City: The game's up for Tiny

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The Independent Online
IT'S HARD to imagine a more bizarre end to the longest-running corporate feud of the post-war period than the one witnessed in the Harrods food hall on Friday evening.

The sight of a beaming Tiny Rowland shaking hands with Mohamed Fayed - when only days before the two would gladly have stuck a machete in each other's backs - was truly a wonder to behold. Had it been written into an episode of Chateau Vallon, France's answer to Dynasty, it could scarcely have been more incredible. Yet this was indeed reality, or at least we must assume so.

Eight years after beginning his marathon legal battle with the Fayeds over the House of Fraser department stores group, and pounds 30m worse off in legal and other fees, Mr Rowland has finally given up the fight. Why?

Certainly, the reasons Tiny gave publicly can hardly be seen as any more than the cosmetic face. It was, he said, because conflicting parties always realise in the end that there is nothing to be gained from prolonged and costly battle, and because a high-ranking member of the PLO had asked why if Yasser Arafat could settle his differences with Israel, Tiny couldn't settle with the Fayeds. But the truth, I fear, is altogether sadder.

This was Tiny desperately trying to recapture some of his ability to surprise, his old headline-grabbing glamour; this was Tiny, progressively upstaged by his new joint chief executive, the German financier Dieter Bock, willing to resort to almost anything to stay in the picture; this was Tiny, realising that Mr Bock would eventually move to settle the dispute anyway, trying to pre-empt him; this was Tiny attempting to out-Bock Mr Bock.

If this was Tiny attempting to make a comeback, it is a project doomed to failure. Mr Rowland's position was fatally undermined last week when he allowed Mr Bock's non-executive nominees to be appointed to the Lonrho board. Not that he had a lot of choice in the matter. Tiny went into a pre- board meeting determined to stall further on the appointments and see them off.

It was a battle he couldn't win. Mr Bock produced a letter signed by Alastair Ross Goobey of Postel, one of Lonrho's largest shareholders, demanding an immediate shareholders' meeting to vote on the issue in the event that the board refused to sanction Mr Bock's demands. Tiny managed to secure the face-saving compromise of his own non-executive appointment to the board alongside the other two, but essentially the game is up. Tiny is outnumbered and defeated on the Lonrho board, though I doubt whether he yet fully appreciates it.

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