People & Business

Siemens annual UK press conference lived up to expectations yesterday with a fine display of the famous German sense of humour. Last year the company left towels on all the seats in the press room. This year the management put the boot into Britain's footballing prowess.

Bernd Euler, Siemens' UK finance director, said: "Back in 1995 the chances of Britain joining monetary union were about as good as England winning a penalty shoot-out against Germany."

A sharp intake of breath from the journalists was followed by Jurgen Gehrels, Siemens' chief executive, adding that his finance director was "here to make friends".

Mr Gehrels, or "Sir" Jurgen following his honorary knighthood last year, also revealed his intention to retire to be replaced by a Brit for the first time. He is Alan Wood, a born and bred Yorkshireman. Not a decision taken lightly it seems. Mr Gehrels - like Ronald Reagan he cannot use the Sir - is a famous Anglophile who intends to stay in the UK permanently when he becomes Siemens' non- executive chairman.

It turns out that his wife, Sigi, was behind the family's decision to stay in the UK in the late 1980s. "Sir" Jurgen continues: "After two years my wife said, `I'm not going back to Germany'. I was faced with problem: Should I get a new wife? But after 35 years of marriage you get attached."

But "Sir" Jurgen's finest hour came half way through the press conference when he congratulated Siemens on building up its power generation business. He said Walter ("Lord") Marshall, the late former head of the Central Electricity Generating Board, had once said Siemens would get a power plant contract in the UK over his "dead body". Mr Gehrels went on: "Well in the meantime he is dead and we've got a power plant." Alistair Macdonald, Siemens head of press, interjected with a swift plea to reporters that the remark was "Off the record," but too late ...

So who is going to be British Digital Broadcasting's first chief executive? A whole host of media heavyweights have been approached by the joint venture between Carlton and Granada, and a whole host have turned the job down. These refuseniks include Roger Luard of Flextech, Nigel Walmsley, Carlton's managing director of broadcasting, and Steve Grabiner, the former Telegraph boss who now heads United News & Media.

One chap who hasn't rebuffed the headhunters' embraces so far, I hear, is Mike Grabiner, brother of Steve, who has just steered Energis though its successful float.

Perhaps the general lack of enthusiasm for the post, which is supposed to be announced "imminently", is linked to the fact that BDB will be squarely in the sights of Rupert Murdoch's own plans for 200 digital satellite channels. Will no one lead the digital fight against the Digger?

Rupert Pennant-Rea, the man who did for carpets what David Mellor did for the Chelsea strip, has picked up another non-executive chairmanship, this time with a hedge fund company called Key Asset Management. The former deputy governor of the Bank of England is already chairman of the Stationary Office, and is a director of many other companies, including BAT Industries and Sherritt International. A Swede, Thomas Raber, has also joined Key Asset Management as director of marketing.

Key Asset Management was founded just nine years ago and one of its hedge funds, Key Asia Holdings, earnt net returns of 21 per cent last year. It will be interesting to see whether Mr Pennant-Rea and Mr Raber can keep up this impressive performance.

It's normally Midlands metal-bashers who accuse the City of selling British industry short. Now the Bank of England, of all things, has published a working paper titled "Deconstructing Growth in UK Manufacturing." Is the Old Lady finally coming clean?

Bank Austria may be suing Price Waterhouse for pounds 147m in the High Court in London, but still the two institutions can unite to fight money laundering, I am happy to report.

The second annual conference on "Money Laundering in Central and Eastern Europe" is set for 5-6 March in the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, Budapest. Its co-chairman will be Aart Bloemheuvel, a partner in Price Waterhouse. The accountancy firm is also prviding a trio of high-powered speakers - Richard Harms, David Gilles and Christof Muller.

Also offering his views on money laundering will be Herbert Preis - from Bank Austria.

I'm sure Mr Preis and the PW boys will have plenty to talk about as they tuck into their Hungarian pastries and quaff their Tokay.

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