CITY DIARY: SBC's style disarms the critics

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The Independent Online
From the September issue of Euromoney comes the announcement of the prestigious Deals of the Year awards. And the winner is ... SBC.

The judges have been lavish in their praise for the Swiss bank. "No single over-the-counter option has shaken the City of London so greatly, interpreted its rules with such abandon, or troubled so many lawyers as the cost-saving derivative used by Trafalgar House in its abortive attempt to take over Northern Electric.''

You will recall that the "contracts for differences'' gave Trafalgar options over the shares in seven regional electricity companies, including 3.35 million shares in the target company, before the bid was announced. When the options were eventually closed out Trafalgar had earned pounds 6m towards its costs.

The judges were particularly impressed by the way SBC handled the ensuing outrage over the ethics of the deal, noting that the most vociferous critic was SG Warburg, which was immediatekly gobbled up by the Swiss bank.

Alas, Sir Patrick Sergeant and his crew no longer throw the best party in town. This week's International Monetary Fund jamboree in Washington has been deprived of Euromoney's legendary receptions, no doubt thanks to last week's profits warning from the publisher. Instead there were just two low-key lunchtime receptions

"They have not registered on the landscape,'' remarked an observer. "Champagne and peanuts, '' agreed a guest.

Cedric Brown's now-infamous defence of his 75 per cent pay rise last year has saddled British Gas with an intractable problem - how to improve the corporate image when no one will take on the job. The post of head of media relations remains vacant with the salary on offer rising daily.

Coming on top of gas price rises and service cuts, Mr Brown's I've-earned- it-so-I'll-keep-it approach went straight into the PR training manual as an example of how it should not be done.

Yesterday a senior public relations figure confided that he had turned down pounds 100,000 to do the job. Not so long ago the head hunters were trawling the market with less than pounds 50,000.

Once asked to say something amusing at a dinner party, Noel Coward replied: "Australia''. However, this is not a joke that will go down well at Lloyds Bank on the return to this country of Geraldine Davies. Having built a powerful role for herself as one of the bank's corporate mouthpieces, Ms Davies chose to go on holiday Down Under just before the big one broke. Colleagues are trembling.

The Fengshui Network - which promotes the understanding of the Chinese practice of placing of objects in a building to create the best harmony- is flying over Bill Spears, the West's leading authority, to lecture British architects on how it is done.

The Network insists that Mr Spears will be required listening, claiming that both Richard Branson and Sir Richard Greenbury are already disciples. Mr Branson took spiritual advice before launching Virgin's Hong Kong route. Sir Richard has apparently been convinced that the impressive performance of the Marks & Spencer Hong Kong store is all down to fengshui.

The arrival of Rupert Pennant-Rea (above) at Roddy Dewe's house of gloss was only matter of time. The shadowy spin doctor and the disgraced former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England go back a long way. Their respective families were even aquainted in their native Zimbabwe.

But the two became firm friends when Mr Pennant-Rea was editor of The Economist, lunching together regularly. "They are both obsessed by national debt,'' explains one insider. As a non-executive director of Dewe Rogerson, Mr Pennant-Rea is certain to get considerably more than pounds 5,000 paid to other non-executives for the four meetings a year. "He will be developing business on the capital markets,'' said Mr Dewe. "There is a hell of a lot more to be done in marketing debt.'' Rivals were less charitable. "Bonking was never an obstacle to becoming a successful PR man,'' said one.