People & Business

IS IT a bird?

Is it a plane?

No, it's - BugWoman!

Gwynneth Flower has won the coveted post of full-time Director of Action 2000, after beating off hundreds of rival applicants to head up the DTI- funded initiative to tackle the Millennium Bug problem.

Ms Flower, an electrical engineer by training, has been picked by the Chairman of Action 2000, Don Cruickshank, the current director general of Oftel, the telecoms regulator.

Our heroine will receive a salary of pounds 100,000 as she leads the fight against the date change problem, the result of the inability of computers to tell the difference between the year "2000" and "1900".

Mr Cruickshank welcomed her on board yesterday saying: "Gwynneth Flower has a wide range of professional experience - as an eminent electrical engineer, public administrator and communicator that will add great strength to Action 2000."

The doomsayers in the IT industry insist the existence of the Millennium Bug means that come the year 2000, computers all over the world will go the binary equivalent of bananas, unless they get reprogrammed first.

In response Action 2000 was set by Barbara Roche, Minister for Industry, last October, and the top job aroused intense interest because of the kudos it will bring to the holder throughout the business world. Ms Flower will quite literally be attempting to prevent The End of Civilisation As We Know It.

Ms Flower was, until recently, head of the Central London Training and Enterprise Council (Centec), the biggest such body in the country. She has been a member of loads of worthy bodies, such as the Central London Economic Development Partnership. She started her career at BP in 1979 as manager of communications development, and went on to work for Plessey and GEC Marconi.

She is also a visiting lecturer at the Royal Military College of Science and the Civil Service Staff, College.

Lets hope Bug Woman gets it right, for all our sakes.

THE NATIONWIDE Building Society is girding itself for another assault by carpetbaggers seeking election to its board, as the agm in mid- July hoves into view.

Last year Michael Hardern, a self-employed butler and self-proclaimed king of the carpetbaggers, ran for election to the board on a platform of immediate demutualisation and windfall payouts for the Nationwide's 8 million-odd members.

In the event Mr Hardern lost by a margin which would have made even Michael Portillo blush, and Brian Davis, the Society's bespectacled chief executive, was able to declare a famous victory for the forces of mutuality.

This year the Nationwide is facing a much more serious threat. The carpetbaggers' new candidate is Andrew Muir, a recruitment consultant from Slough. Mr Muir wants the Nationwide to pay all its members a pounds 500 handout, and he doesn't mind whether it demutualises to do so or merely pays it out of reserves.

A spokesman for the Nationwide acknowledges that they have received Mr Muir's nomination, along with the required 50 signatures from existing Nationwide members.

Help may be at hand, however, in the unlikely form of Mr Hardern. The butler has just decided he's going to run for the Board as well as Mr Muir, thus threatening to split the carpetbagger vote.

Mr Hardern cheerily admits: "I've got a snowball's chance of getting in. Last year I thought I was a dead cert, so it would be lovely to be equally wrong this time around."

Nationwide itself is maintaining radio silence over Mr Hardern's potentially beneficial candidature. There again, the Society might see its own vote split. A spokesman tells me a number of customers want to stand on a pro- mutuality platform.

If you feel like throwing your own hat into the ring, nominations have to be in by 4 April.

PREMIER OIL announced its first set of full year results yesterday following the recent retirement of Sir Barrie Stephens, 70, who has jetted off to his home in Florida to enjoy the sun.

His successor David John, who is also non-executive chairman of The BOC Group and a non-exec at British Biotech, presented a good set of figures. Which didn't stop the market marking Premier's shares down 8 per cent.

There again, the oil industry has always had a turbulent relationship with City analysts, with the moguls suspecting that the teenage scribblers don't really understand the world of Black Gold.

Just last week Pierre Gungley, chief executive of Enterprise Oil, said to journalists as he started his own annual results presentation: "I hope you ask some better questions than the analysts."

Lars Andersen has joined Cavendish Corporate Finance, a corporate disposals boutique based in London, to head up the firm's IT sales division. Mr Andersen's impressive CV says: "He speaks French, German, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish."

I still think his lack of English may be a problem in London.

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