A lot of shouting but not much sense

City & Business

I wonder what Keith Percy, the former chief executive of Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, makes of the antics of Nicola Horlick - once of the same parish. Mr Percy recruited Mrs Horlick to MGAM and the two have much in common. Both are well-respected and extremely able fund managers. Both have left senior positions at MGAM in difficult circumstances. There the similarities end. While Mr Percy departed silently and without complaint, Mrs Horlick has gone in a blaze of publicity - a willing participant in a tawdry media circus.

I am not sure what Mrs Horlick is seeking to achieve. Her suspension related to allegations that she had breached her contract. That is a matter that will be decided by the lawyers, not the spin doctors. She clearly feels aggrieved, but her case is made no stronger by sharing her feelings so publicly at this point.

Neither is her case made any stronger by her arguments that MGAM has mishandled the events that followed the discovery of alleged deception by Peter Young, the fallen star fund manager. Mrs Horlick's view is not shared by either her colleagues or MGAM's clients. The flood of defections that had been anticipated in the wake of the Young affair has not materialised. The letters signed by MGAM's 30 senior UK fund managers on Friday, reassuring clients of their commitment to them and the firm, do not suggest there is revolution in the air. MGAM's record, which for 1996 again points to upper-quartile performance, leaves it as one of the best-performing funds in the City.

It would surely have been better if Mrs Horlick had taken a leaf out of Keith Percy's book and maintained a dignified silence. Had she done so, re-instatement would have been difficult but not impossible. Her silence would also have been a louder testimony to the loyalty she professes for her staff and her clients.

Greater discretion would have stopped Mrs Horlick from storming the offices of Robert Smith, MGAM's chief executive, with the media in tow. It would also have dictated that her trip to Frankfurt on Friday to confront Deutsche Bank, MGAM's parent, should be left to another time.

Mrs Horlick may have won the hearts of the media but she will not have won the minds of the City - which takes an altogether more restrained view of how to conduct yourself in the Square Mile.

By choosing to fight her battle so publicly, there is a grave danger that she will fail to meet her chosen objectives, whatever they may be. Re-instatement is now out of the question. Compensation is a matter for the lawyers, but MGAM is in no mood to pay up. Former clients and staff will see no benefit from the instability and uncertainty that Mrs Horlick has created. If the aim was to challenge City management style then she has failed miserably since she has reinforced the image of the City as a breeding ground for highly paid stars. Perhaps most depressingly she has done nothing to further the cause of women in the City. The headline "Mother of five takes on German banking giant" makes a rattling good read but will set back significantly the rightful ability of women to have a successful career in the City and raise a family.

In the final analysis, Mrs Horlick is just a person who started the week with a job and ended it without one. It happens. It happens all the time and it is very upsetting when it does. Sometimes it is unjust and it is always unfair. But when it does happen most people just grit their teeth. They do not hire expensive lawyers and highly paid public relations consultants.

Just as Mrs Horlick was jetting to Frankfurt to lay siege to Deutsche Bank, around 1,200 workers in Norweb's electrical retail chain, bought last year by Kingfisher, were being told they were losing their jobs. They were devastated, just as Mrs Horlick had been. Some cried, just as Mrs Horlick had done. Some were angry, just as Mrs Horlick still is. That is what life is like in the real world. Perhaps Mrs Horlick should reflect on this.

Murky skies

JUST when the proposed British Airways alliance with American Airlines looked as if it was getting closer to reality, it has been hit by the prospect of falling foul of politics. This vexed issue is not uppermost in the minds of the electorate at the moment, but there are elements of the deal that could make it politically expedient to refer the alliance to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

There are two main political threats confronting the Government. One comes from Brussels, the other from the combined popular appeal of those enterprising aviators Richard Branson and Sir Freddie Laker.

The Brussels bombshell, dropped last week by Karel Van Miert, the EU's competition commissioner, would in different circumstances have been brushed aside. However, his threat to take Britain to the European Court of Justice unless the undertakings given by BA in lieu of a reference to the MMC are tightened, and his opposition to the airlines realising cash from the disposal of take-off and landing slots at Heathrow, have raised the spectre of classic Euro-bickering. Mr Van Miert's intervention was seized on by Euro-sceptics as yet another attempt by Brussels to meddle in British affairs. It is not, but the easy way to remove Europe from the BA debate and avoid an embarrassing row during an election campaign is to refer the deal to the MMC.

More intriguing is the potential threat posed by the enterprising aviators. This week Sir Freddie Laker launches an advertising campaign against the BA/American alliance. He has written to the Prime Minister urging a reference to the MMC, as has Richard Branson. If Mr Branson chose to join Sir Freddie in a high- profile public attack on the Government, it could have political repercussions. A referral would neutralise that threat and keep the US carriers quiet until after the election

A politically rather than commercially inspired reference has little appeal. But with the stakes so high it cannot be ruled out.

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