City Diary

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Andy Rooney of Greenwich NatWest Asset Securitisation took umbrage at last Monday's column in which I protested about the expense of taxis in Geneva, having just attended the Telecom '99 conference in that fair city.

Andy Rooney of Greenwich NatWest Asset Securitisation took umbrage at last Monday's column in which I protested about the expense of taxis in Geneva, having just attended the Telecom '99 conference in that fair city.

Mr Rooney says: "You should not be so quick to assume that London cabs are relatively cheap. You mention a fare of SFr450 [£190] for a 90-mile trip. I looked up the 1998 London cab fare revision on the Net (couldn't find 1999) and by my reckoning the fare on the meter for that trip would be £184.40."

Mr Rooney adds that London cabs are as expensive as any in the world when you can get them. At least there were plenty of Geneva cabs looking for the fare, he points out.

"In the unlikely event you can find a London cab in the evening, try asking to be taken 10 miles, never mind 90, and see how your swear word vocabulary gets expanded."

When banks get bought, their staff usually worry about being sacked. In contrast, Granville, the niche investment bank specialising in IT which sold out to an American bank last week, is piling people on.

Richard Donner , a managing director in Granville's London office, explains that the buyer - Chicago-based investment bank Robert W Baird - sees the deal as giving it a springboard into Europe.

The Americans have virtually no presence over here and are therefore happy to bankroll an expansion in equity sales and research.

So in comes Sebastien Jantet from KPMG corporate finance, Richard Downard from WestLB Panmure, Hugo Williams from Greig Middleton and Vicki Miller from Deutsche Morgan Grenfell. Mr Donner says Granville has 180 people in London so far "and we'll go on recruiting". Its key markets are IT, the recruitment agencies that service IT and media.

Granville's British top brass have been kept on too. Robin Hodgson, the chairman who co-founded Granville in the late 1960s, stays in the same role, as does chief executive David Williamson .

Tina Tietjen, chairman of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS), says that the fastest growing part of the service's 115,000 membership of volunteers is men - already 18,000 of them.

It's all part of the transformation of the 60-year-old "meals on wheels" institution from a charity run by middle- class matrons to a £60m business with funding from its "clients" - local authorities and NHS trusts.

Ms Tietjen, a former chief executive of Video Arts, the training film company co-owned by John Cleese , started her three-year stint as president of the WRVS on 1 April. She was immediately thrown into a rationalising programme prompted by the Home Office, one of the WRVS's main funders, which has cut funding from £5m a year to around £1m.

Ms Tietjien launched a manifesto for the institution last month outlining its plans for becoming self-sufficient. Inevitably, one casualty will be staff numbers, and she admits there will have to be a significant reduction in the 1,810 headcount of full-time staff.

Good news for Pat Gallagher, BT Europe president from south Germany. A consortium including Viag Interkom, BT's 50/50 joint venture with conglomerate Viag, is still in the running for a portion of the 18.7 million subscriber TV cable network that Deutsche Telekom has put up for sale.

The network, on offer in nine regional chunks, is expected to be worth up to DM 35 billion once it is upgraded for multimedia use. But Gerd Tenzer , Deutsche Telekom's cable supremo with close connections to chancellor Gerhard Schröder 's SPD party, unleashed a political storm last week when he dumped one of the bidders for the Bavarian section of the cable.

The dumped bidder included HypoVereinsbank, Deutsche Bank, Bavarian state-owned development finance authority LfA, and the part state-owned Bayerische Landesbank.

Erwin Huber, Bavarian media minister who is also the state prime minister's chief of staff, hit the phone to Mr Tenzer, angrily telling him that eliminating the consortium was simply not on.

Deutsche Telekom immediately went into reverse spin, telling German papers it had all been a "misunderstanding" and saying the group was still talking to the Bavarian group.

Daimlerchrysler has developed a talking computer with "a friendly Bavarian accent" which can understand anything any one says to it.

The company developed the software at the Ulm Research Centre. It breaks down language into "phonemes" - the smallest sound units of language.

Apparently there are around 40 phonemes in German. The scientists have collected all the languages and accents of Europe in a "phonemic treasury", so their machines can happily chat away in anything from Serbo Croat to Geordie. Hal, eat your heart out.

George Kessler , managing director of his own 100-year- old family firm, Kessler's Manufacturing, has been elected chairman of the London Training and Enterprise Council. Mr Kessler's company designs and makes sale displays for everyone from Christian Dior and Swatch to high street banks and Camelot. The firm employs 300 people in Stratford, east London, so Mr Kessler knows a thing or two about training.