Pembroke: A skeleton in the cellar

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The Independent Online
Colin Sharman started his new job as senior partner at the accountants KPMG Peat Marwick yesterday well aware that best practices start at home.

Mr Sharman, who is described by colleagues as 'super' and 'bouncy', lives on a farm in Wiltshire which includes a rather agreeable vineyard, the produce of which he sells to local restaurants and wine merchants.

Angie Sharman, the new senior partner's wife, was doing a spot of stocktaking just after Christmas when she noticed that 250 bottles were missing. Horror. Could it be theft or a bit of surreptitious imbibing in the Sharman cellar? Embarrassingly, for the new KPMG chief suit, a recount found the reason for the shortfall was a simple book- keeping error.

More gays on company boards. How long is it before we hear this rallying cry from institutional investors? Not as long as you might think if you look at a case in the United States. According to the latest issue of NED, a monthly newsletter for non-executive directors, the College Retirement Equities Fund, a fund for university staff, has clashed with management of the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store over its ban on employing gays and lesbians.

In an unusual application of shareholder power, the pension fund is using its 205,000 shares in the company to try to vote through proposals at its AGM. These include pressing the board to include 'a diversity of members to reflect the varied races, gender and sexual orientation of stockholders'.

To China where it seems anyone who had the foresight to invest in car-wash facilities is cleaning up in more ways than one. According to our friends at Bloomberg, the news agency, the problem of urban pollution has got so bad in China that local authorities are forcing drivers to get their vehicles scrubbed before crossing the city limits. This means setting up motor-car versions of Chinese laundries at city entry points, diverting grubby motors off the roads and charging drivers a hefty 10 yuan (dollars 1.15) for a quick hose-down.

Hoover, the washing machine and vacuum cleaner company which shot itself in its own dust- bag last year with its ill-fated free flights offer, continues to make life difficult for its 'winners'.

When Hoover finally got round to offering three flights to New York to one colleague - it took nearly a year - it posted the offer on Christmas Eve. A reply, the letter said, should arrive before 5 January. What chance of this, one asks, what with Christmas postal delays. Now Hoover wouldn't have done this deliberately to reduce numbers, would it?

British Rail has moved further away from its core business of running a half-decent train service by selling licences to operate car boot sales at 39 of its stations. But the two operators which bought the rights are probably feeling less pleased. No sooner had the deal gone through than news broke that government ministers were planning a crackdown on car boot sales believing many had become 'fencing operations'.

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