A Villin brings some French charm to BZW

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The Independent Online
Alors. Bill Harrison has hired Philippe Villin to head up BZW in France. Mr Villin, 42, is the archetypal Enarque, a graduate of the elite cole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), the college that grooms France's top businessmen, civil servants and politicians.

Enarques are reckoned to be the cleverest people in France, but recently that most traditional nation has grown disenchanted with them as a group, blaming them for various scandals such as the ballooning bad debts crisis at Credit Lyonnais.

Mr Villin is certainly versatile. He has spent 10 years as head of Le Figaro, the right-wing establishment newspaper. While there he directed both the editorial content of the paper and ran the business side of the company.

He has also spent time at the French Treasury and at France Telecom. It is obvious that Mr Harrison is hoping Mr Villin will open even the innermost of French doors to BZW. And he's probably right. Enarques are often hired for their connections alone, although this is obviously not the case with Mr Villin.

While at ENA Mr Villin came second in his year as an Inspecteur des Finances, which is not the same thing as a British inspector of taxes. Rather it denotes an elite class of the civil service, a sort of super auditor who will automatically move on to a top job in the Treasury or business.

A BZW spokeswoman finds Mr Villin "utterly, utterly charming".

I suspect, however, that he realises the days of the Enarques are numbered.

As early as 1984 he wrote a book whose ominous title, roughly translated, means The Waste of the Elites. Has Mr Harrison read it, I wonder?

So it's true, then. The Barclay brothers have bought Sunday Business. Andrew Neil, editor in chief of European Press Holdings, will build a new publication from scratch, since only the title and various assets were bought from the receivers. The price paid to receiver David Sapte of London law firm Begbies was "a nominal sum," or "very small", according to Bert Hardy, chief executive of European Press Holdings.

This really does mark the end of the line for the old paper, which was launched 18 months ago by Tom Rubython with much fanfare. It has gone through a hatful of owners and relaunches since. Mr Hardy insists the new paper will be a " greenfield site" with new staff, and without any of the old company's debts. What will happen to the surviving 25 journalists who worked for the old organ is anyone's guess.

The paper's offices in Cavendish Square, just off London's Oxford Street, are also nothing to do with the new regime, which will operate from the European's offices in the ITN building, in Gray's Inn Road.

Mr Neil will recruit 60 journalists who must be "reputable, responsible and authoritative", says Mr Hardy. There will be synergies between the new Sunday Business and the financial desks of the company's Scottish newspapers and The European.

Meanwhile, Mr Rubython is left in a bit of a pickle. He has offices for his own new business venture, an internet job service, in the old Sunday Business office in Cavendish Square. But he no longer owns the lease to the building and may have to leave. No doubt he will land on his feet.

David Bruce, founder of the Firkin pubs, has agreed to join the boards of breweries spread between Paris and Seattle via New York and Denver. Mr Bruce sold his brainchild for cash in 1988 to Allied Domecq. Since then Allied has grown the student-orientated Firkin chain to more than 100 pubs.

For the past four years he has been a director of Grosvenor Inns and one of its largest private shareholders. He was heavily involved in the Slug and Lettuce brand, which has grown to 19 bars.

Through his international brewery investment company, Brew Securities, he became a founding shareholder in the Paris Real Ale Brewery and has recently joined its board. The two breweries in Paris each produce studenty brews such as Parislytic and Inseine.

Over the pond in the USA micro-pubs are all the rage, bars where the beer is brewed in-house. Mr Bruce has invested in a number of spots such as the Brew Moon in Boston and the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver. He is on the board of the latter as well.

The trainspotters in the City are looking forward to next week when the Economist publishes its annual "Pocket World in Figures", a store of facts and figures guaranteed to clear a room in seconds.

Stun your friends with the news that the UK has the world's fifth-largest economy, though for GDP per head is ranked only 22nd. Impress colleagues by slipping into the conversation the fact that Serbia's average annual inflation for the years 1989-96 was 1,643,638 per cent.

Or how about this? The fastest-growing stock market over the decade from 1986 was Indonesia's. Its market capitalisation grew by 82,104 per cent. Now where's my broker's number ...