Outlook: One Allied calls time ...another gets rolled over

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The Independent Online
PHILIP THE Bushman Bowman has not wasted any time in getting to grips with Allied Domecq. The company's new Aussie chief executive has decided that 25,000 sq ft of Grade II listed property in W1 is an expensive luxury that he can afford to do without now that Allied is no longer part of the beerage.

The relocation of the group's head office to Bristol, where rents are a fraction of West End prices, will have them crying into their beer at Portland Place. For a start, where will the collection of contemporary British art go, not to mention the chairman now that Claridges is less convenient for lunch?

If there is an end of empire, if not fin de siecle, feel to Allied's exodus from London, that is probably deliberate. The sale of its pubs estate to Punch after the longest bar-room brawl in history, will leave the group a much slimmer animal. It could have stayed on in town. But Bristol is already the functional headquarters of the remaining wines and spirits business and Allied hardly needs a W1 brassplate to sell Dunkin' Donuts to the world.

The Allied board, led by its chairman, Sir Christopher Hogg, may stand accused of having very nearly deprived its shareholders of a whole bundle of money through the way in which it conducted the pubs auction.

But the new chief executive has at least begun to make amends. The closure of Portland Place and the 100 reduction in head office headcount will save pounds 15m. Leasing a bolthole near Berkeley Square for the chief executive to drop into on his travels will not do much damage to the overheads budget.

There is a long tradition of companies moving their headquarters out of the centre of town to suit their shrunken circumstances. ICI is but another example. But the interesting question for Mr Bowman will be whether Allied needs a separate headquarters at all in the medium term. Once the pubs sale to Punch is complete in September and shareholders have got their money, Allied will prove a tempting target for a Diageo or, more likely, a Seagrams. It is then that the bushman's mettle will really be tested.