Bunhill: Beards

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THE proposal for beard tax, mooted in this column last week, has provoked a flurry of letters accusing Bunhill of 'beardism'. One correspondent, who signs himself Moses B De Mille, writes:

Sir, The beardless are big girls' blouses. Tax razors]

Another reader raises the serious question of why the business world is so beardist. Fungus-faces are virtually unknown in the senior ranks of corporations. Entrepreneurs are an exception, of course. Richard Branson, Lord Hollick and Clive Sinclair can do as they please and some beard purists might say they obviously do.

There even seems to be a trickle-down effect in some companies. Alan Sugar's marketing director Malcolm Miller has a beard that is the dead spit of his boss's at Amstrad.

But for most salaried executives, a bosky chin seems to be career suicide. Why?

Paul Buchanan-Barrow, managing partner of Korn Ferry International, the headhunters, isn't sure, but agrees that beards are incredibly rare: 'I certainly don't think I've ever had a successful candidate who had a beard.'

He admits he once considered a candidate who sported a Yasser Arafat job. 'But he was in marketing,' he explains.

In America, the prejudice is even worse. Federal Express bans beards for some of its US personnel 'for safety reasons'. Ross Perot, the presidential candidate, wouldn't allow beards at his corporation Electronic Data Systems, although he relaxed the edict when EDS took over SD-Scicon, which had a hirsute director.

There is the occasional courageous British director prepared to swim against the tide. One is Greg Dyke, the London Weekend Television boss. But then that's showbiz.

Another honourable exceptions is Graeme Knox, the Scottish Amicable investment boss, who sports a magnificent salt- and-pepper growth. Shareholders of Guinness may recall how at the annual meeting in 1986 he berated Ernest Saunders, then chairman (and not yet jailed), for reneging on promises made during the Distillers bid.

Knox, with his flowing beard and fiery speech, was more Old Testament prophet than mere investment manager.

(Photograph omitted)