Accountants for the high jump in day of action

People & Business
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The Independent Online
Rod Leefe, managing director of Witan Jardine, an accountancy recruitment agency, decided he wanted to do something special to mark the firm's "rebranding" after it merged its four separate agencies.

What better way than to jump out of a plane with a copy of the firm's brochure in your hand?

Sadly, Mr Leefe admits: "I've been trying to pass it off as myself, but the man who did the job was a professional sky diving instructor, Martin Soulsby."

Mr Leefe invited a coach-load of accountancy clients to an RAF Base at Weston on the Green near Oxford for a weekend's "dangerous sports," and the bean-counters shed their boring image and became a team of Bruce Willis- style action men.

"We invited our guests to take part in hovercrafting, quad bikes, gliding and sky-diving," says Mr Leefe.

Altogether 10 accountants volunteered to jump, although weather only permitted five of them to do it. "What was particularly impressive was that one of the accountant's mums, who had only come along to keep her company, decided to jump as well. We gave her a prize."

Related to author JRR Tolkien, single-handed trans-atlantic yachtsman, newly appointed managing director of corporate finance at HSBC Investment Bank - is there no end to Richard Tolkien's claims to fame?

The 41-year-old sailor is jumping ship from Deutsche Morgan Grenfell after 14 years in Great Winchester Street. Mr Tolkien insists that his move was not prompted by DMG's tarnished image following the recent asset management debacle.

"What happened in asset management is very unfortunate. But DMG has behaved impeccably towards unit-holders. My move is not related to that at all."

The real reason is that HSBC have offered him a bigger job, he says. Moreover they have a real chance of winning the race to be a truly global investment bank alongside Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

But enough of business. Did he ever meet JRR Tolkien, his grandfather's cousin, the author who gave us Gandalf and the Hobbits?

"I met him once, when I was in my teens and he was in his late sixties, at his house in Oxford. I can't remember anything being said of significance, I'm afraid to say."

Oh well. How about the sailing? "I've always enjoyed racing. In 1993 I completed the two-handed race around Britain with Peter Foot. The year before that I went on the single-handed race between Plymouth and Newport, Rhode Island.

"But the last two or three years I've been too busy with work and my young family."

And no, he's not earning a pounds 2m package. "HSBC's management is run by Scots, and the Scots have a reputation for being sensible with their money."

A report in last Friday's "People and Business" column about the Pearl Assurance World Conkers Championship has prompted an angry response from Bernard Valier, who runs a firm called Pearl World in Hatton Garden, London:

"It's an old chestnut. Pearl World is not in the conkers business. We are in the cultured pearls business.

"We are now very concerned about possible damage to our fine reputation. When we get around to it, we will consult with our lawyers ... but please note that we are willing to settle out of court. I should say that a figure somewhat under pounds 1,000,000 will probably satisfy us."

To which I can only reply, Mr Valier: "Nuts!"

Here's something to chew on. Burger King has just appointed David Williams as senior vice president and managing director, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Mr Williams joins from PepsiCo Restaurants International in Dallas, and will run his 1,020 Burger Kings in 21 countries out of London. That's an awful lot of French fries.

Spotted in the magazine Scottish Business Insider: "After the recent birth of his eighth child, Keith Mair, local director of 3i in Aberdeen, has been telling friends that another arrival would be named Nae, as in Nae Mair."