Blackhurst's diary - In which our diarist welcomes back the man behind Auto Trader, finds lunch at the Savoy Grill a lonely affair and names and acclaims entrepreneurial mothers.
A LONDON BREWER'S BITTER COMPLAINT
Most - sorry, make that virtually all - company annual reports are tedious affairs, full of self-serving guff from the chairman about another record year or difficult trading conditions. On they drone, page after page, without once conveying anything of interest.
Not so the offering from John Young, chairman and chief executive of Young's, the London brewer. 'We were once proud to see labels proclaiming 'Made in Great Britain' on the goods we bought, but now so few things are made here and we are no longer so great. The brewery has been swarming with Germans and Italians, all doing a good job installing the new bottling equipment, labellers, fillers, packers, all no longer manufactured in Britain.'
He goes on: 'We get up in the morning and brush our teeth with an electric toothbrush, not made in Britain. We shave with an electric razor, not made in Britain. The wardrobe contains no examples of our once glorious woollen and cotton industries. The kitchen has a cooker, a washing machine and a refrigerator, none of them made in Britain. Nor the television, nor the video recorder. They were all delivered by Japanese-built, Liberian-registered ships - because we don't want to build ships any more.'
After laying into successive regimes for not supporting brewing and allowing foreign lagers to sweep Britain - with a sideswipe at 'bootleggers ... encouraged by the unconcerned policies of British governments' - he builds to a climax. 'We were once Great Britain; now we are Britain but no longer so great. Recent events might suggest we are no longer even a United Kingdom.' The modern world has even cost him his job. 'Mindful of current thinking and recommendations on corporate governance, I have decided to step down as chief executive.' But, like drinkers sticking around after last orders, he is not ready to quit. 'I intend to continue being an active chairman.' Unsurprising fact: John Young is 78 this month. Unsurprising fact: nobody has got the nerve to tell him to hang up his towel for good.
JUST ONE CAREFUL OWNER
Unnoticed, one of our most successful entrepreneurs has slipped back into Britain. John Madejski, founder of the Auto Trader magazine stable, has returned from Malaysia, where he launched the Malaysian Motor Trader. The sale last year of Hurst Publishing, the house that published Auto Trader, netted him £160 million. Shame on you for thinking that his decision to up sticks had anything to do with a potential hefty tax liability. It was just good timing, I tell you ...
THE TABLES ARE TURNED
Lunching in the Savoy Grill the other day, I was struck by the number of empty tables. Where Thatcherite captains of industry once sat ostentatiously in huddles with their sleek, bouffant-haired PR men, there was nobody. Gone was that feeling of being where high commerce and politics meet. I raised this with a friend, a famous Grill habitue who now prefers to lunch more discreetly elsewhere. 'It's all that rich food, and the price - and it's too showy,' he explained. 'It's not on, under New Labour.' Ah, those were the days.
WILL BILL TRY ANOTHER PITCH?
For years, Bill Kenwright Limited, the main vehicle for Bill Kenwright, the theatrical impresario, has enjoyed limited financial success. Profits in 1995 were £238,000; in 1996, £390,000. But latest figures filed at Companies House show a leap in 1997 to £3.35 million on almost unchanged turnover. He pays himself modestly and takes no dividend. When he tried to buy his beloved Everton Football Club, Kenwright's bid failed for lack of financial muscle. Next time, though, he may find backing easier to obtain. His firm's books now look just the ticket to please even the hardest-nosed banker.
WORKING MUM'S THE WORD
Amid the hype about 'telehubbies' (men who work from home and take time off to change a nappy or two) the real heroes of British commerce are women who combine punishing jobs with raising large families. The best known 'supermum' is Nicola Horlick, the City fund manager, but there are others, unsung and equally deserving. Leila Porter, a partner in Eversheds, the law firm, is a mother of four. Jill Sinclair, also a mother of four, runs SPZ, the record company that discovered All Saints, the girl pop group. Mary Campbell is a director of British Linen Bank and another mother of four. Pamela Thompson, a mother of five, knew that her microwave was for more than warming children's meals. Through her firm Oculi, she launched Micro Clens, a new way of cleaning contact lenses in a microwave. Top supermum, however, is not Horlick but Yasmin Mughal, co-founder of the successful Akhter computer group, who has raised seven children. Beat that, telehubby!
Chris Blackhurst is deputy editor of The Express.