Lawyers love a scrap and it looks like there could soon be plenty of them

My Week

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The Independent Online

My litigation lawyer friend could scarcely conceal his delight.

He told me on Monday how his wife has an online clothing business, designing and manufacturing her own lines. To her horror, she discovered recently that another firm in North America had started trading under the same name.

To her horror, but not his. He likes nothing more than a legal fight, and another lawsuit is pending. Truly, lawyers are a breed apart.

On a more serious note, he predicted actions galore will emerge from recent stories involving household-name companies. “No win, no fees” and the arrival of the US-style shareholder class action promise plenty of work for him in the coming months.

The power behind the old Tesco throne

On Monday afternoon I met Edwina Dunn. It’s funny, I don’t know what I was expecting but I was surprised. I suppose I thought that Dunn, who, along with her husband, Clive, pioneered the loyalty card and the use of data from the card to research shoppers’ habits, would be something of a number-crunching nerd. In fact, she was funny and warm. She recalled how she and Clive (they named their business Dunnhumby – after Edwina Dunn and Clive Humby)  took their idea to Tesco. The store group had created a “thank you” card, as it was termed back then, but did not know what to do with the mountain of information it was gleaning. They got to work and showed how it was possible to ascertain that someone had bought sausages one week – so the following week they could be sent a discount on some more.

It transformed Tesco’s business, but was kept a state secret. Rivals could see the chain’s market share soaring and attributed it to new store openings and in-store sales techniques. In fact, it was more to do with Dunnhumby scouring people’s buying patterns. The person most gripped by the genius of what they were doing was the boss, Terry Leahy. Now Sir Terry, he was fascinated by the nuggets they were turning up and would spend hours studying the readouts himself. So much so that he once told Edwina that if he’d not been a retailer, he would have loved to have been doing a Dunnhumby.

Staying power may be Cameron’s big asset

At the Norwood gala fundraising dinner, the business turnout was, to say the least, stellar. Norwood is a long-established Jewish disability charity. The guest speaker was David Cameron, fresh, if that is the right word, from attending the G20 summit in Brisbane. It was impossible not to marvel at his stamina and his ability to connect with this particular audience. They gave him a standing ovation when he’d finished. Do not be surprised if Tory party coffers swell in the run-up to the election.

Education should be brought up to date

Ah a round-table discussion on How Britain Can Grow Again, we all agree that education is the key priority. But when I venture that we need to equip our children for the 21st century, so they can compete with their counterparts across the globe, the debate heats up.

My point is that we’re still wedded mainly to a curriculum that was devised for a different age, and that too much effort is expended on learning by rote meaningless facts – details that can easily be looked up on Google. Schools should be teaching their pupils to program computers, to devise apps, to develop and manage businesses.

At this, I’m rounded upon by a Tory minister (it was Chatham House so I cannot say which one) who accuses me of wanting to betray a generation by denying them the ability to spell or complete their times tables. This is not what I said at all.

I did say that I lost it with maths when algebra kicked in, and I never understood logarithms or pi, and I’ve never had to use them in the real world. I accept that’s just me, and others grew to love and appreciate differential equations and the like, but my hours at school would have been better spent getting to grips with something else.

We were able to agree that if we’re to develop an entrepreneurial culture, we must encourage risk taking – and that means discounting failure. As a nation we’re far too guilt of judging people by their failures rather than their successes – something that is not true of the US, for example.

A heritage as intoxicating as the products

Christmas is coming and business is pouring through the doors of Berry Bros & Rudd, the venerable wine merchant in London’s St James’s.

Simon Berry is the current head of the family business, which has been in existence, wait for it, since 1698. It may be old but it’s also extremely modern. The company, which has supplied the Royal Family since the reign of King George III, has undergone a complete strategy overhaul.

In are premium spirits, Asia, a new hi-tech warehouse and an expansion of its antique but beautifully appointed headquarters to accommodate more corporate hospitality and a bigger wine school. Turnover, he mentions almost casually, is around £200m a year.

Part of that performance is down to the popularity of King’s Ginger, originally developed for King Edward V11 in 1903 so he could have a discreet tipple as he was driven around. For decades, the ginger liqueur was only available to the Royal Family.

Recently, it was brought to the open market and has proved to be a hit across the world. Mr Berry says it’s proving especially popular in San Francisco, where people are always looking for niche, crafted drinks. They adore the historic connection, and, as the city is home to a large Chinese population, there is a local craving for ginger.

As we sit upstairs and share a fine Spanish red, we can hear customers coming and going downstairs. There is a mutual air of contentment, one that has been shared by many others in this very place down the centuries. Sadly, my text message interrupts our reverie to remind me I need to be somewhere else.

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