People & Business: Top jobs at the end of the tunnel for Sir Alastair

Sir Alastair Morton is back from trekking around the Peloponnese for the last three months after giving up the mantle at Eurotunnel. He is in the market for a new job, and my informants tell me one of the sinecures being touted is chairman of Airbus, when the European aircraft maker converts to plc status in 1999. Other jobs with which Sir Alastair's name has been linked in headhunters' parlours include the Post Office, Cable & Wireless and BAA.

However, insiders say the favourite is still BG, the transmission business of British Gas, which was formerly called TransCo. Sadly Sir Alastair was not available for comment yesterday, since he has just jetted off to spend a month in his native South Africa.

Ernest Saunders of Guinness fame has been searching the City looking for a PR man to represent him, I hear, although without success thus far. Mr Saunders had been working as a consultant for David Elias, the publisher, in recent years, but the pair have parted ways and Mr Saunders is now flying solo. Any takers?

Which would you rather have done? Played drums for the Beatles or headed up a UK accountancy firm? David McDonnell, who has had his mandate as managing partner of Grant Thornton extended until 2001, nearly had the choice.

David hails from Liverpool and went to Quarry Bank High School in the 1950s, when John Lennon was also a pupil. While at school young David played drums for a skiffle group which briefly included Lennon. Happily - or sadly, according to your taste - David left his rocking days behind and emerged as a leading bean-counter.

Speaking of accountants, nothing can stop the rise of Robert Smith. He's already the president of the Scottish Institute of Chartered Accountants, as well as the man chosen by Deutsche Morgan Grenfell to head up their asset management arm following the messy Peter Young debacle.

Yesterday Richard Cole-Hamilton, chairman of Stakis, appointed Mr Smith to the board of the hotel group as a non-executive director. The ubiquitous Mr Smith, once 3i's youngest-ever manager, is also a non-exec at MFI Furniture Group. It seems everyone loves having a Scottish accountant.

Budgens, the supermarket group, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this week. The company released 1,250 balloons from its Maidenhead store yesterday to mark the occasion. Attending the bash was John Sugden, a great-grandson of Frederick Budgen, the Victorian entrepreneur who opened his first store in1872 in Maidenhead.

This makes Budgens the second oldest supermarket group after Sainsbury's. Martin Hyson, Budgens' trading director and Gary Levvy, chief executive of the Motor Neurone Disease Association were also there yesterday to send the balloons on their way. Budgens aims to raise pounds 125,000 for the association through local fundraising events.

At the analysts' briefing for Laura Ashley's annual results yesterday, Anne Iverson, group chief executive, was wearing a brown two-piece which, to onlookers at least, appeared to be exactly the same outfit she wore at interims six months ago.

Brown is the chosen fashion colour of the year, but consumers don't seem to be buying it. Witness Laura Ashley's stock levels, which rose 50 per cent in the year.

As one rather unkind analyst (male) said: "She could have picked out a little number from one of the shops and returned it this afternoon."

Marjorie Stimmel has finally tired of the world of Mammon after eight years at HSBC Investment Bank as head of public affairs. Now she tells me she is off to take a place on a Sotheby's graduate programme in Asian art.

She writes: "Whatever you call it - downshifting or dematerialising - I have decided it is time for a change of direction for the remaining years of my working life, building on a lifelong interest."

Dematerialising? I sincerely hope we will be seeing more of Marjorie.

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