People & Business: London's answer to the International Trade Centre
Tuesday 20 May 1997
Lord Alexander swapped his role as NatWest's chairman for that of property agent yesterday as he sought tenants for the newly refurbished tower at the heart of the City.
The bank has spent pounds 75m doing up the highest tower in the City (now dwarfed by the Canary Wharf tower, inside which I now pen these words). NatWest has moved to new premises, following the last IRA bomb, and is instead offering a custom-designed service to tenants.
The floors of the 1980s tower, at only 9,000 square feet, are tiny in comparison to the football-pitch-sized trading floors that most big City houses want these days. Instead Lord Alexander is offering small "executive" units right at the centre of the action. And you get a swimming pool, sky-high restaurant and floor- level cafe into the bargain.
Lord Alexander tells me they had "loads" of suggestions for new names for the place, with Millennium Tower a strong contender. But he thought that might date. "We had in mind the International Trade Centre in New York. This sounds similar, which might strike a chord with our American friends."
One other thing. Lord Alexander says the design of the tower is "absolutely, categorically not" based upon NatWest's triangular logo.
One of the best-known retail analysts in the City, Nick Bubb, has surprised everyone by upping stumps at MeesPierson to join Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull, the same outfit that has just hired Nicola Horlick to build up its asset management side.
There the similarities end, I am happy to say. Mr Bubb is described by one colleague as "tall, angular, softly spoken, quite a good chap really".
Mr Bubb will replace Robert Snaith, who retired from SocGen Strauss Turnbull earlier this year. At the moment Mr Bubb is spending a month's gardening leave at his home in Richmond, Surrey.
Mr Bubb is a former number one-rated Extel analyst, and had his work cut out at MeesPierson, where he combined the roles of food analyst and stores analyst. Most brokers split the roles. Before MeesPierson he worked at Morgan Stanley with Julie Ramshaw, who is now a director of Laura Ashley. Hopefully his move doesn't mean he'll be storming round Frankfurt too often.
New Labour, New Lounge Suit. Gordon Brown's mania for dressing down has struck again, this time at the CBI annual dinner at London's Grosvenor Hotel tonight. Last week it emerged that Mr Brown was ditching the black tie dress code for the Mansion House speech, due next month. Now he is doing the same thing for the CBI speech.
Will this hit profits at Moss Bros? After all, the company makes a hefty chunk of its income hiring out penguin suits to businessmen attending such functions. Already hundreds of hirings may have been lost with these two events alone - what if the New Labour campaign to abolish the black tie catches on?
Alan Pfaff, manager of Moss Bros's Covent Garden store in central London, is unfazed.
"We think it's a shame. But we have still had a lot of people from both occasions [CBI and Mansion House] hiring suits."
Ah ha! So there is a stirring of rebellion from the City die-hards? Mr Pfaff says: "There are a lot of traditionalists. People enjoy these occasions and dressing up."
Overall, he adds, Moss Bros's business is 5 per cent up on last year. Has he detected any other public events where formal attire is being dumped? "No. We're hiring out suits to a wider spectrum of the public than ever, especially for weddings."
Mr Pfaff gets decidedly sniffy about so-called "dressing down days" which have been imported by American businesses. "On the other hand, we sell a lot of casual stuff too." Don't go dumping your Moss Bros shares just yet.
George Staple courted enough controversy when he was director of the Serious Fraud Office, but now he's back at his old City law firm Clifford Chance they've put him in charge of the "contentious practice".
So how contentious are you going to get now, George? "It's just the department that deals with anything to do with disputes and litigation," he explains.
His fraud experience will come in handy. "Fraud is the scourge of business nowadays, I'm afraid." So will his new pay package be far vaster than his SFO salary? "Not by huge multiples, no. We're not talking mega-bucks."
Shame. Especially so, since his new office is only one-third the size of his old SFO one. "I used to have meetings in my old room, which I don't here," he says.
And what if - horrors - he were to find himself representing a client who he had a go at prosecuting when he was at the SFO? "I wouldn't be involved in the case if it happened. I think it's most unlikely. The firm doesn't do work for people accused of fraud, rather the big financial institutions which are the victims of fraud."
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