Executive leg draws BT's old seadogs

Business & People
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The Independent Online
Ahoy, me hearties! The 14 boat crews taking part in the round the world yacht race sponsored by BT are in their last stages of preparation, before they set off for their 30,000-mile odyssey at the end of the month.

Dr Alan Rudge, deputy chief executive of BT, is crewing a boat for one of the legs, between Wellington in New Zealand and Sydney, Australia.

Dr Rudge is no stranger to boats - he sails his own 45-foot yacht out of Port Hamble on the South Coast.

"I'm the sort of Godfather to the BT Global Challenge," he says, referring to the race. He persuaded the BT to sponsor the race after British Steel subbed the first one four years ago.

Fourteen different companies are sponsoring each boat, including Courtaulds and Group 4. Many of the crews have never sailed before, although all the captains are professionals.

"We had 2,000 applicants when we advertised 30 crew places internally," says Dr Rudge. It's an expensive exercise. It costs each crew member pounds 18,000 to go, or pounds 5,000 for a single leg.

Dr Rudge says that he is doing the Tasman Sea leg because it is the briefest, at only nine weeks. It would be impossible to get any more time off from BT, he adds. Many other senior businessmen have plumped for the same section of the race, prompting one cynical sea-dog to dub it "the chief executives' leg".

Robert Peel, chief executive of Thistle Hotels, which is about to float, has come a long way since he left Eton aged 16. Now 49, Mr Peel has carved out a profile for himself in the hotel industry, not least by driving a flash Cadillac for the last 19 years.

Mr Peel is a descendant of the 19th century prime minister Robert Peel, who invented the British bobby. The family of the present day Mr Peel ran businesses in Egypt until they were kicked out by Nassar in 1956.

After school young Robert toured the great hotels of Europe, picking up valuable experience, and ended up running the old-style Quaglino's in London in 1970, while in his early twenties.

Then he teamed up with his brother Charlie, a stock-broker then working for Fielding Newson Smith, and in 1976 they had their big break. The famed Jim Slater was on his uppers, and sold a chunk of Mount Charlotte Investments to the brothers.

Robert became chief executive and used it as a vehicle, selling off its milk bars and tired seaside hotels. Then in 1989 he succumbed to the mania of the time and bought Thistle hotels from Scottish & Newcastle for pounds 645m.

Interest rates doubled and Sir Ron Brierley swooped. The New Zealander bought the company, but Robert survived as chief executive.

Sir Ron in turn was ejected from Brierley Investments, which still owns 70 per cent of Thistle, the rest going to the Singapore government. Robert will still oversee the "Thistle-isation" of the group's acquisitions after the float, while brother Charlie has his own stockbroking house, Peel Hunt.

Robin Hall, managing director of CINven, is still smarting after his beloved Arsenal's 3-2 defeat at the hands of Borussia Monchengladbach this week.

He's attempted to cheer himself up by hiring a new director, four new investment managers and a marketing manager for the venture capital group.

Since the management of CINven bought out the company from British Coal last October it has broadened its business, says Mr Hall. The firm needs new blood for its spanking new Old Broad Street offices in the City.

Along with a new pounds 200m buyout fund which CINven is raising comes this clutch of appointments. The new director is Yagnish Chotai, currently deputy managing director of Gresham Trust.

The four investment managers, all qualified accountants and all under 30, are: David Barker, senior financial analyst with Morgan Crucible; Stuart McAlpine, who moves from the acquisition finance arm of Royal Bank of Scotland; Gordon Moore, formerly a corporate financier with SBC Warburg; and Dominic Murphy, who was an investment executive at 3i.

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