Sunday 01 May 1994
FOR MANY, Rupert Murdoch is the paragon of good husbandry. And it his legendary frugality that his employees blame for being holed up in the factory-like newspaper site at Wapping or the anonymous industrial estate at Osterley, near Heathrow, which is home to Sky TV.
But Bunhill is pleased to announce that things are changing, at Sky at least. For Annouska Hempel, owner of Blakes Hotel in London and a well-known interior designer, has been called in to give her expensive designer touch to a new Sky building. The office stands alongside the existing Sky TV building, and some staff have been moving in this week.
Via satellite from Hong Kong Hempel, aka Lady Weinberg (she is married to Sir Mark Weinberg, the Allied Dunbar founder) tells me she is thoroughly enjoying the commission to convert the 'ghastly scar on the landscape'.
She and a team of five architects have spent the past week taking the building apart. Out go the marble cladding and the 'tin and brick' interior and in come walls covered in video screens and a minimalist-style decor. This is very much the Hempel trademark, as the lady herself never wears more than two colours and never uses more than two in her decoration. 'It will be clear, sharp, tall, thin, strong, very untypical for British architecture,' she says.
But the piece de resistance is the foyer, which will house a TV museum complete with giant model satellite equipment suspended overhead. To top it all, the Sky TV logo will be beamed up by laser to a fly-screen netted over the atrium ceiling. 'When you fly into Heathrow, you will be able to see it,' the glamorous designer explains. 'But we will create the illusion of it not just being on the roof but 20 feet into the sky.'
This all sounds very exciting, but surely a bit out of character for Murdoch? Hempel insists that Sky is not 'being frivolous' or 'blowing money away'. But already wags at Sky are bemused, quipping that half the refurbishment cost has gone not on the trendy interior but a lavish command centre for Sky TV's bosses, Sam Chisholm and the former Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie.
SIR CLIVE SINCLAIR'S latest venture - the Zeta power unit that turns an ordinary bicycle into a kind of electric moped - hit the streets this week. But the launch publicity did not tell the whole story. On News at Ten, Lawrence McGinty ended his report puffing up a hill in rural Surrey, then easing the strain by flicking his trusty Zeta into action. Things had not gone so smoothly earlier.
In a previous take, a Sinclair engineer fitted the unit to sombody's mountain bike. But the engineer had forgotten that this particular Zeta was a pre- production model and was wired differently to the real thing.
So when the rider got on his bike and switched on, the machine hurtled backwards and crashed into a bus shelter. No one was hurt and the company is adamant that the bike's direction did not reflect the product's sales potential.
Soaring into print
PHIL SOAR, who resigned from the managing director's post at Blenheim Exhibitions last month after shouldering the blame for the company's recent poor performance, is making the most of the time off. But unlike Terry Maher, the former Pentos chief who is working on a 'tell it like it happened' version of events at the Dillons and Rymans retailer, Mr Soar is restricting himself to fiction. 'It is business-related but it doesn't feature an exhibition company anywhere,' he says.
Mr Soar, who has written a number of football books and is still mid-way through an update of his history of Arsenal, says he has already dashed off 40,000 words on his word-processor and hopes to finish the work during the summer.
On the job front, he tells me he has had a number of interesting offers, including one from a quoted company, but has yet to make a final decision.
ON A TRIP to Greenwich in south London, Bunhill finds refurbishment progressing nicely on the Cutty Sark, the tea clipper built in 1869. But more interesting than how the pounds 2m is being spent is how the cash is being raised. Half of the fund is coming from the Willis 10, a group of companies that have each agreed to donate pounds 10,000 a year for the next 10 years. So far there are six corporates on the list, which takes its name from the John Willis who had the magnificent vessel built. Already signed up are Inchcape, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Standard Chartered, Berry Brothers & Rudd (which owns the Cutty Sark brand of whisky), Citadel Reinsurance and Worldwide Shipping.
There are benefits to this philanthropy. The chief executive of each member in the Willis 10 receives a free white top hat to commemorate an item of headgear of which Mr Willis was particularly fond. The benefactors are also allowed access twice a year to the Cutty Sark's Masters Saloon for corporate entertaining. The saloon is a splendid wood-panelled affair that seats 12 at its antique wooden table.
WHEN Du Pont, the chemical and lycra business, won the accolade of Britain's healthiest company last week, little was made of the impact on its chief executive, Peter McKie. Thanks to Du Pont's oddly named 'Wellness initiatives', the Northern Ireland-based director is a changed man.
Before the initiative he was, by his own admission, a bit of a fattie. Now he tips the scales at 13 stone. 'I was grossly overweight,' he concedes. 'But in 18 months, I managed to lose 40 pounds. I have practically become a vegetarian and have started doing more walking and swimming.'
It is not difficult to see why he shed the weight. Having to lead from the front to show his commitment to the cause, he joined the company's Overweight Club. This, he says, is not a kind of AA meeting for chubbies. 'We just competed to slim down,' he says.
GEORGE BROWN IV is enjoying himself at the moment. The improbably named American with a fondness for those dinky little slip-on shoes that US executives seem so keen on is in town to talk up his latest project: a syndicated golf club that, at a price, will give access to 20 of the world's best courses. Mr Brown doesn't actually play the game himself: 'I'm a hazard on a golf course. But that's not the point; there is money to be made.
A career real estate man, he worked for Marriott Hotels and then helped build the Ritz Carlton chain before selling out in 1989. His latest venture is the Player Club, named after Gary Player, the South African golfer who has put his name to the project.
The deal is essentially a reciprocal golf club agreement, but more expensive than most: dollars 32,000 ( pounds 21,000) for individual membership, dollars 65,000 for a corporate deal.
For someone who doesn't know his three wood from his niblick, Mr Brown has chosen his courses well. The 20 in his elite group include Langkawi in Malaysia, St Andrew's in Scotland, and the Kildare Country Club that was the brainchild of the Irish industrialist Michael Smurfit. He has also signed up some celebrities to form the advisory committee. On board so far are Sean Connery and the New Zealand opera singer Dame Kiri te Kanawa, who apparently swings a mean club.
The fees buy more than just membership. As the money rolls in, Mr Brown plans to spend dollars 300m developing suites of rooms alongside each club's existing clubhouse. Mr Brown already has an option on land alongside the 17th tee at St Andrew's, where he intends to develop some villas.
'Our emphasis will be on quality of service,' says the man from Atlanta. Since he opened his book in February, he has sold 220 of the planned 1,500 memberships.
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