Clarke joins UniChem as chairman

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The Independent Online
Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and possibly one of the most unhealthy people in the House of Commons, is joining the board of UniChem, the UK healthcare company, as non-executive chairman. Mr Clarke, who famously prefers a visit to the pub to preparing speeches and smokes out his House of Commons colleagues with his panatella cigars, will earn pounds 120,000 for a maximum two days' work a week.

Having lost to William Hague in the Tory party leadership contest, Mr Clarke can at least console himself that he is now earning the bigger salary. As a full-time leader of the opposition, Mr Hague makes pounds 98,000.

Despite his lifestyle and reputation for toughness, Mr Clarke looks well- suited to a role at UniChem, the pharmacy retailer and wholesaler. "He adores roughing people up ... crippled nurses would be right up his street," said a former cabinet colleague.

He cut his teeth as minister in the Department for Health and Social Security from 1982 to 1985. As Secretary of State for Health between 1988 and 1990, he was a key architect of the controversial internal reforms of the National Health Service. After losing the Tory leadership election in May, Mr Clarke was eager to try his hand at business, saying that after telling companies how to run, he wanted to have a go himself. Though he was appointed a non-executive director of Foreign & Colonial Investment Management, he clearly was seeking a more hands-on role. As a Tory MP for Rushcliffe near Nottingham and a fan of local football, Mr Clarke was also widely tipped to become the next chairman of Nottingham Forest football club. However, Mr Clarke's long time relationship with UniChem won out.

He was great pals with the group's former chairman, Lord Rippon, who died in January. Mr Clarke approached UniChem immediately after the leadership election.

Jeffery Harris, chief executive of UniChem, which runs the Moss Chemist chain of pharmacies, said Mr Clarke's appointment was ideally suited to the group's plans to expand in drug wholesaling Europe: "He has a vast knowledge of the health industry. He has a huge number of personal contacts in Europe.

``He has met up with health ministers in Europe. He's an extremely wise and sensible man and we will value his advice on deals."

Having failed substantially to beef up its retail pharmacy side after losing a pounds 660m bid battle with Germany's Gehe to takeover Lloyds Chemists, Mr Harris said UniChem was now keen to expand its wholesale business in continental Europe. With the group's share price weak after the failed bid, he said UniChem was likely to merge with rather than buy a large wholesaler. Although Gehe is a big wholesaler, he said any friendly deal there was "unlikely".

Wholesaling sales in the six months to June took a pounds 20m hit after Glaxo Wellcome's ulcer drug Zantac went off patent. Sales in the period rose 16 per cent to pounds 833m with profits ahead 8 per cent to pounds 27m.

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