Business View: Lord H's syndrome baffles medical minds

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The Independent Online
A doctor writes: "I recently received a missive from a prominent patient, Lord H of Notting Hill, who complained about a problem that I shall call `unsuitable partner syndrome'. The symptoms of this complaint are rather akin to those reported by women married to drunken slobs who spend all the housekeeping on strong lager and entertaining other ladies. Like them, Lord H finds himself constantly going into partnership with people who do not quite share his outlook on life.

"The syndrome first struck while Mr H (as he was then) was in charge of a financial company which had dabbled in the media. He decided to throw in his lot with a not particularly genial Irishman whom we shall call, in the interest of protecting patient confidentiality, David Montgomery.

"Mr M promised the world, or at least the chairmanship of the Mirror Group, should Mr H support his attempt to gain control of said company. However, Mr M was unable to deliver and the two ended up estranged.

"The next time the symptoms appeared, Mr H was better able to deal with them. He had decided to strike a deal with Lord S, another high-profile newspaper publisher. Lord S once famously explained the benefits of national newspaper ownership by saying: `Well, you do call me your Lordship, don't you?' But he too had a different outlook on life to that of Mr H.

Indeed, while Mr H is a lifelong socialist, Lord S is an avid Tory; Mr H is a frugal, cautious man, Lord S is extravagant and gregarious; Mr H always kept his nose clean and loved the approbation of his peers, Lord S sailed close to the wind and needed protection from his peers.

"Many predicted the relationship between Mr H and Lord S would end in tears. But few accounted for Mr H's `bottom'. He was able to wear Lord S down, bedevilling him with detail until he became so bored he had to retire just to stop seeing numbers in his sleep.

"Seduced by this victory, Lord H (as he had by then become thanks to his influence and success) has decided to get into bed with a certain Mr Green.

"Now, Mr Green is well known for being a difficult man to get along with. He has run his own company for at least 20 years and has a reputation for unflinching determination and a single-minded business style. Subordinates jump to attention when he is in the office. His bite is at least as fearsome as his bark. And he is dogged. When he was blocked in his bid for Thames TV in the 1980s, he lobbied and lobbied until he was allowed to acquire the company's franchise to operate from right under Thames's nose.

"Lord H assures me that he can perform the same trick as he achieved with Lord S and transform Mr Green from a pit bull to a puppy dog. With the help of other New Labour friends, such as Lord A of Planet24, he says he can change Mr Green's whole point of view and make him as fond of Tony Blair as he was of Baroness Thatcher. After all, won't Mr B, the successor to Lord H's chum Mr Mandy at the Board of Trade, wave the little deal between Mr Green and Lord H through the regulatory process?

"The prognosis, however, is not all bright, and Lord H knows it. If he makes it all work with Mr Green, it may prove his ability to get on with even the least suitable associates. What would happen, then, should his next business partner be Chris Evans?"

All over by Christmas

I think we all have to thank Stephen Byers and the Office of Fair Trading for quickly deciding not to refer Bank of Scotland's bid for NatWest. The timetable will now end before Christmas, so avoiding the danger of merchant bankers missing their festive dinners. However, for one unhappy group, the team defending NatWest, speedy Steve Byers caught them on the hop.

According to the Takeover Panel's timetable, "day 39" (the last day on which NatWest was allowed to say anything in its defence) fell yesterday. So huddles of bankers gathered to produce yet another defence document.

But why did they bother? NatWest had nothing more to say except that pounds 25.5bn from the Bank of Scotland was no more welcome than pounds 21bn, given that most of the amount was made up of NatWest shares being recycled through an overburdened Bank of Scotland management structure.

What the market is now awaiting is a bid from Royal Bank. Sir George Mathewson and his cost-cutting sidekick, Fred Goodwin (know as Fred the Impaler), are now feeling rather chipper. They know they can outbid the pounds 25.5bn put down by Bank of Scotland and, if they go hostile, they are almost guaranteed a victory.

NatWest and Royal Bank, though, look more likely to strike a deal. This will probably be on Royal Bank's terms, under which the Impaler will take the reins and Ron Sandler's career at NatWest, like Steven Cane's tenure at Carlton, will be measured in months.