Pembroke: Ask the other lord about economy

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The Independent Online
Lord Alexander, the lanky chairman of NatWest Bank, was made to look a bit of a lemon yesterday at the annual meeting of RTZ, the mining company where he is a non-executive director. During the motion to re-elect him to the board, the poor man was left shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other as one shareholder asked: 'If we re-elect him will he promise not to be economical with the truth?' A baffled Lord Alexander looked around for help until another guest shouted from the floor, 'You've got the wrong one.'

The question ought to have been directed at the board's other nobleman, Lord Armstrong, the former head of the Civil Service, who was seated at the other end of the podium. The one-time Whitehall mandarin, who made the now infamous admission during the Spycatcher affair, said nothing. But his bulldog expression very nearly creaked into a smile.

It was hardly a love-in at the RTZ meeting. Two members of the Saami population, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, attended dressed in their traditional costume of brightly coloured braided tunics and, for the women, red bonnets. Why, they wanted to know, was Sir Derek Birkin's company digging up large tracts of their reindeer herding land, without having the common courtesy to ask whether they might mind? 'It's very nice to see you,' opened Sir Derek. 'You add a little colour to the meeting.' 'Don't be patronising,' came the frosty riposte from the floor (not from a Saami member). 'If politeness means patronising then I'm sorry,' stuttered the chairman. The poor man looked as if he couldn't wait for it to end.

The demise of Accountancy Television, the late-night educational service for the tax and audit brigade, continues to provide stories of amusing clangers. The Institute of Chartered Accountants backed the programme, and its annual report, published today, shows the investment error cost them pounds 475,000. But it gets worse.

Roger Lawson, the deputy president of the ICA who moves up to the top job next month, was on the management committee that made the decision to plough nearly half a million into the project. One might have expected better judgement considering Mr Lawson's day job. He is a director of 3i, the venture capital group that lives or dies by just this type of investment decision. The ICA was doing its best to protect its new leader. 'He was a member of the committee but I don't think we should single him out.'

Bob Bauman has been elevated to godhead status by his old charge SmithKline Beecham, with help from London Business School. The company is funding the egotistically named Robert P Bauman Chair in Strategic Leadership at the school. LBS says the chair has been named 'in recognition of the outstanding leadership Robert Bauman has made to SmithKline Beecham during his period as chief executive from 1986 to 1994.'

The drugs group remains unabashed by its fawning act of sponsorship. 'It is a chair of strategic leadership and as he was our chief executive we named it after him,' insists SmithKline.

NatWest Bank has moved in the transfer market, snapping up Chris Wathan, a former rising star at Midland. Mr Wathan used to run Midland's branch network, but saw his job disappear after the HSBC takeover when a layer of management was stripped out. At NatWest he will be general manager, human resources. 'We're very pleased he's got the job,' Midland says.

(Photograph omitted)

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