CASH 'N' CAREERS
Asked to give a careers talk to second- and third-year students at my old Cambridge college, I consult one of my classmates. He has done well for himself in investment banking and now, at 39, is breeding horses near Newmarket while (like everyone else of his ilk) looking for a listed shell vehicle to buy. 'What would you say?' I ask. 'Tell them to junk their degree,' he replies, 'spend a year at technical college (or whatever the Third Way calls them) learning all there is to know about computers and the internet, then six months working in California, start up their own firm and retire five years later worth dollars 150 mil ... You know it makes sense.' In the end I bottle out. I wax lyrical about the excitement of working in media and the unlimited opportunities that brings. Afterwards, an earnest-looking student approaches me. 'How much do you pay your graduate trainees?' he demands to know. 'Around pounds 14,000 - more or less the same as the other nationals,' I reply. 'Goldman Sachs pays pounds 35,000,' he says and walks off. Clearly, I should have stuck to my friend's script.
Lunch with a leading PR man, who describes a household-name company as being 'ex-growth'. For a few seconds I'm baffled. 'Do you mean declining?' I ask. His expression makes me feel two feet tall. Nobody has ever needed an explanation before. In the world in which he moves such language is commonplace. But not in the real one.
HOW THE CRISP CRUMBLES
Sitting at a dinner next to Clive Sharpe, the head of Golden Wonder, our thoughts turn to once-dominant brands. Golden Wonder ruled the market in potato crisps, only to see Walker's clean up. The Express was the most popular paper in the English-speaking world. More time is spent in boardrooms and business schools on the conundrum than on any other - and still there is no blueprint that works for all. If we could come up with one, says Clive, half of British industry would be in our debt. Innovation is one way, although it works for some and not others. In Clive's case, he faces a bag of crisps, a product that is now trusted and accepted.
He could make bigger bags but there is little demand for those. I suggest, jokingly, he could make bigger crisps. My idea is not original. Golden Wonder, he says, has looked at it but nobody liked it and, besides, the crisp broke into pieces, creating, well, lots of smaller crisps. Back to the drawing board. Clive is upbeat about the prospects for less 'crisp' and more snack food products.
Walking past the splendid new offices of the Audit Commission in Westminster, I cannot help but admire the smart designer chairs issued to the public spending watchdog's staff. They look suspiciously like Herman Miller chairs, which cost around pounds 700 apiece.
THE MAN WHO GAVE LEGAL EAGLES WINGS
Gareth Quarry's QD Legal recruitment agency has taken a crusty, staid industry and shaken it up. It has breached barriers with ease: the first half-a-million pound solicitor, the first three-quarters of a million solicitor and now the first pounds 1-million earner have all tumbled to Quarry.
But his next trick will send even greater tremors through partnership meetings across the land. In recent years, the lawyers' job market has transformed beyond recognition. Gone are the old loyalties. Partners now switch between firms at the drop of a hat - or, at least, several pieces of silver. Law is moving in the direction of other professions like advertising, where the ties between executive and client can be stronger than executive/agency ties. Quarry's vision is simple: he wants to become a lifetime adviser to individual lawyers, helping them make career choices, guiding their moves. Sounds to me like you want to become the first legal agent, I say.
At the mention of the dreaded 'A' word, even Quarry groans. Agent is not the word he would use. But that, effectively, is what he will be. And why not? It could be the best thing to happen to law in years, ridding the profession of dead wood and stultifying, out-moded structures. The man is a genius. Good luck to him.
FAME IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER
Arriving at an awards dinner attended by all the heads of Britain's major companies, I have to fight through crowds of photographers and sightseers.
For a second I hope Britain has at last gone the way of America, where business leaders are revered, iconic figures. Alas, I am mistaken. The crush is for what passes for Britain's heroes as they assemble for yet another bash: Elton, Posh and Jade Jagger. My awards dinner is round the corner. The street is empty, not a flashlight in sight. The men and women who run British business arrive anonymously. One day we may appreciate their value.
Chris Blackhurst is deputy editor of The Express.