People & Business

To Le Meridien, the delightful Piccadilly hotel, for breakfast with John Wriglesworth the former building society analyst, Bradford & Bingley marketing director and all-round pundit. The great man immediately demands Marmite, saying "you probably don't have any", whereupon a waiter suavely produces a shiny new pot of the savoury comestible.

Mr Wriglesworth tells me his old pal Rod Thomas, who replaced him as building society analyst at UBS, is now facing the awful prospect of working with all his ex-colleagues again, what with the merger with SBC Warburg.

Nigel Grinyer has timed things rather better. The specialist salesman on the financials desk at UBS signed his transfer to ABN Amro Hoare Govett on the very day that the merger with SBC was announced.

Mr Wriglesworth himself has enjoyed his year since leaving Bradford & Bingley by advising various institutions on the merits of mutuality. He is now pondering a return to the City, this time as a corporate adviser. It could all come to nought, however, depending on the political scene: "If Britain joins the European Monetary Union, I'm emigrating," says Mr Wriglesworth.

And while the conversion frenzy in the building society sector may now be over, Mr Wriglesworth still tips the Skipton to demutualise. I'm just off to open an account now.

So what are they going to called SBC/UBS? The original idea, United Bank of Switzerland, has been scuppered by the discovery of a small Swiss bank called United Bank of Zurich.

It now looks as if the UBS name might be preserved after all, along with its logo. A definite decision will have to wait for the shareholders' meeting on 3 February. My suggestion is United Gnomes of Zurich.

Another title which has already been taken by somebody else, I notice, is Gnomes of Switzerland, the name of a hairdresser in City Road, just off Finsbury Square in the City. Perhaps SBC could buy them out and open a coiffure subsidiary.

Another name problem. Frank Lowe wants to leave the PR firm he co-founded with Tim Bell, necessitating a replacement for Lowe Bell. The latest suggestion around town is Lowe Pottinger, which recognises the sterling contributions of Mr Bell's number two, Piers Pottinger. Sounds good. After all, Lowe Piers would give off the wrong signals.

David Simons, chief executive of Somerfield, the supermarket chain formerly known as Gateway, is keen to scotch rumours that he might move on from the company after a relatively short period (five years) to fulfil ambitions elsewhere.

So keen, in fact, that he has bought a farm 20 minutes from the company's head office in Bristol. The farm is at Failand in north Somerset, and needs a lot of work before it is habitable, says Mr Simons. Refurbishing the farmhouse to his standards will take at least a year, he reckons.

Mr Simons admits he is more used to pinstripes than green wellies and a Barbour, but he is confident he is up to raising livestock. The bucolic retailer declares: "I like the West Country, I'm enjoying it." Don't step in anything nasty.

United Assurance is in a bit of a pickle. It has just announced some truly awful trading figures, and it still hasn't found a new chief executive to replace George Mack.

The poor figures are partly due to the merger between United Friendly and Refuge back in October 1996. If you fancy having a bash, send your CV to Refuge House, Alderley Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire.

Andrew Dilnot and his cohorts at the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) weren't too upset when Gordon Brown borrowed their idea of a Green Budget last year.

But insiders at the IFS, which has just published its own 16th Green Budget, are slightly miffed that the Chancellor has even copied the IFS's trademark binding for the document, a white cover with wavy green lines down the side. Perhaps Mr Dilnot should take a leaf out of Alan Clark's book, and send Mr Brown a writ alleging "passing off."

Anyone fancy a freebie to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this March? A group of African states have got together to launch an international conference to attract global capital to the continent. It will be called the Addis Forum, a sort of "Davos in Africa". The conference will be chaired by Sir William Ryrie, director of ING Barings. I wonder whether it will attract the same level of City support as Davos, however. Is there any skiing in Ethiopia?

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