Who is the meanest businessman in Britain? Swraj Paul, aged 60, the roly-poly Indian-born entrepreneur and chairman of Caparo Industries, is making a strong bid for the title.
Senior managers at Caparo have lately been getting a monthly circular headed "Think Lean - Act Mean". This, according to Paul, "epitomises the spirit we have to bring to bear upon all aspects of our work" as long as the recession lasts. "We are having, unfortunately, to remember and in some cases relearn all those cost-saving and working capital reduction techniques we lived with during the early 1980s."
Commonly, in such cases, the cost-saving is left to the troops. But Paul clearly knows where meanness begins. Late last year, on a visit to the Canadian subsidiary, he found himself booked into a $300-a-night suite in a top Toronto hotel. He first asked the hotel to find him a single room instead - then proceeded to beat the rate down by 25%, from $160 to $120 a night.