CHAOS as the great and the good gathered for the annual CBI conference on Park Lane yesterday. The delayed start gave David Cameron a chance to prove he’s been reading those zeitgeist briefings: “Sorry for the delay,” he told the gathered business chiefs and hacks. “Like Ann Widdecombe, I had to be hitched by a wire over the audience to get to the stage.” A frightening thought for those who had tuned into the BBC’s lastest Strictly Come Dancing episode, which featured the portly ex-Tory MP being swung around on a high-wire (see picture). “Mind you,” the PM mused, “some people said that was worth half the license fee in one go.”
Meanwhile, former PM of Canada Paul Martin had a sobering warning for chancellor George Osborne. Martin was keen not to sugar-coat the effect of a drastic cuts programme on his popularity. He recounted crossing the street carelessly one day and narrowly avoiding being hit. The driver’s face was overcome with relief – until, he recognised who he’d nearly hit and wound down the window: “If I’d known it was you, Martin, I’d never have stopped,” he yelled. The best days lie ahead, George.
Back in their City offices, observers were already ruminating on a replacement for outgoing CBI director general Richard Lambert. BGC Partners’ David Buik was – of course – straight out the gate with a full list of candidates and odds. “What the UK needs is a captain of industry to selflessly give the country five years of his valuable time”, he wrote in the stirring introduction to his run-down of the hopefuls.
So which captain will win you top dollar with Buik’s bookies? Ex-City minister Lord Myners offers longest odds at 20/1, but he’s dismissed with a kindly euphemism: “There is [ahem] insufficient largesse to capture his imagination”. A fond write-up for pensions guru Ros Altmann, in at 9/1, with a masterful backhander: “Ebullient extrovert who really knows her onions in the pension industry, but she may lack gravitas”. Ouch! And high praise indeed for ex-Tory MP David Heathcoat-Amory (12/1), whose major selling point is that he “does not eat peas off his knife”. But Buik forgets the first rule of running a bookies: impartiality. “[outgoing Tesco boss] Sir Terry [Leahy] would be my choice,” he writes. “But I fear hell has a better chance of freezing over.” Ever considered a career in headhunting, David?
Outgoing M&S chief Sir Stuart Rose might have been among Buik’s top choices for captaincy of the CBI, but it seems he is otherwise engaged for now. Rose will be one of “the world’s greatest minds” auctioning off an hour of their time next week in the Krug Mind Share charity auction.
He will be joined by leading lights to include BA honcho Willie Walsh, Lord Mandelson, Kevin Spacey and fashion-designer Anya Hindmarch.
Last year’s bidding saw government waste-buster and retail tycoon Sir Philip Green raise £18,000 for his cause (tax free, of course), topped only by Simon Cowell, who brought in £19,000. But who would the minds on sale bid for? Fashionista Hindmarch’s answer might surprise: “Margaret Thatcher. I love her clarity and strength”. Bidding opens for guests during a private viewing of the goods at Sotheby’s next week.
If you’ve been wondering how to relieve tension on the trading floor, look no further for advice than Pimco founder Bill Gross. In a recent interview in the Canadian Globe & Mail, the paper relates a surprising tactic: “Lately, Gross has been trying to loosen up a bit in the office, where he prefers to focus, in silence, for hours in front of his trading screens. To break the quiet he helps impose, the morning we meet he starts a new ritual: at 8 am, a song that someone recommends is blasted over the sound system. Gross kicks it off with Short Skirt/Long Jacket by the alt-rock band Cake. He even helps lead a conga line past rows of stunned-looking traders.” But whose tension does the conga line really relieve – the traders’ or Gross’?
DEATH ON THE FLOOR
Keen readers of arcane academic theory on finance might have read Cardiff University don Paul Crosthwaite’s recent musings that the financial crisis was an object of “inchoate but urgent desire” for traders, equivalent to the native American ritual of potlatch. But he’s not the only contributor to a body of Freudian academic treasures on how trading is like wanting to die. Why not try Death-Driven Futures: You Can’t Spell Deconstruction Without Enron (eh?) by Alberta University professor Kathryn Ball, Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Libidinal Economies or the even racier Burgher, Burglars and Masturbators? Or, for the more scientifically inclined, there’s Endogenous Steroids and Financial Risk-Taking on a London Trading Floor, which provides a shocking insight: the more volatile a market is, the more stress hormone cortisol traders’ bodies produce. Move over, Art Laffer.