No more chewing the fat

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The Independent Online
NEWS of an ambitious biotechnology start-up, with the appointment of Dr Neil Fish as head of research at Alizyme. Up and running since January, the company is scouring niche areas of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach, to me and you) as a source of future riches. But it will not compete head- on with the likes of Glaxo and SmithKline Beecham in ulcer drugs, business development director Andrew Porter tells me.

Instead, it will concentrate its efforts on enzyme inhibitors for the treatment of obesity and the like. Porter, formerly a City pharmaceuticals analyst of nine years' standing, and most recently UBS's biotech guru, now finds himself running a company, rather than telling others how to run their business. He hopes to announce the appointment of a chief executive in the next few months. Longer term, Alizyme is mooting a flotation on AIM.

A CURIOUS tale of Richard Desmond, boss of the publishing outfit Northern & Shell, known - not, perhaps, by readers of this column - for titles such as Asian Babes, Black & Blue, 40 Plus and Big Ones. Less racy is Chic, a women's magazine aimed at the over 40s, which deliberately eschews salacious content.

A letter comes to my attention, which has Reed Taylor, a firm of chartered accountants, tender its resignation to Mr Desmond for the audits of Portland Investments and Northern & Shell. As the letter, marked private and confidential, makes clear, the firm's departure was at Mr Des- mond's request.

Nothing unusual, you might say, about that. The audits went to accountancy giants Price Waterhouse. But nowhere in the accounts of Portland Investments is Richard Desmond listed as a director.

How, then, could he have ordered Reed Taylor's resignation? Perhaps Northern & Shell owns Portland? Not so - the share register lists two Guernsey- based offshore trusts, First Court and Old Court, as the shareholders. Because Mr Desmond is away on holiday, I have been unable to obtain an answer to this conundrum. Reed Taylor assures me there was nothing untoward in the arrangement, but would go no further. Perhaps someone out there knows the answer?

Not worth the risk

A TOME from publisher John Wiley with the brave title, High-Risk, High- Return Investing, lands on Bunhill's desk. Written by American Lawrence Tuller, the book is a trawl around some of the more obscure byways of the investment world. Unusually, it is more a DIY guide for the private investor, rather than aspiring professionals. As the blurb proclaims: "Discover how to profitably invest in undervalued Third World markets; secondary debt instruments; distressed companies; penny stocks; offshore tax havens, and much, much more." Stick to gilts or ICI and Shell is Bunhill's advice, with the odd venture into more speculative instruments such as premium bonds, if it's excitement you're after.

ON THE vexed question of the succession at the CBI, sadly it falls on me to inform readers the talented Nigel Whittaker, the former Kingfisher director, has been pipped at the post. Indeed, there are dark mutterings he was no more than a stalking horse. Who, then, has been appointed? We will know on Wednesday.

Money and brains

LAST week, Bunhill told of a gentleman who worked long and hard to make money from the digital revolution - and has failed to make a bean. So it is pleasant to spotlight a Brit who has made rather a lot of money out of the Internet.

John Kimberley is chief executive of Firefox, a company based in Solihull but which has just been quoted on Nasdaq, the US electronic stock exchange. It raised $20m, and Mr Kimberley got $3m. He still owns 23 per cent of the company, which is now worth $39m.

How did he do it? One of the problems with the Internet is the nasties on it - pornography, bomb-making instructions and the like. But it can also be useful, especially for e-mail, which is why companies want to link up to it. Firefox's software allowed a company to decide what employees could and could not put on their computers.

It did the same with schools and colleges, where it was even more important to keep bits of the Internet away from kids. Clever, eh? And that's the rub. Mr Kimberley is clever - he has already made a fortune or two, and deserves his beans. He worked his way up the computing side of various companies, to run part of Wang UK in the late 1970s, when he tried becoming an entrepreneur, bought a controlling stake in a software house and made pounds 70,000, "a lot of money then".

After another, unsuccessful entrepreneurial flutter in the early 1980s, he went back to industry, to join TIS, a Unix distribution company (don't ask). It was turning over pounds 4m when he arrived and pounds 22m when it was sold five years later. Mr Kimberley trousered pounds 750,000 from the deal, and bought into Firefox.

So what do we learn about the art of making money? A combination of hard grind, brains and risk-taking seems to be the trick. Being a rugby prop forward in Midlands Division One may help, too - I bet he never had much trouble getting his own way in meetings.