John Willcock CITY DIARY

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The Independent Online
Recent purchases of UK utilities by overseas bidders have not gone without some hitches, we hear.

Three senior executives from Southern Company of the US flew over from Atlanta during the latter part of bid talks for South Western Electricity Board. When the deal was agreed the trio made plans to stay and work in Sweb's Bristol offices.

They reckoned without the UK's stringent immigration rules, which required them to leave the country for at least a day and re-apply for a work permit. So off they went, back to Atlanta.

"Only a formality," a Southern spokesman said yesterday, and everything has been sorted out. Which leads us on to a far more important question.

Sweb sponsors the all- conquering Bath rugby club. With the switch to an open game in which rugby union players can be paid, will the Americans keep up the flow of money? Does anyone in Georgia understand the poetry of the ruck, the maul, the up-and-under? We await the news from Atlanta.

Gloomy faces in the Extel newsroom, which provides up-to-the-minute financial information.

Extel's owner, Pearson, is selling the Examiner financial news service to AFX, a joint venture between Pearson and Agencie Francaise.

Because AFX and Extel operations are so similar, employees fear there could be redundancies. Even worse, some fear the eventual disappearance of the time-honoured Extel name - originally derived from Exchange Telegraph.

We've heard of people clocking up free air miles, but this is ridiculous. John Stuttard, of accountants Coopers & Lybrand, was lead adviser to Finnforest, part of the Finnish forestry giant Metsaliitto in the acquisition of Hunter Timber Group from Wickes announced yesterday.

Mr Stuttard started working on the deal three years ago when he was London- based chairman of Coopers' Scandinavian group. He helped the Finns to line up likely bid targets. But before the deals could come to fruition he was whisked off to China. As a result, the intrepid bean-counter has been working on the Wickes deal from Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Helsinki as well as London. Now the deal is signed he is celebrating - by driving his vintage Rolls-Royce around Italy in a classic cars rally.

What is he trying to get away from?

Tony Travis, chairman of Travis Perkins, was yesterday musing on ways to incentivise management at one of the nation's leading builders' merchanting groups. He has bitter experience of the effectiveness of one route to motivating managers. Since selling Kennedy's Garden Centre to its directors, the group has had to pay for its Christmas trees. For years, Kennedys had supplied head office with a free tree but when the usual request was made the day after the MBO last December Mr Travis was told to stump up pounds 60 for each tree. He has taken the blow philosophically, but seemed in no mood yesterday to entertain suggestions that store managers be given equity stakes in their operations to get them going.

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