People & Business: Liquidators in fashion
Wednesday 21 October 1998
Oh, what it is to be an insolvency practitioner! Once upon a time John Alexander, senior insolvency partner with Pannell Kerr Forster, and his ilk were regarded as little better than second-hand car salesmen by their accountancy brethren in audit and tax.
Since the last recession, though, the liquidators seem to get all the juiciest jobs. Yesterday Mr Alexander was appointed as administrator of Fashion Cafe, the supermodels' brasserie in London's West End.
Mr Alexander's previous jobs have been equally high- profile.He was trustee in bankruptcy to Darius Guppy, the old Etonian who was sentenced to five years in prison in 1993 for his part in a gems fraud.
Mr Guppy, a close friend of Earl Spencer, brother of the Princess of Wales, became one of the most famous prisoners in Britain. He and his partner staged a robbery in a New York hotel room in which a shot was fired and he was left tied up. The pair claimed pounds 1.8m compensation from Lloyd's of London for jewellery they claimed was stolen.
Mr Guppy was released this year after Mr Alexander helped him negotiate a repayment deal with his creditors. Mr Guppy is now back at work, although Mr Alexander would not be drawn on what it is he is actually doing. "Mr Guppy would prefer to keep a low profile," he said.
Mr Alexander was also liquidator of Roger Levitt's companies after Mr Levitt, an investment adviser, was convicted of fraud. Mr Levitt was then sentenced to 118 hours community service after a bizarre piece of plea bargaining with the Serious Fraud Office. He now pursues a career as a boxing promoter in the US.
Mr Alexander has also come into contact with people who have merely gone bust. He was receiver to Rosehaugh, for instance, headed by Godfrey Bradman, the legendary property developer who fell victim to the last property slump. Mr Bradman's biggest achievement, in partnership with Stanley Lipton's Stanhope, was the Broadgate centre in the City, subsequently sold to John Ritblat's British Land.
MIND YOU, thanks to the absurd way the Royal Courts of Justice are run these days, the Fashion Cafe almost didn't go into administration at all.
The process starts with the company submitting an administration petition to a High Court judge. As Mark Phillips, the barrister for the company, prepared to present his case to Mr Justice Rattee, the counsel's clerk appeared panting in Court 18 and said he had been unable to "present the petition to the court" because he had not been able to pay the court fee.
As Mr Alexander and his solicitor, Shashi Rajani of Nicholson Graham & Jones, searched their pockets for spare change, the sweating clerk explained that the problem wasn't a shortage of cash, but the location of the court fee office - at the opposite end of the High Court complex, a good quarter of an hours' round journey.
Mr Phillips was not amused, and advised his clerk to "keep trying". The young man shot off again down the Courts' labyrinthine passageways - to re-emerge triumphantly in time for the judge's hearing.
Mind you, the hearing itself was a model of efficiency, taking all of 60 seconds.
STEPHEN HINCHCLIFFE, the northern businessman who built a shoe-shop chain called Facia, only to see it collapse under a mountain of debt, is sick and tired of his poor image in the press.
Mr Hinchcliffe is convinced, rather like an unpopular political party, that if he could only get his real message across, people would understand his position. Last summer he decided to do something about this and contacted a leading City spin doctor.
The spin doctor told him: "Show me the six worst articles about you and we'll go through them to see what I could have done about them."
Mr Hinchcliffe then asked the PR man "How much do you charge?" The PR man replied: "pounds 500 an hour."
Mr Hinchcliffe gasped, and exclaimed: "I've just been walking through Oxford Street - don't you have a summer sale as well?"
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