People & Business

So much for the season of goodwill. The news that long-serving Richard Oster is to leave Cookson after 19 years was greeted with unashamed glee by investors, who yesterday pushed up the industrial conglomerate's bombed-out share price by 4 per cent.

It's a bit of a sorry demise for Mr Oster, a man for whom the phrase "larger than life" could have been invented (some prefer more colourful descriptions, but this is a family newspaper.) After joining the group in 1978 when Cookson bought his family's firm, the brass company AJ Oster, Mr Oster rose through the ranks, taking over as chief executive in 1991. He became chairman in July but the role hardly suited his hands-on approach and, under pressure from the board, he agreed to step aside.

Before you reach for your handkerchief, bear in mind that Mr Oster will trouser pounds 2.9m in compensation for lost earnings and bonuses. And when he's spent that there's always his 3.3 million share options, a chunk of which are still showing a nice profit, to ward off the bailiffs.

Cookson, meanwhile, has recalled former chairman Bob Malpas to run the board while searching for a successor. After retiring from Cookson in July he had hoped to spend more time on the golf course. "My handicap was coming down but that's the end of that," he sighs.

Speaking of golf, it is a truth universally acknowledged in the City that one of the best places to clinch a deal is on the golf course. The calmness, the fresh air - it all makes for clearer thinking. However Norman Broadhurst, finance director of Railtrack, appears to have taken that maxim one step further. He has accepted a job as non-executive director of Clubhaus, the golf company and leading European golf course operator. A Railtrack source said Mr Broadhurst, 56, was a keen golfer. Asked what his handicap was, she said: "I think Norman would say his handicap was having to stay in the office and being kept from the course." Clubhaus couldn't help. A taped message at their London office yesterday afternoon told callers no one was able to take calls for the rest of the day. Probably holding an important board meeting on the 14th green.

A fond farewell to Jim Hartnett, who is finally retiring from the board of Eurotherm at the tender age of 83. Mr Hartnett founded the temperature controls group in 1965 by matching a loan from the bank with his life savings. The company started out in a garret above an old stables and had a staff of just six. It now has annual sales of some pounds 200m and employs 2,300.

Mr Hartnett handed over the chair to Jack Leonard in 1983, but kept a seat on the board and was involved in all the major policy decisions. Last summer, he was called back in the breach when Claes Hultman, the Swedish chief executive who had been drafted in to revive Eurotherm's fortunes, walked out after a boardroom row. Mr Hartnett, backed by shareholders Mercury Asset Management and Prudential, led the successful campaign for Mr Hultman's reinstatement which led to Mr Leonard's resignation.

With the company back on an even keel, Mr Hartnett clearly thinks it's time to step down. Not that he'll be putting his feet up: he's a member of the Court of Sussex University, a local parish councillor, and a founder of the Hartnett Charitable Trust which helps organisations that rehabilitate the mentally handicapped. Where does he get the energy?

Those sober and prudent chiefs at Standard Life are evidently determined that their new bank will be a hit. So much so that the press conference announcing its launch opened with spotlights and the skippy violins that introduce a well-known top ten hit by The Verve. My gosh they're hip. But as life insurance men who pride themselves on their careful strategy, they will presumably not want the fortunes of Standard Life Bank to be the "Bitter-Sweet Symphony" of the song's title. Being based in Edinburgh rather than the City, however, they will presumably have no objection to the message in The Verve's current smash, "The Drugs Don't Work".

Lord Harris of Peckham, the Axminster King who runs the Carpetright empire, is at a loss to understand why the company's share price is languishing. But his son Martin has not been slow to take advantage. Harris junior, who was just 28 when he joined the Carpetright board earlier this year, showed his confidence in the company by snapping up an additional 50,000 shares at 450p yesterday morning, setting him back a cool pounds 225,000. "I just thought they had got so cheap it was ridiculous," he said yesterday.

Meanwhile Lord Harris, the staunch Tory supporter and former key fund- raiser, was ready to take a swipe at the Labour government's recent troubles. "They've made a real muck up since they came to power," was his verdict.

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