Back in August, Countrywide chairman Harry Hill and a couple of fellow dissident shareholders caused a touch of controversy by trying to oust Sovereign’s board and put the company into run-off by sending out pre-ticked proxy voting cards to investors. The company’s directors survived the vote after the rebels gained the support of just 36 per cent of the shareholders, and chief executive Graeme Marshall has been trying to get on with implementing his own forward-looking strategy ever since.
So what better way to gain back a bit of kudos for the company than to appoint one of the banking world’s best-known scions at its helm – namely, ex-Merrill Lynch chairman Bob Wigley, who also recently authored an influential report into the City’s competitiveness for the government.
Wigley is a busy man at the moment, what with trying to knock some sense into our politicians about the damage they’re doing to London’s financial services hub, which he says is “nearer to being on a knife edge than ever before”.
But he tells me that after Sovereign popped up on a list of firms Cazenove prepared for him for potential investment, it was a hop, skip and a jump to the post of non-exec chairman.
“There is no significant answer to the pension problem without a surge in equity release,” he says. “This is a very interesting little company in a big growth market and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Can matters get any worse for British Airways?
Yesterday’s High Court showdown between the airline and the Unite union got off to a bad start right away. The small court in a side wing of the Royal Courts of Justice that had been assigned to the proceedings was soon packed, and there was standing room only for the hordes of interested parties that had crowded in to see the pair slug it out over the legality of the impending Christmas strike.
After scrabbling around for more chairs, a change of venue was announced, prompting a stampede around the twisting passages and staircases to a new, larger courtroom.
Then, the two warring sides were left to jostle shoulders in a narrow corridor while the court clerks struggled to find the keys to the door.
Proceedings were in all delayed by 45 minutes, leaving BA customers to sweat for another night as to whether the strikes will go ahead. But at least everyone got a seat.
Speaking of Heathrow and its considerable troubles, in pops an email from a Whitehall chum who’s got an idea for how City Airport could capitalise on its rival’s woes.
“City Airport is the best airport in London,” she enthuses. “No nonsense, great routes in Europe and now New York. But, the exception to this is the fact that it’s the only UK airport I know that’s surrounded by water and yet has no device for helping planes land or take off in the fog…”
Let us hope the airport gets on the case sooner rather than later.
Something of a conflict of interest has arisen chez super-spinner Roland Rudd, boss of City PR firm Finsbury. Rudd is intensely involved with Kraft’s offer for confectionery group Cadbury, having advised Roger Carr and the rest of the latter’s board in their robust defence of the takeover bid.
He’s also firm friends with Lord Mandelson, who last week fired a warning shot across Kraft’s bows with the words: “If you think you can come here and make a fast buck [you] will find that you face huge opposition from the local population... and the British government…”
Yet another powerful client on Rudd’s roster is none other than the Royal Bank of Scotland, which has been criticised for acting against the national interest by helping to finance Kraft’s bid. Eggshells, anyone?
Earlier in the year, The Capitalist revealed Durex condom maker SSL was facing a nasty itch at its annual meeting in the form of militant small shareholder Tariq Siddiqi – who warned the company its investment in STD testing tiddler Stirus Global Solutions, which it valued at £1m, was practically worthless due to an ongoing legal ownership dispute.
Fast forward five months and Siddiqi is preening himself after a floundering Stirus called a creditors’ meeting for this Friday, under a section of the Insolvency Act 1986.
Not that SSL, with a market cap of just over £1.5bn, probably has much time to worry over a spilt million quid, mind…
Finally, over to BBC business editor Robert Peston’s blog yesterday and a rather bizarre pop-up survey on the site. After rating Pesto’s blog on a scale of 1–10, visitors were asked to rate it on looks, ease of use, impartiality – and also its role in helping readers improve their understanding of politics (but not business). Come again?