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NICHOLAS IRENS, chairman of the health club chain Cannons, announced yesterday a commendably healthy 52 per cent rise in six monthly profits.

He then somewhat spoilt the effect by lighting up a cigarette. Perhaps they should provide ashtrays at Cannons.

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IT MUST be a funny feeling being hired to haul down the flag. What Chris Patten did for Hong Kong, Sir Bob Reid will now do for the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE).

Sir Bob, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Scotland, has agreed to be chairman of the embattled IPE, just weeks after the resignation of the previous incumbent, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, and the rest of the IPE board.

The Board quit after it failed to get the minimum 75 per cent vote from members in favour of demutualising. This in turn was an attempt by the previous management to ward off an aggressive bid from its New York rival, Nymex.

That left the IPE effectively rudderless, and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) says it is relieved that a man of Sir Bob's stature has been found so quickly to take the tiller, if only until a satisfactory deal with Nymex can be negotiated. Sir Bob is chairman of British-Borneo Oil & Gas and has many years' experience in the industry.

Colin Bryce, deputy chairman of IPE, said yesterday that Sir Bob's first priority will be to recruit a successor to Lynton Jones, who resigned as chief executive on 31 July, and to review the strategic options for the Exchange.

These options would appear to me to be (a) sell, (b) sell, or (c) sell. Who knows, Sir Bob may find some new rescue plan to keep the flag flying.

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THE MONEY Channel, a digital TV service dedicated solely to personal finance and co-founded by former pop singer Adam Faith, has been recruiting ahead of its autumn launch.

The AIM-listed company has hired Tony Hobman, chief executive of ProShare, as a non executive director. The Money Channel has also poached Toby Low from the BBC's Business Breakfast and World Business Report to be editor in chief.

The company was set up by Mr Faith, who used to write about personal finance for the Mail on Sunday, and Matthew Orr and Paul Killick of Killick and Co, the private client stockbrokers. Mr Hobman, 44, says he got involved in the project through Mr Orr, who is also on the board of ProShare, the organisation which promotes wider share ownership.

Mr Hobman's other passions (besides work, of course) are are skiing - he's a demon on the piste - and his fanatical devotion to Brighton and Hove Albion. He says he's had a terrible time of it recently, having to travel from the club's old Goldstone Stadium to temporary quarters at Gillingham, and then back to Brighton at the club's new home, Withdean Stadium. He boasts that the latter is in a "leafy residential area. We do things in style in Brighton".

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SPEAKING OF non-execs, a lawyer called Warren Roiter is on a one-man crusade to persuade the world that, no, non-execs are not just in it for the free lunch.

"The widely held belief that non-execs spend their time sleeping through meetings, eating lunch and claiming expenses is far from the truth," thunders Mr Roiter.

In fact they can play a vital role in the development of the company, as he does with Bioglan Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, he says. For instance, he adds, he recently helped Bioglan's chairman Terry Sadler, structure a $40m deal to buy a range of products from Medicis Pharmaceutical in the US.

Mr Roiter does admit that one part of the common view of non-execs is true, however. "Whoever is chosen must be prepared to sit through interminable meetings ..."

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A FAST growing web-based financial information company has appointed its first chief finance officer and director of sales.

Tomas Carruthers, chief executive of www.iii.co.uk, has poached European Telecom's fd Max Ashton, 38, and Martin Harris, 42, from Sun Microsystems.

The company iii provides on-line information for private investors.

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