CITY DIARY : Sir Rocco finds fortitude under London skies

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The Independent Online
This hostile takeover business really is most tiresome. Not only has the Granda bid for Forte played havoc with Sir Rocco's pheasant shooting. It has also done for the family Christmas holiday. Unlike last year (when the caterer learned of his ennoblement on a Caribbean island) Sir Rocco will be eschewing la dolce vita in favour of his London desk.

Not that he is complaining. No, Sir Rocco is now of the view that eight- eighths cloud cover is good for the constitution. And, he claims, he has not had so much fun in years. He is, to coin a phrase, a new man. Who wants to go to the West Indies when you can slug it out with Gerry Robinson over the fate of your inheritance?

The key to Sir Rocco's determination can probably be traced back to the day the pounds 3.3bn bid was launched. The hotelier confesses to being deeply concerned about being caught on a pheasant shoot in Yorkshire when Gerry Robinson, the Granada marksman, let loose with both barrels. A Christmas break at Forte's pounds 1,000-a-night Sandy Beach Hotel in Barbados is no way to convince waivering shareholders.

Still, if Sir Rocco is looking for a Caribbean flavour to his Christmas he can always pop over to Mr Robinson's abode in Notting Hill Gate, home of the famous London carnival.

Iceland Frozen Foods is the unlikely vehicle chosen by Rupert Murdoch to reward his loyal minions. Staff at the Times have been told that their Christmas bonus has come in the form of a free turkey voucher. This has not gone down fantastically well with staff who have spent a fortune to qualify for the Tesco free Christmas turkey.

News filters through from the front in the never-ending war against musical piracy. That spineless organisation, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, concedes that it has ordered a tactical withdrawal from its Canton office in China on the grounds that staff had been threatened with instant loss of life.

"The situation there became untenable when we heard from reliable sources that hitmen had been contracted on behalf of certain CD factories to halt our operation," bleats the IFPI. "This is not a shutdown. The IFPI will continue to provide support for the Chinese government's initiatives against piracy."

Suggestions that the IFPI has had about as much efffect as the United Nations in Bosnia have not been appreciated. "The fight against piracy is always a dangerous one," insists Nic Garnett, director general of IFPI. "This is not the first time that we have had to halt operations in Asia. In the past threats to staff in Taiwan and Thailand led to offices being closed."

Today's lesson is read by the bruiser Ken Harvey, chairman of Norweb. The combative executive is one of the captains of industry who have been persuaded to dispense pearls of wisdom to18-year-old school-leavers.

Borrowing from Mark Twain, Mr Harvey writes: "When I was 18 my parents were so ignorant I could hardly bear to have them around. But when I got to be 25 I was astonished to learn how much they had learned in seven years."

Yes yes. But what of the hurly-burly of corporate culture? "Be nice to people you pass on the way up," reflects Mr Harvey (whose company is now under the control of North West Water). "You might meet them again on the way down."

The November trade figures prove an early Christmas present for Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, who delights in the export effort. Apart from baguettes to France (Diary passim), we cleaned up by selling flower bulbs to the Netherlands (Anglo Flora), aquarium sand to Oman (Pet Products) and indoor ski slopes to Taiwan (Acer Snowmec).