People and Business: A horrid week for Monsieur Beylier

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The Independent Online
SO AU REVOIR then, Philippe Beylier, who resigned as chief executive of Arjo Wiggins Appleton, the world's biggest maker of fine writing paper.

The Anglo-French maker of fax and fine-art paper is splitting the business into three divisions, each of which will be managed by its own chief executive and board, so Mr Beylier won't be replaced.

Kenneth Minton, a "hands-on" manager who left the chemicals company Laporte to become Arjo's non-executive chairman in November 1997, will become executive chairman of the overall group.

Mr Beylier was far from the usual image of the French businessman as product of the elite grande ecoles. A colleague describes him as "a solid company man born and bred" who built up the French merchanting business of Arjomari-Prioux before it merged with its British rival, Wiggins Teape, and the American company Appleton. The latter businesses were demerged from BAT as part of the strategy to defeat Sir Jimmy Goldsmith's hostile bid for the tobacco giant in 1989.

This hasn't been a good week for the Frenchman. A graduate of Harvard Business School and keen skier, Mr Beylier is also a fan of Stade Francais of Paris, one of the strongest rugby union sides in Europe. Stade Francais were knocked out of the European Cup on Saturday by unfancied Ulster. At least he won't have to keep commuting from Paris to Arjo's UK office in scenic Basingstoke.

LAURENCE COOKLIN is swapping cheap jewellery for Radio Rentals. Mr Cooklin, 53, is stepping aside as chief executive of UK jewellery at Signet Group, Gerald Ratner's old retail chain, to head up television and radio retailer Thorn.

Signet said it was looking to recruit a successor, but meanwhile chairman James McAdam would head the UK jewellery executive committee.

Mr Cooklin has been a familiar figure on the retail scene for 30 years. He joined Signet six years ago from the Burton Group, where he was chief executive. He joined the men's suit chain in 1970 and was a close associate of the group's long-time former boss, Ralph "Five Times a Night" Halpern.

Mr Cooklin takes over at an interesting time for Thorn. It demerged from EMI in 1996, but Radio Rentals was hit by damaging litigation in the US, sending the shares south. Guy Hands of Nomura pounced in September, taking the group private for pounds 980m.

Incidentally, Mr Cooklin's eyebrows have often been compared by colleagues to those of Chris de Burgh, the singer/songwriter. Readers may judge for themselves.

CREDIT SUISSE has removed its subsidy to the staff canteen in its Canary Wharf head office in London, leaving several thousand staff to pay more for their prawn sarnies. The belt-tightening move, prompted by last year's turmoil in financial markets, has provoked mutters of discontent amongst the investment bank's employees. One employee complained to management, only to be told: "Oh yes, well, at least we're not passing on the cost of the premises."

THE Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries, which recently launched a hostile bid for rival Marston Thompson & Evershed only to be met by a "Pac Man" defence in the form of a counterbid, has hired two big hitters to beef up its top executive team.

Martin Womack comes in as trade sales director after a 20-year career with Whitbread, where he was for the last couple of years marketing director for Whitbread Inns.

Christian Reeve will join Wolves later this month from JD Wetherspoon, the family pub company, where he has been director of retail operations for six years.

Mr Reeve will become Wolves' director of retail concepts, which include pub "brands" such as Varsity, Tap House and Poachers Pockets.

JAMES CROSBY is ringing the changes at Halifax, where he replaced Mike Blackburn as chief executive on 1 January. Gary Marsh, who has been head of corporate affairs for the past four years, is moving into consumer credit and retail banking, where he will become head of products.

"I started out as an economist for Halifax on the research and planning side when I joined in 1982," he recalls. "Then I started to comment on house prices for the media, which led to the communications job. Now they've decided I've got to get my hands dirty, helping to run the business."

Halifax has created a new corporate communications role for Shane O'Riordain, poached from Robert Fleming, the investment bank.