Little comment as small company battles for its identity

BUNHILL: Diary
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The Independent Online
WHAT'S in a name? Just about everything if you are a small business up against a giant that wants to use your name for one of its own operations.

Take the example of Europe on Line, a mobile phone rental company set up five years ago by Giancarlo Calderini. The founder, who was born in Assisi but is half English, won the Independent Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1988 at the age of 26 and so is clearly a man of some distinction. He won it for having set up a pasta factory, selling fresh pasta to the catering industry and to supermarkets. Catching the 1980s taste for better food, the company did well. Eventually, Calderini received an offer that he could not refuse and sold out. Which was when he set up his new company, renting mobile phones to business executives travelling across Europe.

Europe on Line isn't going to make it into the FT-SE 100, with profits of only £100,000 a year, but it is Calderini's livelihood. Or it was until he began to be inundated with calls for another business, owned by Pearson, the conglomerate that owns the Financial Times and Royal Doulton among others. Pearson is launching a service to connect its UK customers to the Internet, otherwise known as the information superhighway. It is acting as the UK agent of the US company America on Line. The business - surprise, surprise - is called Europe on Line.

Trouble started with a newspaper advert two weeks ago, which sought recruits to the new Pearson business. Calderini has had so many calls from job hunters, headhunters and prospective Pearson clients that his own clients cannot get through. When the Pearson business is launched with full publicity late this year, Calderini fully expects his own Europe on Line to collapse.

"We told Pearson about the problem, but they didn't care," he says. "Their legal adviser told us we could fight them if we wanted but did we have the money?"

To contest the matter in the courts could cost Calderini around £40,000, which he says he cannot afford.

Pearson claims that its meeting with Calderini was amicable and that it thought a solution could be worked out. Unfortunately, no one could explain why Calderini himself had such a different view of things. Pearson's lawyer, meanwhile, has gone skiing.

FURTHER light on the character of that nice Nick Leeson, the dealer who brought down Barings by losing some money in Singapore, has been brought to my attention. It is clear that right from the start he had a high opinion of his financial worth.

He began his meteoric career, you will recall, as a back office clerk at various City banks before moving to Barings and becoming a fully fledged dealer.

At one of these establishments, at the time of the annual pay review, he suggested to his bosses that they should increase his pay from the £12,500 he was then getting to £20,000.

His bosses were flabbergasted. "It was a bloody cheek," said one. "He was lucky to be getting £12,500. No one in the back-office got £20,000."

Nevertheless, Leeson had understood that the art of dealing is to pitch your price high and see what you can get away with. In this case, he did not get his full demand but still received a substantial rise.

Pigs tie the knot

AND from money-grubbing we

move seamlessly on to pigs. Dalgety, the foods group, is marrying its pig-breeding operation, the Pig Improvement Company, to the National Pig Development Company by purchasing the latter for £17m. It is hoped the union will produce a new strain of super-pig. (The British, I am assured, excel in the pig-breeding industry).

Without wishing to sound unduly sexist about this, PIC believes it has developed the quintessential female pig - the Camborough sow, which is capable of producing vast litters. NPDC, on the other hand, believes it has created the quintessential male pig - boars packed with lean muscle and very little fat.

Clearly there is room, as they say in business circles, for synergy here. The merger of the two businesses will be consummated by the simple expedient of putting the boars and sows in the same pen and letting nature take its course.

The resulting offspring should be both hugely fertile and full of lean meat to suit the modern palate.

Dalgety is anxious to point out that there is no fancy genetic engineering involved at any stage in this rustic process. No one is trying to produce pigs with five trotters or two heads.

When PIC last appeared in print in 1994, however, an employee was injured by a letter bomb from the animal right activists. Let's hope that this time the activists will observe a ceasefire during the Easter nuptials of PIC and NPDC.

THE phone rings. You answer, and a strange voice starts asking for your money. You realise you've been cold-called but cannot quite focus on what the voice is selling. Is this a life assurance company? A dodgy offshore investment group, perhaps? Some chancer flogging toilet brushes? No. It's Cambridge University.

In a new fund-raising ruse, Cambridge has tapped its own pool of cheap labour - undergraduates and graduates - to cold-call thousands of alumni with requests for cash. Some high-pressure selling techniques are being used.

In one instance, a colleague of mine was told that he had a duty to cough up because only that afternoon a woman on welfare with two kids had pledged £100 to the university. If she could do it, the caller urged, so could he.

While one wonders what Cambridge is doing accepting £100 cheques from mothers on welfare, one has to admire the university's determination. Affected by cut-backs in education spending and competition from other universities, it has launched an appeal for £250m over the next 10 years. In two years, it has already raised £150m.

The masterminds behind its new money-raising strategy are a few alumni who have attained the higher reaches of business including Martin Sorrell of WPP, Richard Dunn of BSkyB, Nicholas Coleridge of Cond Nast, and Dennis Stevenson of GPA.

They have been busy injecting a new hard-nosed aproach to fund raising, including a newsletter, magazines, personalised letters and phone calls.

"It is a shame," comments one, "that Cambridge is having to behave more like a business, but it's inevitable."

So it seems likely that henceforth all Cambridge graduates can expect to spend their lives being hounded for their cash from the moment they graduate, much as US graduates are by their alma maters. Excuses such as being on the dole will not be accepted.

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