Gem trade can't hold a candle to waxing lyrical

People & Business

Iain McGourty, managing director of Ernest Jones, Signet's more upmarket jewellery chain, is quitting to run Wax Lyrical, a fast growing group of candle shops.

Mr McGourty is leading a management buy-in of Wax Lyrical and will leave Signet in the new year to become managing director. He is acquiring 10 per cent of the shares while founders Marjorie Bannister and Mark Chessel will retain a 70 per cent stake.

Founded in 1990 Wax Lyrical now has 32 shops and last year made pounds 1m profits on sales of pounds 11m. But Mr McGourty reckons he can double the size of the business.

He admits he scarcely knows his beeswax from his candelabra but is not afraid to learn. "I'll be starting my learning curve immediately."

Mr McGourty, 49, has been keen to run his own show for some time. A former managing director of Country Casuals and Signet's Salisbury's luggage chain he put together a management buyout team team to buy Salisbury's last year but was beaten to it by Stephen Hinchliffe. "I've always wanted to be involved in an equity transaction and I feel Wax Lyrical is very much a retailer for the Nineties."

Ken Clarke 1: Is the strain of the single currency debate and all those off-the-record lunches starting to tell on our Chancellor? It is if a remark made to his press secretary on Monday is anything to go by.

"I've had enough of journalists," he said to Jill Rutter, the chief press secretary to the Treasury. "I don't want to see any any more."

Unfortunately for Mr Clarke, Ms Rutter had to inform him that he was due to attend a Treasury press reception that very evening where literally hundreds of hacks were due to invade his personal space.

Perhaps a glass or two of wine helped but the Chancellor managed to disguise his feelings about his guests and, I am told, was in rather good spirits all evening. He was one of the last to leave.

Ken Clarke 2: Has canny Ken done a Tony Blair and started to alter his hairstyle? It's ever so subtle but economics observers who usually concentrate on the PSBR and long-term interest rates say there are definite signs of a make-over in the Barnet department.

This sparked flat denials from the Treasury, aghast that a man who resolutely sticks to wearing Hush Puppies with pin-striped suits, should be accused of such vanity. "He is not interested in altering his personal appearance. He's never felt the need to do that. It was probably just a case of a little too long between haircuts."

Neville Buch, the former chairman of Blenheim Exhibitions who made pounds 24m from the group's sale to United News & Media a couple of months back, has wasted no time returning to the fray. He has been appointed non-executive director of BBB Design Group, which has a USM quote. He will move up to non-executive chairman in February when founder Philip O'Donnell splits the chairman and chief executive roles.

Mr Buch yesterday acquired a near-6 per cent stake in BBB and will push that to nearly 30 per cent next week when he buys shares from Mr O'Donnell.

The pair know each other well. Blenheim and BBB were almost merged eight years ago and Mr Buch's Holland Park pad is around the corner from BBB's Bayswater head office.

"I've known Neville ever since I took BBB public 10 years ago. He's been very successful and I'm sure his talents will help us."

Dairy group Unigate will receive some political assistance. It has appointed John MacGregor, the former secretary of state for transport, as a non- executive director.

However, it is Mr MacGregor's previous position as minister for agriculture, fisheries and foods which is likely to prove more useful. Unigate's chief executive Ross Buckland has been banging on about Milk Marque's pricing policies for ages. Mr MacGregor's lobbying skills will no doubt come in handy.

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