The City Diary: Santa Ocado
Sunday 19 December 2010
It's that time of year when we get to enjoy a rare public appearance by Jason "Missing" Gissing, the reclusive co-founder of online grocer Ocado (whose job title of "director of people, culture and communications" hardly reflects his behaviour).
You'll recall that Gissing was once the face and voice of the online grocer – until he was mysteriously sidelined before the company floated. But Santa-like he's emerged blinking from his grotto to deal with dissatisfied punters.
"I am writing to apologise, unreservedly, for our failure to respond to your email," Missing's catch-all missive begins. "The unprecedented chaos of last week has left us with a massive backlog of unanswered messages; to get to your email could take many more days. Rather than leave you without an answer for any longer, I would like to offer you a £20 discount on a future Ocado delivery".
The company has had so many nasty emails that it assumes each one is a complaint – and then doles out £20 of shareholders' cash to stop the abuse. It's prone to offering similar subsidies to customers who haven't ordered for a couple of weeks, too (which then gets exploited by savvy shoppers). No wonder Ocado still loses money.
Ocado, as we all know by now, was floated by God's bank, Goldman Sachs. The Almighty works in even more mysterious ways than Gissing and He took the view that the website's shareholders should take an immediate haircut on their investment (while his favourite bankers trousered their fees). Punters in Promethean World (another Goldman-led flotation) suffered an even more painful initiation, and last week shares in Betfair, yet another float backed by the investment bank, also slumped alarmingly. Just for the record, the Goldman bankers on the optimistic Betfair float were as follows: Matthew Westerman, Anthony Gutman, Nick Harper. Westerman is currently leading an effort to float Vedanta's Konkola copper mines.
I hear Brian Winterflood, the veteran stockbroker, is trying to set up a museum of financial history and is in talks with the Bank of England as a venue. His inspiration is New York's Museum of American Finance, which he visited recently. It currently has a fascinating exhibition on financial scandals dating back to 1792. It just goes to show. There is absolutely nothing original about Sir Fred Goodwin.
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