,” he hedged. Not quite, Boris – try sending your compliments to Hopkins Architects and the Olympic Delivery Authority who were, unfortunately, otherwise engaged.
MILE HIGH CLUB
IT ISN’T all about globetrotting and having lunch with government ministers in five-star hotels for EasyJet’s well-heeled boss Carolyn McCall.
Quite the opposite: whenever she flies on her own airline, McCall regularly does the rubbish run with the rest of the air stewards.
As she told The Capitalist on a trip to Jordan: “It’s the only way I can get to meet our customers and hear what they really think of our service.”
So the next time you throw the remains of an EasyJet chicken sandwich into the bright orange bin provided, look up – you may have the chance to tell the chief executive of the airline what you thought of it in person.
NEVER LAY TIGER
TIGER Woods may be the 9/1 favourite to win the Masters in Augusta next month, but one former City boy is so confident he will be defeated that he has staked an estimated £1.5m on the improbable outcome.
That reckless gambler is Ross Marshall, formerly of ING and Barings, who set up YouGolfTravel.com five years ago with a credit card advance of £100,000.
The company now has a turnover of £35m and, in an attempt to win over even more customers, Marshall is offering a full refund to anyone who books a holiday through his site between now and 6 April if Woods wins in Augusta.
All well and good – but you would have thought the “avid betting man” would have learnt from his experiences before last year’s World Cup, when he paid out £300,000 in a similar promotion when dark horse Spain won the tournament.
As one concerned associate, mindful of Woods’ unpredictable temperament, said: “Never lay Tiger.”
West Ham vice-chair Karren Brady was cheered onto the stage when she addressed 5,000 Avon ladies in her home city to mark the beauty giant’s 125th anniversary. “Avon has been championing women in business for 125 years,” she told the crowd, before Avon’s boss Andrea Jung (below left) presented Nicola Harwin of domestic violence charity Women’s Aid with a cheque for $60,000.
Avon claims to be the largest engine of opportunity for women on the planet, with some of the most successful reps turning over £5.5m a year – not a bad achievement for door-to-door direct selling enterprises that require an initial seed investment of just £15.