PEOPLE & BUSINESS

TOP American economists have filed expert evidence with the court that will be considering the Justice Department's case against Microsoft, claiming that the company is harming computer users by its anti-competitive behaviour. No surprise there - one of the best sources of income for academic economists in the US is giving expert evidence in court, with both defence and prosecution hiring their own eggheads.

What is odd is that one of the Justice Department's anti-Microsoft experts is Professor Franklin Fisher of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Microsoft will impede any innovation that threatens the dominance of Windows," according to his testimony. He was famed among a generation of Harvard and MIT students in the early 1980s for his role as an expert - defending IBM against the competition authorities' onslaught on its monopoly.

The prof's book about the case, Folded, Spindled and Mutilated, made it on to all his class reading lists. It must mean he knows a lot about monopolies in the computer industry - and has, bravely, changed his mind in the past decade.

SIMON Bentley, who runs the Blacks Leisure sports group, has a keen sense of humour if his advertising campaigns are anything to go by. The last one for the group's First Sports chain, featured sperm racing towards an egg alongside the slogan "First is everything, second is nowhere". This ran only on Sky TV and, as you might expect, only after the evening watershed.

This time he has teamed up with one of football's best known hardmen. The new ad, which starts in a couple of weeks time to celebrate the World Cup, shows a bunch of footie supporters legging down the street towards a pub bearing the legend "World Cup TV shown here".

The replica be-shirted boys surge in only to find a muscular skinhead in a red Wales shirt sitting in the front row and monopolising the best seats. The leader of the gang marches forward and taps the gent on the shoulder to suggest he hops it. But when the character turns round it is Vinnie Jones, QPR's tough tackling midfielder once photographed grabbing Gazza's privates. Queue, docile retreat.

FINANCE directors of FTSE 100 companies come in all shapes and sizes, but they do seem to be getting younger all the time.

The latest to take charge of the books at one of the country's 100 largest companies is Martin Stewart, who was yesterday appointed finance director at British Sky Broadcasting, the satellite television group, at the tender age of 34.

Not that Mr Stewart would necessarily have wanted to come into the job in the way he did. The vacancy was only created by when the previous incumbent, Nicky Carrington, suddenly died after a short illness in March.

After a thorough search, Sky decided Mr Stewart, who most recently was working as Mr Carrington's deputy and subsequently took over a large part of his role, was the man to take over. "He was by the far best candidate for the job," my mole over at Sky's Isleworth headquarters whispers admiringly.

AFTER losing out on the chance to become chairman of Argos, the catalogue retailer, Peter Birch, the former chief executive of Abbey National, did not have to wait long for another lucrative directorship to come his way. Land Securities, the UK's largest property company, appointed Mr Birch as its new chairman yesterday. He will provide a long term replacement for Sir Peter Hunt, the highly respected elder statesman of the property sector who sadly passed away suddenly last December.

Mr Birch was all lined up to become the new chairman of Argos if only the group had been able to maintain its independence. But he has Jim Cox at Schroders Asset Management to blame for losing the chance to take up his new employment.

Mr Cox sided with Lord Wolfson's Great Universal Stores in a bitter takeover battle. Mr Birch will take up his duties on 1 July to join Ian Henderson, the recently appointed managing director of the property group.

CHRISTIE'S may have been snapped up by a Frenchman and Rolls-Royce may be heading for German ownership, but at least one key British asset has been saved for domestic ownership. Step forward then, Jan Reynolds, a Bristol Businesswoman who has bought Octavius Hunt, the country's last remaining match manufacturer for an undisclosed sum.

Octavius Hunt has been making matches in Redfield, Bristol since the 1870s and they are still hand-dipped and packed. The business was deemed surplus to requirements by Chemring Group and so Ms Reynolds, the managing director, organised a management buyout.

"Having worked in the company from a secretarial role though to managing the company was keen to maintain it in its current form," Ms Reynolds said. Bravo.

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