Cable twist for Johnson

People and Business

IS LUKE JOHNSON'S golden touch deserting him? The founder of Pizza Express and the man behind myriad other business successes is also a former non-executive director of a plc which has just gone bust - a company that he floated just four years ago.

Utility Cable, a Watford-based company that laid cables for TV companies, went into receivership yesterday. All 300 jobs are likely to go, and creditors are looking at big losses.

Utility Cable (UC) was created in 1994 when Mr Johnson reversed a cable business, JP Fitzpatrick, into a shell called Baillie Gifford Technology Trust and refloated the resulting company. UC's shares hit a high of 39p in 1994 but were suspended at just 2.25p on Monday.

Mr Johnson served as a non-executive director, sitting on the remuneration and audit boards. He still holds around 3 per cent of the company's shares.

Sadly shareholders will get nothing, according to Finbar O'Connell, one of the three receivers from Grant Thornton. Mr O'Connell says they have already sacked 250 of the 300 staff, and will be seeking to wind the rest of the business down, selling any profitable bits.

When I rang Mr Johnson yesterday and asked for his views on UC, he initially said "no comment".

But wasn't he a non-exec at the company, I asked? "No", he replied. So when did he resign? "I can't remember ... earlier this year." (He resigned on 22 May.)

I then asked him about his latest weekly column for the Sunday Telegraph in which he railed against "the undertakers of the financial world, the receivers and insolvency practitioners .... Their job consists of sacking workers, closing factories and telling creditors they will get nothing".

This sounds like a spookily accurate prediction of this week's events. Did he write it with UC in mind?

"No," he replied. "I was completely unaware of what was about to happen [at UC]." "I'm as disappointed as the next shareholder."

CARD CLEAR, the company which does the overwhelming majority of fraud- checking on credit cards in the UK, has got itself a new chief executive.

The appointment of Carl Clump, 45, a veteran of Texaco, will do much to repair the damage done when Card Clear forced the previous chief executive and finance director to resign in June after they "misrepresented to the board the nature of a payment".

Brian Raven, the former chief executive, and Oliver Cooke, the FD, had sanctioned a payment to a former director via the Channel Islands.

Nigel Whittaker, the non-executive chairman of Card Clear, who then had to step into the breach, is determined that the sorry episode should now be put behind them.

"We have big plans to expand our card services into Europe, and Carl Clump is perfectly suited to do that for us," he said.

The group has also appointed Ted Tilly as a non-executive director with immediate effect.

Mr Clump spent 14 years at Texaco masterminding its petrol card innovations, and the last five years with Harpur. Harpur, a UK company, is owned by the entrepreneur David Elias, which has a big petrol credit card business.

Mr Whittaker will now be able to pay more attention to his many other high-profile business interests. He is chairman of City Gourmets, the AIM-listed owner of the Madisons coffee bar chain, chairman of Burson Marsteller, the international firm of spin doctors, and chairman of MTI Partners, the venture capital outfit.

JAMES MCCAFFERTY, the telecoms analyst, left James Ross's team at ABN Amro on Monday to start three months' gardening leave, preparatory to his joining SG Securities (formerly SocGen Strauss Turnbull).

Jim Ross is well known in the City as an arch-bull on Securicor. He recently published a buy note on the company which set a target of pounds 7 a share. It closed down 4p yesterday at 463p. Still a long way to go, then...

FLYING FLOWERS has appointed Paul Fraser joint chief executive with immediate effect. Mr Fraser is given responsibility for the collectables division, while his oppo Tim Dunningham will focus on Gardening Direct and Flying Flowers, the company said.

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