The City Diary

She was fired, but now this would-be Apprentice is the Toast of the internet
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The Independent Online

She was probably the least commercially adept contestant in the last series of 'The Apprentice', yet Dr Sophie Kain, the annoying quantum physicist, has decided to – yes, you've guessed it – launch a business. She was booted off the programme after taking the moral high ground when asked to sell lollipops to young families at London Zoo. So it will be no surprise to learn that her new venture, Toast and Trash (, is a social networking website that encourages consumers to compare notes about products and services. If the marketing literature is anything to go by, it seems Kain's experience on the show was not a complete waste of time. She has evidently picked up some new skills, managing to force herself into selling her website to unsuspecting users.

Competitive instincts

The City had better brush up on its ippons and dojos: the British Judo Association is planning to go into business. Competition for sponsorship funds is so intense that, in a radical move for an Olympic sport, the governing body plans to set up a new company to deliver self-defence training for clients such as councils, hospitals and public transport operators. The proceeds would be ploughed back into judo to help speed Great Britain's hoped-for charge up the medals table at the 2012 London Games.

That's the price they pay for being a freesheet

Journalists at 'City AM' , the London business newspaper, are rightly proud of their achievement in carving a niche for themselves out of the fiercely competitive freesheet market. Many were dismayed, therefore, to pick up a copy of the paper on their way into work on Monday and find a wraparound advertisement for 'The Times'. The wrap read: "Sharper business writing. The Times. TimesOnline. No 1 for Business." Just another example of how the bottom line is more important to newspaper executives than editorial concerns.

To you, it's a crisis – to them, it's a bonanza

Small shareholders in Northern Rock continue to be pounded by the bank's collapsing share price. But it is not easy being an investment banker, either. Many of the £1m-plus earners in the City are in the employ of American banks, so they get their bonuses in dollars. And now the greenback is plunging, it looks like the boys in the Square Mile won't be rushing out to buy this year's Ferrari. So the small fortunes they have earned from advising Northern Rock on how to dig itself out of its financial hole are a blessing.

IPhone fails to ring

Despite Apple's iPhone being the hottest gadget since the branding iron, sales in the UK have hardly been scorching. Those in the know say only 26,500 have been sold since its over-hyped launch two weeks ago. O2 and Carphone Warehouse must be scratching their heads over what has gone wrong. Could it be the £269 price tag and the prospect of a next-generation 3G iPhone in 2008?

A message from Fergie

Is Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester Utd, earning a few extra quid on the side? An email arrives from an Alex Ferguson of Fergusalex Inc, asking would I like an unspecified job in the US, with a "guaranteed monthly income" of $5,000. He insists he is head of a "reputable company operating in Latvia and Sweden". Tempting as the offer sounds, it is probably not one to pursue.

You won't get rid of him that easily, Close Brothers

City stalwart andy Stewart of stockbroker Cenkos remains resolute in his attempt to buy the blue-blooded investment house Close Brothers. Despite the bank dismissing his 950p-a-share offer as "derisory", Stewart claims to have secured the support of a majority of shareholders with "just the one refusing to speak to me". So far, Close Brothers' chief executive, Colin Keogh, has also refused to talk with the determined Stewart, despite repeated attempts to break the ice. "If they want to get hold of us, we're always happy to talk," says Stewart. "My number is 020 7397 8910." As for rumours that the bid is being backed by Arsenal suitor Alisher Usmanov, they appear unfounded. "Never heard of him," is Stewart's reaction when questioned on the subject.

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