Bland leaves the lay-by to rejoin the fast lane: The former LWT chairman has passed up the chance of early retirement to take another top job in industry. Nigel Cope reports

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The Independent Online
SIR Christopher Bland once said that given a choice between being a fat cat and a thin one, he would rather be fat, writes Nigel Cope.

LWT's former chairman seems to have achieved that objective several times over. An acrimonious takeover by Granada of the London weekend broadcaster meant that when he resigned in April, he walked away with pounds 9m of Granada shares.

At 56, he could have been forgiven for taking it easy. Yet on Friday it was announced that he had taken on another big job. From December, he will become chairman of NFC, the transport company that has been trucking along without a chief executive since August.

The pay is good - pounds 200,000 a year for a three-day week - but with a pounds 9m cushion, why bother?

'They asked me,' he said, when contacted at his country house in Winchester. 'Anyway, I enjoy the fray. I'm a pretty good all-round businessman and have a pretty good idea how businesses work and how to deliver value to shareholders. Being a company chairman is what I do.'

After LWT, he had planned a sabbatical. 'I was going to learn French and how to paint watercolours. But that and the walking in the foothills of the Himalayas will have to wait.'

He intends to buy shares in NFC but will not say how many. He becomes positively frosty when asked if he has sold his Granada shares and, if so, what he has done with the money.

'You can ask, but I'm not going to tell you,' he says. 'My portfolio is my affair.'

The riposte is typical. Bland by name, but not by nature. Described as curt and direct, he does not suffer fools gladly.

Born in Japan, the son of a Shell executive, his childhood was nomadic, and school, Sedburgh in Yorkshire, was tough, with a regime of cold baths and runs before breakfast.

National service and Oxford were followed by spells at Currys and Singer sewing machines, culminating in his move to LWT in 1984.

There he masterminded LWT's spectacularly successful franchise application in 1991, which made millionaires of many of its senior management.

He is keen on fishing and skiing, and his impressive home is also the scene of many parties where guests include John Birt of the BBC and Michael Green of Carlton.

His directness is legendary. Greg Dyke, the bearded soccer- loving partner with whom he used to run LWT, says he realised early on that when Sir Chistopher shouted, the best strategy was to shout back. He also described him as having 'the attention span of a peanut'.

'We can both get bored easily,' Sir Christopher admits. 'We don't like circumlocution.'

But he can bide his time. He met his wife Jenny on a beach in Northern Ireland when they were both children, but did not marry her until he was 42.

With the addition of the NFC post, Sir Christopher says his jobs portfolio is now full. He is also chairman of Life Sciences, a technology group, and works unpaid for Hammersmith and Queen Charlotte's Special Health Authority, of which he has been chairman since 1982. During the summer, he paid pounds 1.5m for a 70 per cent stake in Leith's School of Food and Wine.

But there are no plans for any media projects with or without Mr Dyke. 'Greg's future is probably in media. Mine is not' - at least, not unless the right opportunity comes along.

(Photograph omitted)

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