High noon turns to high camp at Hambro shoot-out

Click to follow
The Independent Online
After 25 years in the chair, Lord Hambro would have chosen different circumstances in which to bow out from his eponymous banking group, but he wasted no time addressing the only issue exercising a packed annual meeting. High Noon at Tower Hill, it had been billed, and Charlie came out guns ablazing.

He would take no questions on the Co-op affair or the Norton Rose report into Hambros' role, he said. "I believe, however, that we acted quickly and decisively in commissioning an independent investigation and acting on it. We have received resignations from all the directors we believe it is appropriate should leave the bank."

Sir Chips Keswick, his successor, for whom by implication it would not have been appropriate to resign, agreed that a line had been drawn under the affair as far as the bank was concerned. But the first non-family member to head the company since Carl Joachim Hambro set up shop on King William Street in 1839 admitted the Bank of England and Securities and Futures Authority, Hambros' regulators, might beg to differ.

Despite the resignations of Nigel Pantling, head of corporate finance, Peter Large and Andrew Salmon, Hambros is continuing to discuss the failed pounds 1.8bn bid with the Bank and SFA. Sir Chips said the regulators would probably not make a judgement for a couple of months. In the meantime, the hunt for a group chief executive was off - "we had too many layers before and now we have one less", Sir Chips confessed.

The unfortunate Andrew Regan business out the way, Lord Hambro then turned his attention to steering his swan-song back from the brink of farce. It had been taken there by an octogenarian rabble-rouser calling himself Mendax who is fast becoming a regular fixture at annual meetings.

Was the number of pensions trustees defective, excessive or perfect, he demanded to know of the puzzled chairman, only partly in Latin. And would the newly reappointed finance director care to "stand up and click his heels". Smiling serenely, Hambros senior bean-counter did as requested.

Undeterred, Mendax turned on former Bank of England Governor, the Right Honourable Lord Kingsdown, a Hambros non-exec, to follow suit. "I did,l" cried Sir Robin. "He already did," cheered the shareholders. High Noon? High Camp, some muttered.

It was time to recall happier times. Lord Hambro arrived at the family bank 40 years ago, a fellow new boy told the meeting, to embark on the 1950s merchant banking equivalent of boot camp. "We were taught how to add," former company secretary Andrew Gibson-Watt told shareholders - "something our expensive education had failed to prepare us for." Hambros echoed to the unfamiliar sound of laughter.